The fatal shooting of Finan H. Berhe by a Montgomery County police officer has ignited efforts of the Silver Spring Justice Coalition (SSJC) and Berhe’s family to ensure consequences for his death and eradicate what they say is the latest in a long string of Black murders at the hands of racist police.
Outrage raced throughout the White Oak community and beyond after the release of body-camera footage capturing Montgomery County Police Sgt. David Cohen, who is white, shooting Berhe multiple times in the chest during a May 8 confrontation in a residential parking lot.
The SSJC and others protested that the involved members of the MCPD be appropriately reprimanded.
“We demand that Sergeant Cohen, the killer cop, be fired immediately. We demand that 3rd District Commander [Darren] Francke, and Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones resign immediately,” said Laurel Hoa of SSJC. “They have failed in oversight of their commands. They have failed to ensure residents in distress do not die because of police incompetence. They have failed to implement deescalation recommended by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. They are responsible for Finan’s death, and they must be held accountable.”
Berhe was carrying a knife at the time of the shooting, which authorities said was recovered at the scene. However, community friends said that Berhe suffered from mental health issues.
In the video, which was posted on the police department’s Twitter account, Cohen draws his service weapon almost immediately after exiting his vehicle. After repeatedly yelling at Berhe to get on the ground, the officer fires several times once Berhe begins running toward him.
Cohen, a 17-year veteran of the department, was placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure after a police shooting.
The SSJC held a vigil in collaboration with Berhe’s family to honor the life of Berhe and Emannual Okutuga, who was also killed during an altercation with MCPD in 2011.
“The worst pain a mother could ever go through is to have to bury their child — and just because the color of their skin,” Comfort Oludipe, mother of Okutuga, tearfully said. “Even with 13 eyewitnesses, the state’s attorney told me that ‘somebody’ in the state attorney’s office ‘mistakenly’ deleted this video, and my case was thrown out of court. They got away with murder.”
Cherri Branson of the Montgomery County NAACP branch and SSJC members shared mailings have been sent to the MCPD requesting provisions implemented in police engagement protocol, such as increasing deescalation training, releasing the reports of the 911 call that led to Berhe’s death, and requiring consideration of mental health status of residents prior to engagement, with use of mental health sensitive interventions that remedy issues without the loss of a life.
“The days of Finan are the days of this constitution, this country, this democracy,” said Tababu Assefa, a family member of Berhe. “They are the government because we gave our good will to be governed. They are the government because we vote them in office. They are the government because we finance them with our tax dollars. The police are supposed to protect and serve us. So the days of Finan, and the rights that we demand immediately is a failure of this democracy. From the east to the west, we want this nation to know — each life matters.”