African Americans fear the police in Maryland. Many see parallels to the recent death of Minnesota resident George Floyd and what could happen to them.
On the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday, some 30 miles south of his district, U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.) called Floyd’s death “murder.”
“George Floyd lost his life this week because of a Minneapolis police officer,” Mfume said. “George Floyd died for no known reason. He was not armed. He was not intoxicated. He was not aggressive and he was not threatening. He pleaded for his life. He cried out for help. He groaned in pain and then he died with his face pressed against the ground and the knee of a police officer against his neck. This was not an arrest. This was murder.”
Mfume called for the immediate prosecution of the involved officers, to the fullest extent of the law.
“God help us as a nation if we choose to be silent at this sad and tragic time,” Mfume said.
Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, died Monday, laying face down and handcuffed on the streets of Minneapolis with the knee of a white police officer wedged into his neck. A video taken by a bystander captured the moment, showing Floyd begging for his life, repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe,” while police officers stood by appearing unfazed before he took his last breath.
Since Floyd’s death, protesters have taken over the streets of Minneapolis, looting stores, setting fires and even breaching a district police station.
The incident carried echoes of 2015 in Baltimore, when Freddie Gray died after being in police custody. His death led to days of unrest in the city.
On Friday, after four days of protest and the announcement of a federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, the police officer directly involved in Floyd’s death, Derek Chauvin, was charged with 3rd Degree murder and manslaughter.
A Prince George’s County resident who teaches high school said he felt sad and numb when he saw the viral video of Floyd’s death. He said it’s something he’s seen way too often. It also reminded him of a time when Maryland police officers stopped and frisked him while he was out on a morning jog.
“It’s something I’ve seen way too often,” Giani Clarkson, 40, said in an interview. “I’ve never in my lifetime seen any officers punished, either. I have very little confidence in the legal system and very little trust in the police because of it.”
Clarkson recalled a time in the summer of 2018 when he was jogging through a neighborhood, wearing a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. A Prince George’s County Police officer stopped him, for no apparent reason.
He said there were two police officers in one car and another in a second car. They asked for his identification and where he was going before they directed him to lay on the ground to be searched.
“I could not conceal or carry anything,” Clarkson said. “I was asked to lay on my stomach as they went through my pockets. They found my identification, my house keys and my cell phone.”
Clarkson said police offered no explanation.
“I have multiple degrees,” he said. “I have two bachelor’s degree, a masters, and I’m a doctoral candidate. I’m a proud fraternity member who does community service.”
At the time, Clarkson was also an adjunct professor at a Maryland university.
“There was no rhyme or reason for that treatment,” he said.
As a social studies teacher, Clarkson said it is hard for him to teach his students about their inalienable rights while his are being abused, along with those of his students.
A mother’s worries
Amy Brown, an Anne Arundel County single mother with a 15-year-old daughter understands. She said her family has been targeted by the police for the last two years.
Brown said her daughter Jada, a former honor roll student, now has to undergo counseling and homeschooling, after two years’ of problems with two officers from the Anne Arundel Police Department.
When Jada was 13, she was bicycling with friends in her neighborhood, where Brown had resided for 20 years. An off-duty police officer, who was also a neighbor, tried to drive by in a car with his family.
Brown acknowledged the kids were being rambunctious, popping wheelies and playing around in the street.
“They didn’t get out of his way quick enough,” Brown said. “He pulled over to the wrong side of the road and said to the kids, ‘I should run all you fuckin’ niggers over.'”
Brown said her daughter received a verbal citation and was told another would be sent in the mail, after being held on the corner for over an hour. Brown was not contacted by the police when her daughter was being held.
Brown filed a complaint with the police department, and several days later attended an advocacy event held by The Community Actively Seeking Transparency (CAST), a group that works to end racially-biased police acitivity.
A few days later Brown appeared on the front page of the Capital Gazette, which reported on the CAST event and Brown’s filed complaint.
Three days later her daughter went to Arundel Mills Mall where she was arrested for trespassing and was banned from the mall for a year.
Brown filed a second complaint, which like the first one, did not result in any consequences for the officers.
In February 2020, after staying away from the mall for over a year, Jada returned.
“My daughter is in the mall less than one minute,” Brown said. “The same arresting officer from a year ago gives her two choices. He yells her full name across the mall. ‘You can either turn around and leave or I’m going to arrest you for trespassing.'”
Brown said her daughter, who was being recorded at the time, told the officer she was not trespassing and needed to call her mom.
“My daughter was waiting for a rapper’s signature, sitting on a bench,” Brown said. “The security guard said you’re banned. She said, no I’m not. Next, a uniformed Anne Arundel police officer pulled her off the bench, slammed her on the ground, knee in her neck, knee in back, knee in groin area. Four cops in all.”
Brown took her daughter to the pediatrician the following Tuesday. She said the doctor cried.
“Her braces bracket broke,” Brown said. “The doctor said she’s never witnessed police brutality like this until now.”
Brown said her daughter had a black eye from her face on the ground, her mouth was bleeding from her braces, she had scratches on her arms and bruising on her back.
“At the end of the visit the doctor diagnosed assault by police,” Brown said.
As of today, when Brown and her daughter drive by police, she says Jada’s legs shake and she cringes.
“She hates police,” Brown said. “No 15-year-old should ever be like that.”
But Brown didn’t file a complaint this time.
“We’re targeted, period,” Brown said.”Where do I go to now?”
The Anne Arundel Police Department did not respond to a comment or interview request about Brown’s daughters alleged altercations with the police officers.
A push for police body cameras
In response to Floyd’s officer-involved death, several African American advocacy groups, including the county NAACP and United Black Clergy, on Thursday called on Anne Arundel County to restore $5.2 million in funding for police-worn body cameras.
Carl Snowden, an Annapolis civil rights leader and former city councilman, said the funding was cut due to anticipated revenue loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Caucus of African American Leaders refuses to accept the notion that Anne Arundel County Government is unable to provide funding for body cameras,” Snowden said in a statement. “The communities that are the most vulnerable to police misconduct are Black and Brown communities. However, everyone benefits from body cameras because it brings transparency into the discussion and helps resolve issues before they reach the stage of litigation.”
Lawmakers on the county and state levels continue to try and make changes to current law, which black leaders say needs more transparency and accountability for police actions.
Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery) is trying to pass Anton’s Law, a police accountability bill born from the death of Anton Black, an African American teen who died in police custody in Greensboro in 2018.
The bill would reform the Maryland Public Information Act, which prevents some information from being shared with the public while shielding personnel files of police officers. It would also remove privileges that currently allow police officers only to be interrogated and investigated by sworn officers and would establish police use-of-force standards.
Acevero said the bill is opposed by the Maryland Police and Sheriff’s associations. It has failed to advance in the legislature for the last two years, though the 2020 session was cut short by COVID-19.
“I think to be black in America is to have a negative interaction with police,” Acevero said. “At some point, it is impossible not to have it.”
Montgomery County Councilman William L. Jawando (D) had his own negative experience with police in 2019.
The Maryland State Police pulled him over when he was on the way to the gym on a Saturday morning for stopping on the line at a stop sign.
“It’s an example of the potential stops and the harassment that happens all over the state, all over the country every day, and in the worst cases can lead to death and escalation as in the case of George Floyd,” Jawando said. “The original call was for counterfeiting a $20 bill, similar to Eric Garner selling loosies or cigarettes. These types of things can often escalate to death, unfortunately.”
In early 2019, Jawando introduced the Law Enforcement Trust and Transparency Act.
The bill, which became effective in 2020, requires the Montgomery County police to use an independent federal, state or local entity to investigate officer-involved deaths, as opposed to the former method of the county police investigating themselves.
But after at least two officer-involved deaths in the county this year, the independent agency has yet to be formed.
Jawando said there was supposed to be an update in April.
“I’ve been the target of this kind of foolishness,” church bishop and Kent County NAACP chapter President Charles Tilghman said in an interview. “When I first started this church I was pulled over every second. As a pastor in Chestertown as well as being the president of the NAACP chapter. ‘Where you going? Where you coming from?’
“‘You know me, you know where I’m going,” Tilghman would respond. “I’m going right to my church. My wife got pulled over. My son is a musician at my church. He and another musician on their way from rehearsal got pulled over, make them lay on the ground because they suspicious, think he’s bringing in drugs, because he has Delaware tags. Been through it all.”
Tilghman called the police encounters sickening.
“It takes something out of you when you go through that experience,” he said. “You being followed home at night, a cop up on your bumper with its high beams on and you don’t know what to do. Now all of a sudden they whip around in the road and go back the other way.”
Tilghman said he feels like Chestertown is still racist, and he’s crushed by what happened to Floyd.
“How could any human being do that to another human being?” Tilghman asked. “This guy’s pleading for his life. What is justice for the black man in this country? I wish somebody would explain it to me. You walk down the street you already a target.”
Glynis Kazanjian is a freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected]
To read more about Floyd’s death and its aftermath in Minneapolis, please consider reading the coverage from the Minnesota Reformer.