BETHESDA – Councilman Will Jawando urged members of Jews United for Justice (JU4J) to work for police reform and racial equality during an Aug. 5 meeting at Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda.
The two-hour meeting was devoted to police accountability and included discussions about the county’s choice for a new police chief and proposed legislation to enact a civilian policing advisory commission.
“I am so happy you are all here taking up this advocacy,” Jawando said.
According to Laura Wallace, Montgomery County senior organizer for JU4J, 31% of police traffic stops that took place between 2013 and 2017 involved African Americans, although they represent only 18% of the county.
In 2016, 72% of arrests here involved people of color, she said.
Wallace also talked about an Aug. 1 incident in which police were called to a condominium in Bethesda, where a resident there complained of too many people using the pool in what she believed to be a violation of condominium bylaws.
“No one was arrested, and it was completely inappropriate,” she said.
According to Jawando, eight children of color ranging in age from two to nine years had been invited by a resident of the condo.
Those children and their families “are being yelled out and cursed out and being told you don’t live here,” he said.
“Our police came and spent about two hours,” Jawando said.
The responding officers didn’t need to be there and “could have been more helpful elsewhere,” he said.
But Captain C. Thomas Jordan, spokesman for Montgomery County Police Department (MCP), defended his officers, noting that they received a 9-1-1 call with information that there were 30 people at the pool who were refusing to leave.
“No way, shape or form was it based on color. When you call 9-1-1, we show up. That’s what we do,” Jordan said.
The officers deescalated the situation and remained on the scene for a little more than an hour until the condo rules were produced, he said, adding, “Our main purpose there was conflict management.”
Jordan said his officers were polite and left when the situation died down.
Still, during the meeting, JU4J members vowed to work for police reform, which “has been needed for a long time,” said member Joanna Silver.
She pointed to the death of Robert White, the Silver Spring resident shot to death by a county police officer last summer, and other incidents showing police misconduct.
She urged JU4J members to contact their councilmembers in support of Tonya Chapman, the former Portsmouth Virginia police chief, as the new county police chief for Montgomery County.
A few members of JU4J sat in on interviews of the final two candidates for the police chief job, and they said they support County Executive Marc Elrich’s choice of Chapman.
In a press release, the organization leaders described Chapman as “the right person to build a strong, trusting relationship between MCPD and the residents of Montgomery County.”
Organization members said they believe Chapman is a strong believer in community policing and judges police officers by their interactions, and not by the number of arrests they make.
Silver said she did not believe Acting Chief Marcus Jones was the right person to guide the police department forward.
Jawando also expressed his support for Chapman, pointing specifically to her view of community policing, which, he said, “could be a real gamechanger.”
“If we hire a good police chief; if we change a few police policies; if we keep moving forward on this, things will change,” Jawando said.
He said he believed Chapman had a “50-50 shot. I think there are people (on the council) who think it’s too much of a change” for the police department if she was hired.
He spoke passionately of the “at least 15 times” he has been pulled over by police for minor infractions. During the most recent incident, he was asked if he owned the car he was driving and if he had any outstanding warrants.
“You don’t treat people like that if you want to build trust,” he said.
Jawando also spoke of a recent meeting of 50 young people of color in Gaithersburg. When he asked how many of them had ever received a police warning to stay away from a property for one year or be arrested, “half the room raised their hands.”
Problems within the MCP are more than a few bad officers, Jawando said.
When arrests are considerably higher among people of color and when officers are praised for making the most arrests, it is a cultural and systemic issue, he said.
Still, he said, “We have a great police department.”