By Mark F. Gray, AFRO Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
A small but emotional group of Prince George’s County residents made their voices heard, demanding for law enforcement reform during a meeting with police chief Hank Stawinski, while asking for state’s attorney Aisha Braveboy to drop the charges against Kevin Sneed.
The group Black Mothers of Prince George’s County have collected almost 500 online signatures demanding justice for Sneed, who was allegedly beaten by three police officers and accused of attempted murder. A coalition of community groups came together for a daylight vigil outside the police services complex in Palmer Park.
Community activists rally outside Prince George’s County Police Headquarters protesting against police brutality. (Photo by Mark F. Gray)
Approximately 40 people representing five community organizations challenged the County’s elected leadership to end violence by police officers which is sometimes fatal. They are in unison calling for Stawinski to end what they deem are constant acts of police brutality against minorities in the county. They called for officers to be held fully accountable.
“Protect us and not beat us, that’s what we are asking of the Prince George’s County Police Department,” said community activist Quinana Johnson, executive director of Life After Release Program. “We deserve respect and not to be beaten in these streets.”
The research suggests that there is a very uneasy relationship between the community and the police force. They cited how alleged crimes against citizens, who aren’t posing an imminent threat, are being escalated by overzealous policing and how a perceived blue wall of silence allows coverups to hamper investigations. They accuse Stawinski of having an “illegal trial board” comprised of three random officers to hear cases regarding police misconduct and terminating or demoting those inside the department who choose to speak up. Those are allegations part of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of “blackballed or terminated officers.”
“The department is the way it is because our public officials allow it to be that way,” said Jonathan Newton, founder and executive director of the National Association Against Police Brutality. “Our public officials allow it to be that way because the Democratic Party goes along.”
Newton, a former police officer in Georgia who left the force after he reported racism in his department, added that there must be an element of collusion between the party and the department.
“Where does the Democratic Central Committee monthly meetings?,” Newton mocked. “The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge in spite of requests to move it anywhere else.”
As a practicing attorney in the county Newton understands how both sides work and says that collusion between police departments and prosecutors keeps the system from achieving real justice. He claims there are cases that have been corrupted by officers being allowed to lie to convict innocent defendants with the help of prosecutors who their testimony was untrue.
“There’s more than one bad apple when it comes to police brutality,” Newton added. “Police accountability is as important to the community as gun rights are to the NRA.”
Newton also said that true reform begins with voter registration and actively engaging millennials in the electoral process. Speakers also tried to rally the crowd to bombard their elected official with phone calls, emails, and an aggressive social media presence to agitate them to bring about change.
“It takes more than a vote every four years,” Newton said. “Change comes with agitation, litigation and legislation. That’s not anything new either. That takes us back to the days of Dr. King.”
They are are demanding the Prince George’s County Police begin wearing mandatory body cameras in an attempt to reduce the number incidents that escalate into fatality. The groups are also demanding that footage be uploaded to the State’s Attorney’s office.