Maryland Del. Darryl Barnes wants to make sure Prince George’s County doesn’t have incidents like those in Ferguson, Mo., New York City, and Baltimore where unarmed Black men were killed by the police, so he called a community meeting to discuss police-community relations.

Del. Darryl Barnes represents District 25 in the Maryland House of Delegates. (AFRO File Photo)

On Sept. 19, Barnes, a Democrat representing District 25 in central Prince George’s County, convened a meeting with WPGC 95.5 radio personality DJ Flexx to talk about the impact of race on the relations between the police and the community. The meeting was attended by 154 people and took place at Largo High School in Largo, Md.

“We want to have an open, unapologetic conversation about race relations,” he said. “Some have said that this is not a Prince George’s County problem and I agree. I want to keep it that way and I would rather be proactive than reactive.”

Prince George’s County has a large Black population, with the county being 64.5 percent Black according to the 2010 U.S. census and its police force is 43 percent Black, with White officers making up 45 percent and Latinos and Asians at 8 percent and 4 percent, respectively. The county executive, Rushern Baker III, is Black and the majority of the Prince George’s County Council is also Black.

The majority of the cities and towns in the county are majority Black. Despite its distinction as being the wealthiest majority Black county in the country, Prince George’s has pockets of impoverished and economically struggling neighborhoods, particularly in the inner-Beltway areas.

With that dichotomy in mind, Barnes assembled panelists for the meeting including criminal justice scholar Dr. Renita Seabrook; Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene Grant; Thomas Boone, president of the United Black Police Officers Association; Joseph Kitchen, president of the Maryland Young Democrats; Charnell Ferguson, president of the Bowie State University NAACP chapter; Craig Howard, former deputy chief of the Prince George’s County Police Department; Dr. Heather Wyatt-Nichol, a scholar at the University of Baltimore; Darius Stanton, CEO of Men Aiming Higher; Prince George’s County Police Chief Henry P. Stawinski III; and former Maryland Del. Aisha Braveboy.

Barnes and DJ Flexx admitted they are fearful of being stopped by police while driving, even though both men are past the age of 40. Stawinski said that shouldn’t be the case. “It bothers me when people say they are afraid of the police,” he said. “No one should feel subjugated. I grew up in Prince George’s County and this is my home.”

Stawinski is working on training his officers in implicit bias or recognizing and correcting stereotypes of people at the subconscious level. He said his officers have taken trips to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and the Constitution Center in Philadelphia to learn about the struggles of oppressed people and the rights of all Americans, respectively.

Boone said to Stawinski that trips to the District and Philadelphia are fine, but something is missing. “We as police officers need to go to the new National Museum of African American History and Culture,” Boone said. “Those are the people we are serving.”

Boone suggested county leaders start a police science program at the high school level that would allow students to see what police officers do and have an introduction to law enforcement careers.

Braveboy said that wealthier communities have better police protection than poorer communities and that is not by accident. “We don’t value poor people in this country,” she said. “Wealthy people are better protected and they get that protection largely on the tax dollars of poor people. It is a redistribution of wealth that favors the rich and prevents poor people from passing on generational wealth to their children.”

Barnes plans a “Part 2” to “this conversation” before the year’s end. The delegate also appointed Dr. James Dula to preside over a citizens’ task force to present the county police with grievances and solutions.

Phil Lee, a civic and social activist in the county, said that Barnes’s meeting was good but lacked one key element. “This meeting didn’t make its mark as far as young people are concerned,” Lee said. “We need someone to listen to the young people because I think that the police are afraid of young people.”