SILVER SPRING – Local politicians and activists called for the release of all police video from the May 9 incident in which a white, female Silver Spring police officer used the n-word and disrespected two young men at a McDonald’s parking lot in White Oak. Montgomery County Police (MCP) were sent to the scene for two people allegedly trespassing.
The African-American men were waiting for their ride to work when “they were demeaned and talked down to and searched,” Councilman Will Jawando told a group of 75 protestors, who carried signs and marched along New Hampshire Avenue from the White Oak Library to the nearby District 3 Police Station.
Jawando said he would ask the county police, who did not attend the May 13 protest, to give the public a say in choosing the next police chief. He also asked for a copy of all trespass orders that were written in the past two years, to learn what percentage were issued to people of color.
According to Jawando, McDonald’s did not notify police of a disturbance. Instead, the police pulled into the parking lot for an unknown reason and began questioning the young men. As seen in a 12-minute video of the incident that has since gone viral since being released by MCP, an unnamed officer asked one of the individuals if he had been hurt.
“Are you hurt? Well, then, stop crying, you’re acting like a little girl,” he said to the man who was facing a wall with his hand up. A search was conducted by the officers in the video.
According to the racist language came from an unnamed female officer, who can be heard throughout the tape calling individuals “sweetheart” and explaining that they should not “run their mouths” so they can leave sooner. She also had a conversation with one of the detained men, who called the police “d**k eaters,” which she laughed at in a way that seemed good-natured.
Her hands can be seen in the footage, searching through the backpack of one of the men, asking about the moving straps found inside. In one instance, she can be heard saying, “I’m big into straps, strap-ons, strap off, lots of different straps. That’s why I’m very well versed in what straps do.”
The racist language comes at the end of the footage when the female officer can be heard saying, “Hey, you want to get out of here fast, right? So, if we have more people y’all niggas been trying to do something (inaudible); we have more of our friends to help you get out faster.”
One of the men called her a “racist a** b***h,” to which she responded, “Nope, that’s a quote. Those are your words, what I’m doing is repeating your words.”
At the protest, Jawando said he was upset to see county residents not treated in a respectful, courteous manner. Police have the right to use force and even take a life, but only “so they can protect and save our community,” Jawando said. He urged residents to attend a June 6 town hall at John F. Kennedy High School in Wheaton to discuss police and community relations.
Officer Rick Goodale, spokesperson for the MCP, said the department has guidelines against the use offensive language, which mirrors the county’s guidelines but does not outline “specified treatment” if officers are caught using offensive language. He also noted that incidents like this one are especially problematic for officers, because they are damaging to the public’s trust.
“It’s problematic, because you have about 1,300 officers out here trying to do good work, and all it takes is one incident like this to undo all the work that good officers have done over the years, not just recently,” Goodale said. “And now we’re in a position where we have to regain that trust, so we’re almost back to square one to rebuild trust.”
During the protest, Laura Wallace of Rockville, a senior organizer with Jews United for Justice, read from a statement that one of the men involved in the incident provided. According to Wallace’s recounting of the incident, the two African American men eat at that McDonald’s several times a week, waiting for a friend to pick them up.
“In the end, they never got to their job,” Wallace said. “They were subsequently fired.”
The two men are seeking redress and “a systemic change” in how MCP treat community residents of color. They also would like an independent investigation conducted of the incident, which was captured on video, and the dropping of the citations issued against them.
They requested that all officers involved in the incident, not just the female officer who uttered the racial slur be named and held accountable and, Wallace said, “They want a better future for themselves and for all their peers in the county.”
During the 90-minute protest, several residents spoke of similar incidents of police disrespect.
Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins (D-20), who represents the area where the incident took place, declared that what happened was “not an isolated incident.” Carlean Ponder, founding member of The Silver Spring Justice Coalition, agreed, pointing out to Silver Spring resident Robert White, who was shot to death by a county police officer a year ago.
It’s not just the female officer who said the n-word, Ponder said. The other officers “just watched. They didn’t stop her, didn’t try to deescalate the incident.”
Referring to the white female officer seen in the video, protestor Susan Smith of Rockville said, “I just don’t think she ever should have called him out and said the n-word. It just seems ridiculous.”
“It just seems she had no respect, and she started laughing,” Smith said. “It was just like this whole thing was a joke.”
Jawando and Tom Hucker were the only councilmembers to attend the protest, but others expressed their concerns with the incident. Councilmember Evan Glass called the language used by the officer “terrible” and said he wants to “to understand why those individuals were stopped in the first place.”
County Executive Marc Elrich also expressed his outrage, noting in a statement that actions like those displayed by the officer “works against efforts to build trust in the community.”
“(The department) is going to review the tapes,” Elrich said in an interview. “They’re going to see what everybody else saw, and I expect that whatever they do is commensurate with what they saw. I expect them to do the right thing. This is not a slap on the wrist thing.”
Elle Meyers contributed to this story.