By Willie Flowers
Special to the AFRO

We are in the sixth week of the year and already the State of Maryland has recorded two deaths in separate counties while the deceased were in police custody. The first account was a matter of a taser incident in Baltimore County on January 21, 2020. It has been reported that Gamel Antonio Brown, age 30, died after he was tasered in Owings Mills, MD. The President of the Baltimore County NAACP branch has been briefed and updated.

Exactly one week later in Prince George’s County, there was another incident. This time a handgun shooting, killed William Green, 43, while he was handcuffed in a police cruiser. The police officer,  Michael Owen, who is a Corporal has been charged with Second-Degree Murder, as well as Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter, First Degree Assault and Use of a Firearm in a Crime of Violence. It has also been uncovered that Owen has been involved in 2 documented shootings in 2009 and 2011. The 2011 incident involved another homicide. 

Another unfortunate police incident, recently, involves the arrest and abuse of a grandmother by a Baltimore County police. In a detailed video from body camera footage, aggressive policing is documented and has been made public by the Baltimore County Government. Ren Mullerson, a 76 year old grandmother,  was assaulted and arrested in front of young family members, neighbors and taken to jail in handcuffs after her door was broken into by the arresting officer – who was actually in pursuit of Ms. Mullerson’s granddaughter, Cierra Floyd. Both Ms. Mullerson and Ms. Floyd were arrested. Ms. Mullerson is being represented by attorney J. Wyndal Gordon.

Willie Flowers is the president of the NAACP, Maryland State Conference. (Courtesy Photo)

These and all incidents of this type continue to deteriorate relations between the Minority communities and Law Enforcement. In both the Baltimore County incidents, tasers were in hand as an alternative to the threat of a handgun. However, in the incident involving Ms. Mullerson, the video footage shows the officer using the taser gun in a threatening manner, escalating the situation and potentially triggering anxiety. The combination of the officer’s demeaning language; his attempt to overpower a grandmother at the door;  and ultimately crashing the door; fostered a volatile situation. Frankly, it could have been much worse outcome.

There is clearly a need to revisit police training – even in suburban areas. It is apparent that there is a need for implicit bias training; an understanding of restorative practice in street policing; the development of the skill of embracing community policing in suburban communities. Clearly, there is a disconnect between Police and the neighborhoods they are supposed to serve well. Training on new policies and best practices need to be implemented and should be prioritized by law enforcement leadership. The community and the police need to collaborate on restoring trust and to redefine the role of the police.

University of Maryland professor and social scientist Kris Marsh, Ph.D. in the city of Bowie, MD is advancing these efforts. As a resident, she saw the value of sharing her professional body of work with the local police district. She approached the police district about implicit bias training and connected the dots on building better police community relations in her neighborhood. This All Hands Onboard approach supports the premise of community. 

Another example of support from a local community that is gone nationwide is the story of A.J. Ali who was racially profiled while walking in a Maryland county where he lived. Ali, an African American man, was ultimately detained by police in Howard County, MD. He used this experience to address the need for more compassionate policing strategies that promote love as a solution to build community and police relations. He has made it his mission to improve police-community relations and teach people how to love their neighbor. His film and community work is making a difference, including a noticeable difference in Howard County. 

Additionally, the Howard County Branch of the NAACP has programmed informal meetings, outings and events to collaborate with the Howard County Police over the past three years. This efforts to engage one another via an annual flag football game with the officers, community organizations and Howard County Community College has been fruitful – people have developed relationships and brainstormed tactics that make the community work better together. The NAACP and Howard County police have joined forces to raise funds for youth programs and have created a project to support First Responders and military veterans with PTSD. Further, the NAACP and Howard County police have worked on de-escalating community threats that may have otherwise produced negative outcomes.

Because of the shifting demographics in the State of Maryland, we are all experiencing change. This shift provides opportunities for police and communities to effectively work together to ensure that all of our neighborhoods are safe. The NAACP Maryland State Conference recommends that local police districts, the Fraternal Orders of Police, county governments, community and civic organizations should immediately take steps necessary to facilitate community collaboration towards effective suburban policing. Implicit bias briefings, cultural competency training and an understanding of the shift from the traditional criminal justice policing to one that builds community trust should be implemented. Police leadership should adopt an attitude of diversity, equity and inclusion that compels police districts to get in tune with the communities they serve.

Much has been made over the years of actions and pitfalls of urban policing. Both the District of Columbia and Baltimore City police have weathered crisis while the suburbs have absorbed its own challenges. Culturally competent policing is one of those challenges. It is important for law enforcement to be trained to face the various dynamics of mental illness within the community and to deal with their own stress or trauma. The reality of these many details should be reviewed and the impact on suburban society should be studied. We must all collaborate to build community and not divide it. There should never be an incident where the police are accused of abusing their power. Even the appearance of that sets us back.

This is a Watershed Moment for communities to become stronger and not a time for institutions to become more divided. Immediate solutions from all stakeholders and perspectives are required at this moment. Systemic racism within police districts and within suburban planning designs is a real issue that must be addressed. But again everyone has to be at the table. Collaboration and understanding are the cement to build moving forward.  

Willie Flowers is the president of the NAACP, Maryland State Conference.

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