Civic activists and clergy members on Sunday night praised the relationship that Montgomery County’s police and political leaders have with the community, but cautioned there was still work to be done to avoid situations such as the recent unrest in Ferguson, Mo.
More than 60 people gathered in Rockville for a prayer vigil honoring Michael Brown, the unarmed black teen who was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson this month; Brown’s death has prompted both peaceful protests and incidents in which demonstrators have clashed violently with police.
“We join together in unity, to call for healing, to call for justice and to call for peace within ourselves, our county, our state and, of course, the country,” Anita Neal Powell, president of the Montgomery County branch of the NAACP, which sponsored the vigil, told the crowd.
Powell said there needs to be an ongoing conversation in Montgomery County to avoid tragedies such as Brown’s death in Ferguson. But she also praised the county’s police force, telling The Gazette that there was a much more positive relationship between the police and the community in Montgomery County than there seemed to be in Ferguson.
“Our police officers represent us,” Powell said, adding that there were blacks in leadership positions in law enforcement and diversity on numerous community advisory committees.
Powell also alluded to video showing a police officer in Ferguson threatening to kill protesters, saying that she didn’t see that mentality in Montgomery County and doubted it would ever surface.
Sunday’s vigil also featured an unannounced appearance by County Executive Isiah Leggett, who told the crowd that while the county may not be earning the same level of media attention as Ferguson because it was not embroiled in riots or political infighting, residents were still setting an example with the evening’s peaceful, supportive gathering.
“We are fortunate that our police are here to embrace and support these kind of activities,” Leggett said, adding that the county was also fortunate that its residents believed strongly in diversity, inclusiveness and justice.
County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger also addressed the crowd, explaining that, because he was now frequently asked for his opinion of the police in Ferguson, he felt the Missouri department had not spent enough time earning the trust of the community through transparency and accountability.
Manger said that he felt his primary responsibility was to make sure he had the right people for the job of policing Montgomery County, and that he sought to make the department more accountable by taking steps like putting cameras in patrol cars.
But work must be done every day to keep the confidence of the community, Manger said.
Other speakers offered prayers for the Brown family, and described the recurring fear that strikes the parents of a black teenagers in the wake of events such as Brown’s death.
But throughout the vigil there was a sense of appreciation for the steps Montgomery County has taken to ensure diversity and trust, something demonstrated by the overwhelming number of black candidates who ran for office in the June primary, according to Elbridge James, second vice president of the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP. James said 32 black candidates in total ran for county offices and central committee seats.