HYATTSVILLE – The candles wouldn’t say lit. The heat alone would have made most stay away, but nothing stopped the residents and leaders of local communities from mourning and celebrating the lives of those lost to violence in the past weeks, months and years. At a gathering area in the University Town Center in Hyattsville, […]
HYATTSVILLE – The candles wouldn’t say lit. The heat alone would have made most stay away, but nothing stopped the residents and leaders of local communities from mourning and celebrating the lives of those lost to violence in the past weeks, months and years.
At a gathering area in the University Town Center in Hyattsville, residents from nearby communities, including Riverdale Park, College Park, University Park and more, gathered around a small stage, candles in hand, to hold a vigil for black men and women killed by police officers and police officers killed in the line of duty.
Joseph Solomon, a Ward 5 representative on the Hyattsville City Council and incoming president of the Prince George’s County Municipal Association, said the idea was born from Cheverly Councilwoman Maurielle Stewart, Riverdale Park Councilwoman Marsha Dixon, North Brentwood Councilman Charles Wiley and Solomon.
Overall, the goal, he said, was to create a series of vigils where the community could come together to not only find a place where they could voice their concerns, anger and sorrow, but also create a space where they can find common ground in the human element of recent tragedies.
“We thought that the best approach, especially since we were all from four different municipalities, was to make sure that we were doing something that was inclusive to all municipalities,” Solomon said. “Especially since we are all so close as neighbors and partners.”
College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn agreed and said when crime happens, it doesn’t adhere to city boarders, nor does its impact affect only one group of people.
“An incident like what is happening in Baton Rouge, it doesn’t just stay in one jurisdiction. When stuff is happening, it doesn’t recognize boundaries between cities,” he said. “And that’s why I think it’s critically important for this dialogue not to exist just within our own community but across the county and across the region.”
During the two hour event, religious leaders prayed, candles were lit, local government leaders such as the council members, the Prince George’s County Council Vice-Chair, and local delegation representatives spoke of policy and progress, and Hyattsville and Prince George’s police representatives spoke as well.
“This is a time to heal. This is a time to support those who sacrifice for our community. This is a time to pray for all who have died, for all who are suffering, for all who are weary,” said Deacon Neal Conway from St. Jerome Catholic Church in Hyattsville.
For Dixon, she worries what the world will look like when her 16-month-old son is a teenager and young adult and what he will have to face.
“I don’t know how to really take in all that’s happened in the past few weeks. For a moment, I was numb to all that was happening. I wanted to close my eyes and just believe that it wasn’t actually occurring,” she said.
Dixon said she knows she will raise her son well, but she is concerned it won’t be enough to keep him safe, especially in a country that is not completely ready to have a hard conversation about gun violence.
During the vigil, a question and answer session was also opened for a conversation between the local police and the community. Hyattsville Police Chief Douglas Holland and Cpl. Patrick McClam, an officer based in National Harbor.
The pair fielded questions from the community about biases, the police department’s database and about how the police handle situations where a person has a disability, whether mental or physical. The two also updated the community on policies, procedures and training the police departments adhere to to ensure quality community policing.
McClam emphasized that many of the officers in Prince George’s County are residents and share many of the same concerns as civilians.
“I’m not just a member of the police department. I’m also a member of the community,” he said. “So the concerns that you all have are the concerns I have. I’m not just a face of the government. I’m a face in the neighborhood, a face in the grocery store. I am a member of the community as well.”
Solomon, Wojahn and Dixon all said the dialogue between community members and the police is critical for moving forward in this time when so much tragedy is occurring.
“The conversation won’t really happen unless we speak up. You guys are here, so this is a great first step, but ask the tough questions, make the tough comments. It’s okay,” Dixon said to those gathered.
Riverdale Park will hold a forum with the police department on July 30 from 4 – 6 p.m. in the Riverdale Park Town Hall.
Hyattsville will hold a series of community conversations with the police department, with the first one held on Aug. 11 from 7 – 8:30 p.m. at First United Methodist Church.
College Park is in the planning stages of their community forum, and Greenbelt and Laurel are also anticipated to hold forums as well.
Check out our gallery of photos from the event here: http://bit.ly/2atwTBl