HYATTSVILLE – Some residents in Hyattsville may avoid public hearings for fear of retaliatory attacks, according to Councilwoman Paula Perry, who voiced some citizens’ fears last Monday. Last week, during the Oct. 3 meeting, the Hyattsville City Council took up a motion to schedule a public hearing for residents to voice their opinions on non-citizen […]
HYATTSVILLE – Some residents in Hyattsville may avoid public hearings for fear of retaliatory attacks, according to Councilwoman Paula Perry, who voiced some citizens’ fears last Monday.
Last week, during the Oct. 3 meeting, the Hyattsville City Council took up a motion to schedule a public hearing for residents to voice their opinions on non-citizen voting in municipal elections. Although the motion passed with only two dissenting votes from Perry and Councilwoman Ruth Ann Frazier, it did not pass without heavy discussion.
In fact, Perry had the motion for the public hearing moved from the consent agenda to an action item so she could voice resident concerns about the hearing.
“I’ve had many calls on this and I’m speaking only for my residents,” she said. “They will not come to a public hearing. They’ve heard us all come back at each other, call each other names (and) they refuse to put themselves in that situation because it has been allowed.”
Over the past several months, tensions on the city council have arisen in discussions of the possibility of non-citizen voting. During previous conversations this year, both Perry and Frazier firmly voiced their disagreement on the matter in terms that some on the council deemed them racist and inappropriate.
The matter worsened when Perry’s husband spoke during public comment at a later meeting and used the N-word when referencing his family’s longtime support of African-Americans.
During the Oct. 3 meeting, Perry said some members of the community fear their neighbors and what would happen if they voiced their opinion, on camera, at a public hearing.
“I’ve been told, especially with seniors, that this pits seniors against their neighbors because they’re afraid to come out. They’re afraid of what will happen to them,” she said.
Perry said some seniors in the city “won’t even call in a noise ordinance” because they are terrified of retaliation and noted that her “neighborhood isn’t safe.”
Frazier went on to further emphasize the point and said she is one of those seniors who fears for her life.
“I’m not going to vent here on TV, but I really would, as a senior, like to be able to speak to you all in private, because I am one of those seniors who is afraid, “ Frazier said. “And I am being honest with each and every one of you. When I leave here tonight, I’m afraid.”
Councilmen Robert Croslin and Patrick Paschall both raised questions about the fear and specifically where it came from. Perry said she has residents calling her rather than the police, because they fear their neighbor retaliating over a report.
“That’s a pretty sad state,” Croslin said. Perry agreed but said, “I’m sorry, that’s what they’re telling me.”
Paschall also questioned if Perry was insinuating that residents in Hyattsville are worried about violence from their Latino neighbors.
“The thing that confuses me about this is why a resident would be afraid to speak on the qualifications for voters because their neighbors play loud music or is accused of killing cats,” he said.
However, Perry said the topic had nothing to do with fear of Latinos or race issues.
Despite Perry and Frazier’s discussion about the fear of speaking at a public meeting, especially with a camera rolling, Croslin, Councilman Bart Lawrence and Councilwoman Shani Warner said there are other options for residents who want their opinions heard or who want to report law breaking.
Lawrence said that calls to the police can be done discretely, and Hyattsville Police Chief Douglas Holland said residents do not have to give their name when calling in a report.
“Callers are not required to give it. All they have to do is simply decline and say they would rather it just be reported as a concerned citizen,” Holland said.
Croslin said the camera at public hearings can also be turned away from the speaker, if they wish – this is a courtesy that has been extended to residents in the past who have requested it.
Warner also said residents can email their council members their opinion.
“There are quite a few levels that you would have to go through to figure out who are the people who sent an email to us and conceivably someone could not put identifying information in an email,” she said.
On the other hand, Paschall said he is concerned with the precedent the discussion around public hearings could create.
“We’re going to begin sowing into the minds of the residents at home that scheduling a public hearing and specifically asking for feedback from the public is going to lead to illegitimacy because the ‘majority of people who really disagree didn’t come out and speak’ because they’re afraid,” he said.
The public hearing is scheduled for Oct. 26 at 8 p.m.