Human Rights Advocates and Police Discuss Race Relations at Community Forum (VIDEO)
In the wake of recent events in Ferguson and New York, law enforcement officials and human rights advocates held a community forum about racism, use of police force, and the relationship between officers and the community on Dec. 10 at the Rockville campus of Montgomery College.
The “People of Color and the U.S. Criminal Justice System” event also recognized Human Rights Day, which is celebrated internationally at this time of year.
An organizer said the event’s main goal was to present a variety of perspectives about the issues of race.
“I think people need to feel comfortable whenever they are … Also, this is a long project; not because it’s so difficult that we can’t get there, but that we have to work hard,” said Laura White, Organization Development Specialist at Montgomery College.
Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger said a conversation such as this is necessary for community engagement.
“I spent most of my time listening to the community, and not the community that is happy with everything we do, but the community that has issues with the police. The community that has crime issues and there are challenges. Those are the folks that we need to listen to most to make sure we’re doing the very best we can,” Manger said.
According to Manger, 19 percent of the county’s police force is made up of African-American officers. While six percent is Latino and three percent Asian.
“I will tell you. We are not doing as well with the Latino population. In the time I’ve been here; we have doubled the number of Latino officers. We are still roughly under where we should be if we’re going to represent the number in the community,” Manger said.
The forum was hosted by the Montgomery College Peace and Justice Studies Community. W. Greg Wims, president of the Victims Rights Foundation, David Smith of the Rockville Human Rights Commission and Montgomery College’s Laura White also spoke at the event.
Human rights advocates recognized the need for law enforcement, and at the same time, they asked to have issues resolved through nonviolent means. However, for that to happen, advocates and law enforcement officials say laws must be enforced, and the community must work together with police.
“People out on the streets chanting, we’re not saying they can’t do that. We’re not saying it’s wrong to do that, but we’re saying… Where do we go from here? What’s more out here. There’s got to be a lot more than that,” said Alonzo N. Smith, an African American history professor at Montgomery College.