LARGO – Gwinever Funderburk, a citizen of Prince George’s County, screamed that she is fed up. She said she came to the race relations town hall meeting at Largo High School expecting to hear solutions. “I didn’t come here tonight to hear you tell me what you’ve done and what you’re trying to do,” Funderburk […]
LARGO – Gwinever Funderburk, a citizen of Prince George’s County, screamed that she is fed up.
She said she came to the race relations town hall meeting at Largo High School expecting to hear solutions.
“I didn’t come here tonight to hear you tell me what you’ve done and what you’re trying to do,” Funderburk said. “What you need to do is put a citizens committee together to police your policemen and politicians.”
Funderburk also said she was tired.
“My tax dollars are going to waste,” Funderburk said. “I see my money going to other districts, other states, like D.C. They have the best system for rehabilitating the people who are coming out from the criminal system, but here in PG County, we have a high rate of recidivism. You’re making money off these kids. That’s why you keep locking them up. When is it going to stop?”
Held on Sept. 19, the “Yo Listen up” Bridging the Gap and Race Relations town hall meeting was spearheaded by Prince George’s County Delegate Darryl Barnes (D-25) and moderated by WPGC 95’s DJ Flexx. Douglas Roeser, director of community outreach, also played a significant role in organizing the event.
The event was an opportunity for African-American community members in Prince George’s County to have a direct conversation with law enforcement and criminal justice experts and address issues related to racial disparity and police brutality in local communities.
Renita Seabrook, a criminal justice researcher, began by discussing the need for strengthening relationships between law enforcement and local communities of color.
“There is a lack of trust between both entities,” Seabrook said. “When you look at the situation as a whole, you really have to think about the historical context out of which this comes about.”
Seabrook also emphasized the importance of class, race, gender and sexual orientation when analyzing the relationship between black males and policemen.
County Police Chief Hank Stawinski also addressed the need for institutional changes within the police community. He said the Prince George’s Police Department is collaborating with Kris Marsh, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, to provide implicit bias training to police officers. However, Stawinski said he prefers to not look at issues in the community in terms of racial divisions.
“I do not like the notion of dividing and setting one against the other – young, old, black, white gay, straight. As many of you know, this is not Prince George’s County, a political entity, this is my home,” Stawinski said.
Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene Grant disagreed with Stawinski, saying his unwillingness to acknowledge race is an issue.
“Whenever I hear a white man say that race is not an issue or ‘that is not the problem’ or that ‘we are all one,’ it causes me to believe that somewhere in that psyche, that as a black man, I have been diminished,” Grant said.
Michael Richardson, a county citizen, voiced his concerns with the mass incarceration of black men and the use of prisoners for cheap labor, a practice Richardson equated with slavery. Del. Aisha Braveboy said she believes the Obama administration is making strides toward ending the practice.
“I am so happy you brought up the relationship between the Constitution and what’s going on in our justice system,” she said. “Finally we have a president who recognizes that these private for-profit prisons have no place in a criminal justice system.”
Charnell Ferguson, president of the NAACP Chapter at Bowie State University, mentioned issues with policing in her community.
“All you see in the community, from where I am in Landover, is the police coming over arresting somebody. There’s no community engagement. We only see you when you’re locking somebody up,” Ferguson said.
Director of Public Administration at the University of Baltimore Heather Wyatt-Nichol said lack of accountability is one of the most daunting problems in law enforcement, according to a study she carried out in collaboration with Seabrook.
“The importance, I think, is having a multi-faceted approach, and some of the recommendations that are truly important are data and accountability and sharing,” Wyatt-Nichol said. “We don’t have a national database for black males or anyone who has been killed by a police officer.”
Like Funderburk, many audience members expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of accountability in the form of solutions offered by the discussion.
Barnes said that his team was documenting the comments and concerns expressed at the town hall meeting to integrate into an upcoming action committee led by entrepreneur and community leader James Dula.
“I had a team that was capturing all that data to find out all the things that we heard,” Barnes said. “There’s going to be an after-action committee being led by Dr. James Dula who will work with folks in the northern part of the county, the central part of the county and the southern part of the county to come up with a holistic approach on finding solutions as it relates to the things that are going on here in Prince George’s County.”