Publisher Kenneth Brown

Publisher’s Column: When a Community Goes Quiet

Generally, the communities that we admire are those with residents who are very involved and active in the educational, political and civic activities there. They are involved in the schools, they regularly attend community meetings, they host social events to stay connected with neighbors, and work very hard at maintaining community standards.

A community that is stagnant lacks some or all of those characteristics. The one thing that sends a loud, powerful message that a community is potentially on the brink of decline is when it goes quiet.

When the people and its leaders see things that are wrong and either don’t and won’t speak up, the silence creates cause for concern. A little soul searching may be in order.

This summer, on Aug. 1, an incident similar to those that have gripped the nation took place right in our back yard, in Randallstown. Korryn Gaines, a 22-year-old mother of two was shot and killed by police inside her home and her 5-year-old son struck and wounded.

But unlike what happened in many of the communities in which police involved shootings took place, in Baltimore County the prevailing response from most of our elected officials, local NAACP and community was the sound of crickets.

For those who think the reason Korryn Gaines is dead is because she brought it on herself, I say this: Yes, according to the police, she pointed a gun and threatened them. Unfortunately, there is no audio or video to verify that. The police department also confirmed that it was their officer who fired first and that he did so with a young child in the house. Who does that?

There was no outrage, no calls for answers, no condemnation. And I ask myself the question, Why?

I am not saying we should take to the streets, burn buildings and turn over cars. But to invite people to explain themselves and be transparent would have been a reasonable response.

Kudos to leaders such as Aaron Plymouth, who had Captain Matthew Gorman of Precinct 2, at his Combined Communities Advocacy Council of Greater Randallstown meeting in August. The substation is in walking distance from the Carriage Hill Apartments, where the incident took place and officers supported the perimeter.

In August, Councilman Julian Jones called a meeting to discuss the possibility of a Walmart superstore coming to Owings Mills Mall. More than 500 people up in arms packed the room. When Councilman Jones sent an email to the same list of people letting them know that the state’s attorney and police chief would attend a meeting in September to share information on Gaines shooting and investigation of the responsible officer, less than 60 concerned citizens showed up. What a disappointment!

The community did not respond. By not responding are you inviting more of the same?

Law enforcement is carried out differently in different communities. While we may not want to admit it, it is very likely that police will respond differently to a 911 call from someone who sees a disoriented, disorderly guy stumbling in a parking lot in Hunt Valley than they would to a man exhibiting similar behavior in a parking lot in Woodlawn.

If you had the personal, negative interactions with county police that Korryn Gaines had, in a climate where incidents of extreme police aggression and police involved shootings were still fresh in the national news cycle, how willing would you be to leave your home and surrender to a contingent of officers with guns ready? Would you trust that your daughter, sister or girlfriend would survive the situation?

The only record being maintained was her posts to Facebook, and we know the rest of that story.

What is it about police and their impatience when they deal with people in certain communities, especially people of color and those who appear to have mental health issues?

Since January 2015, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund says there have been six fatal police involved shooting in Baltimore County. Four of the victims were black. That is almost 70 percent but blacks only make of 28 percent of the county population.

A review of reports of police-involved shootings in the past couple of years went like this:

• In June 2015, two officers responded to a daughter’s 911 call that a man was hitting her mother. Police arrived at the Owings Mills home and fired 19 shots at the 41-year-old unarmed African-American man with three children and wife in the house. He may have been off his meds. Where was the outrage?

• In January 2015, police fatally shot another black man, 56 years old, outside the 7-11 on Marriottsville Road. He had a knife and was pacing up and down the sidewalk.

• This summer, police responded to woman’s report that her 21-year-old boyfriend appeared to be on drugs and was acting strange. After a violent struggle, the combative but unarmed man was arrested. He later died from his injuries in the hospital.

• And then we can’t forget 19-year-old shot after a confrontation with police in Reisterstown in September 2015. He who turned out to be unarmed.

Why did these people, who may have been having a bad day, have to lose their lives?

We compare these incidents to the less lethal way county police responded to an officer who threatened them last spring, and in July when Anne Arundel County police used rubber bullets to take down a woman who threatened them with a knife.

How many remember the March 2000 case of Joseph Palczynski? This man was armed, had a police record for violent crimes and he had done jail time. Police parked outside the house and delivered him. They waited for 97 hours before they rushed in and shot him dead.

Here, we have a young woman who had one misdemeanor and in less than seven hours was dead. What was the rush? If you have been told that she has mental issues and she threatens you, why not just take a deep breath and back up? What’s more, the entire scenario could not have been avoided if officers did not get a key from the apartment management and force entry into her apartment.

Young people are watching. What do they think of us when we sit back quietly and don’t say anything?

I remember the time that when you were locked up by police, it was assumed that you must have done something wrong. You never questioned what a police officer did because he was always right. Social media and citizen journalism has shown us that is not always the case. Someone who takes a life shouldn’t take it so lightly.

This police attitude of “comply or die” has to go. There should be more comprehensive training to teach officers how to de-escalate situations. There should be body cameras at all barricade situations. (It is hard for me to believe that during the six-hour barricade that if none of the officers in direct conflict with Korryn Gaines had a body worn camera, that there was no directive to send an officer who had one.

When bad things happen in a community, whatever the cost, it’s how a community responds that is most telling. For the State’s Attorney to come into Randallstown and find out that a few dozen people were interested enough to learn more sends a loud message back to Towson and the Police Department.

Fortunately, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund has requested that the County Executive Kevin Kamenetz look into the county’s police practices and policies. What will our elected officials, business and community leaders do to put the police department on notice?

Please know that you should never expect someone outside your community to care more about your community than you do.

That’s my opinion. What’s yours? Share your thoughts below.

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