By ALEX MANN CAPITAL GAZETTE MAY 29, 2020 AT 10:09 AM
Anne Arundel County’s police chief and county executive were flanked Friday afternoon by a host of African American leaders and clergy as they together denounced the actions of officers in Minneapolis fired after one of them killed a black man in their custody.
Speakers preached a message of condemnation, of pain and coming together in the face of tragedy. They compared the death of George Floyd in police custody to lynchings of years past and addressed what they described as persistent racism.
“Every right-thinking police officer in this country was disgusted by what they saw in that video. Human life matters and we are committed to protect it," police Chief Tim Altomare said before a crowd of TV cameras. "All 800 roughly of us who wear this patch and badge condemn what we saw. There is no place for that behavior in American policing. We’re committed to doing it differently in Anne Arundel County.”
Members of the county’s United Black Clergy spoke of rising tensions. Those heading the county’s branch of the NAACP and the Caucus of African American Leaders discussed ways for community members to channel their frustrations toward making the community better for all.
“Every community, every people, reaches a point where enough is enough," said Carl Snowden, convener of the Caucus of
Snowden said that he hopes the breaking point will lead to change, that after a summer that will no doubt look different because of the coronavirus crisis, county leaders can shepherd lasting change.
“I don’t want to return to normal," Snowden said. "Normalcy has meant unemployment for young African Americans. Normalcy has meant racism.”
Floyd died while pleading that he couldn’t breathe as a white officer pressed his knee into his neck. Four Minneapolis police officers were quickly fired, but Floyd’s death set off a firestorm of at times violent protests nationwide about police brutality toward African Americans. Protestors have called for charges against the officers involved.
“Though we grieve in our hearts, it is never a good course to resort to violence, to vandalism,” said Overseer Jay Offer, who is the pastor of Harvest Crusade Ministries in Glen Burnie.
The officer who kneeled on George’s neck, Derek Chauvin, was arrested Friday, the Associated Press reported.
“We asked that they do their job and they are doing their job because there was an arrest," said Jacqueline Boone Allsup, president of the county branch of the NAACP. "We want justice for Mr. George Floyd.”
The chief wrote about images playing again and again in his head: of the tragic death, of the protests, of people of different creeds coming together. He talked about the use of force, saying officers are trained to know that pressing on a person’s neck for a long time can lead to death.
“The officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck was trained better than that, I would bet my life on it...” he wrote. “It does not take specialized training to know that force applied to a human being’s neck can cause serious injury or death.”
In his column, the chief wrote that Anne Arundel County officers use force in 0.3% of encounters with the public and about 1% of arrests. He said the majority — approximately 70% — of sustained excessive force complaints come from other officers.
“There is no defending the conduct of the officers in Minneapolis,” he wrote. “I also can’t promise that we won’t have a ‘bad night’ here. I can promise that we do not and will not accept less than respect for all lives and professional service to every human being we contact – including those we arrest.”
Allsup and Snowden, at the news conference called on County Executive Steuart Pittman to restore funding in the budget for police body cameras.
“We know that body cameras are not the panacea; they will not solve the problems that we face in this country," Snowden said. "But what body cameras have proven to be is an unblinking eye that will tell a story that is not based on people’s perspective of what happened.”
Pittman noted that just last summer county residents gathered for the unveiling of Maryland’s first lynching memorial in Annapolis and to remember the “horror and brutality" of those hate crimes perpetrated by white mobs on black people. He likened Floyd’s death to those lynchings.
“I encourage every adult in our county, particularly every white adult of privilege, to watch that video. And when you do, imagine that Mr. George Floyd, the victim trapped under the knee of that officer, was your brother,” Pittman said. “And when you’re done, I encourage you to take a breath, set your jaw and pledge to push back for the rest of the waking hours of your life against every wedge driven by hate, fear and racism between the people of this country.”