ROCKVILLE – Montgomery County Council members talked with Sen. Ben Cardin (D) about several local issues such as Metro, immigration and policing at a lunch meeting in Rockville on Monday.
The day before, President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush spoke at a memorial service for five Dallas police officers that were killed by a gunman last week. Cardin said there is a sense of bipartisan unity in the Senate.
“I have talked to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and you know it is a general sense of just frustration and anger when you see these type of episodes occur too frequently in the United States and around the world,” Cardin said. “So yes, I think there is a real belief that we are better than this and that there needs to be a way to keep our community safe. We need better relationships between community and law enforcement.”
Council member Craig Rice (D-2) asked Cardin if Congress is willing to pass national standards for the use of deadly force for police officers.
“The concern is that while we have some communities that are protecting the interest of all of their citizens,” Rice said, “we see in some areas that either racial prejudice or assumptions have led to the death of individuals where we see that other methods could have been utilized to actually keep those people alive and still incarcerate them if necessary.”
After the deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., by police, Cardin said he hopes there will be bipartisan support for the End Racial Profiling Act of 2015, which he is the lead sponsor of in the Senate.
The bill, which is still in committee, would allow the attorney general to award grants to study racial profiling and to prosecute government agencies that engage in racial profiling.
“We need a direct prohibition about doing profiling, but you also need enforcement and my legislation provides for enforcement,” said Cardin, who originally proposed the bill to prevent racial profiling against Muslims.
Switching to the topic of Metro, Council member Roger Berliner (D-1) asked Cardin about congressional oversight on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).
“We have underinvested in our Metro system,” Berliner said. “Of every major subway system in the United States, we have invested the least amount of dollars, and it’s not a surprise that it is falling apart.”
Berliner said he wanted the federal government to become more of a partner in terms of funding and oversight with Metro after a number of safety issues were discovered on the transit system.
Cardin said WMATA needs more funding for its operating budget, but needs a large increase in funding for its capital budget.
“Quite frankly, the operating budgets that are being projected – we need more—but it’s not that much more in the operating,” Cardin said. “The real challenge is going to be capital…it’s extraordinarily challenging how we’re going to meet that.”
On the issue of immigration, Council member Nancy Navarro (D-4) asked Cardin about thousands of unaccompanied minors coming into the United States from Central America, many of whom are settling in the County.
Related to the issue of unaccompanied minors seeking refuge in the County is an unprecedented number of gang-related murders. In 2015 there were eight gang-related murders, a number that Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger said was unprecedented.
Police said new hard stances against gangs taken by the government of El Salvador have put more pressure Salvadoran gang affiliates in the United States. Manger said the geopolitical situation in Central America is the cause of increased gang activity in the County as gangs try to lend support to their affiliates in Central America.
“Although our police department has been extraordinarily active in their responses, there’s no doubt that we need some support,” Navarro said.
Cardin said he went to El Salvador and Honduras last year and was embedded with agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“I was embedded with the FBI as they went around the neighborhoods, I met with a gang member, who was trying to cooperate, who had already killed 18 people, I know that because of the tattoos on his body. So I got a real flavor for the challenge in regards to gangs.”
Cardin said fixing the gang-related violence means more policing in Central American countries with the help of the U.S., but also creating a more economic opportunity for the people who live there.
The next opportunity for Council members to speak with Sen. Cardin will be at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.