An amiable conversation addressing ways to combat crime in Prince George’s County turned emotional at Creative Suitland, one of the county’s designated safe spaces for children and young adults in the jurisdiction.
It began after counselor Dr. Shryl Whigman summarized mental health, behavioral and other services available for youth and young adults in the county.
The last six minutes of the estimated 90-minute discussion on Thursday, April 15 ended in shouting.
“What are we doing about the homelessness in P.G. County? What are we doing about the P.G. police brutality?” Kenneth Clark, a local activist from Oxon Hill, yelled in the back of the room.
County Executive Angela Alsobrooks intervened to respond to one of his questions but Clark yelled “Mic check!” five times.
Alsobrooks attempted to answer a question, again, but Clark said, “It’s a dog and pony show. We have to get real with it and deal with it.”
“Be respectful. Let me answer the question,” Alsobrooks said.
Antonio Mingo of Suitland stood beside Clark and yelled about how residents of the surrounding community weren’t in the room.
“I have two kids. I’m here for them,” he said.
Another woman chimed in about not seeing her grandson for two years. Both Clark and Mingo continued to talk.
“The problem is we don’t respect each other. I want to answer the question. Please be respectful of the people who are descending here tonight,” Alsobrooks said.
The Rev. Tony Lee, pastor of Community of Hope AME Church in Temple Hills, served as a panelist to respond to written questions from the audience, walked off the makeshift stage to go outside and talk with Clark.
“I have been doing the civilized thing. I’m tired of no one talking about the real issues,” Clark said.
After the discussion ended, Mingo walked over to Alsobrooks and apologized for yelling.
Mingo highlighted how several Prince George’s County police supervisors in white shirts, local politicians and candidates running for local offices filled some of the seats. The county asked residents to register online to attend the meeting.
“I was not trying to be disrespectful in any way,” he said. “But the thing was, the other women and families in the back were raising their hands and not being acknowledged. So, what is this panel for if you are not involving the actual community? If you looked in the audience, you didn’t see people from the community. I don’t have all the answers but I think I’m at a good start.”
Police Chief Malik Aziz chatted with several people afterward including Dawn Dalton, whose son Lupe Hawkins was assaulted by Prince George’s police in 2010.
“I always have to try and play my position and I play it really well,” Aziz said. “This is a professional police service that we’re trying to deliver. We should never be pushing back. We should be engaging with each other.”
Aziz also spoke with Nikki Owens, the cousin of William Green, whose family received a $20 million settlement from the county after he was killed by a former police officer in January 2020.
“I feel like there’s a huge people problem in the police department and even within our entire judicial system, ” said Owens, who traveled from Fredericksburg, Virginia, to attend the session. “As Black people, these things are happening in your community. What are you going to do to stop the people problem?”
Aziz, who became the chief last year after 29 years at the Dallas Police Department, responded.
“I don’t know any police officer around me or my executive team that would tolerate police brutality. I don’t tolerate police brutality,” he said to Owens. “I’m sorry for your loss. I don’t tolerate police brutality.”
“I love good cops,” he said. “I don’t like a single bad cop. It’s not what the community deserves. I’m here for you but I think it is going to start with us right here. But [we will need] a longer dialogue. I need to know what I can do to contribute to the community in the right way.”
The police department distributed an 18-page document of crime statistics for attendees to review. People who couldn’t attend can also view the discussion online.
Here’s a summary on the comparison of selected data from Prince George’s police and municipal agencies between Jan. 1 and April 7, 2021 in comparison to the same period this year, respectively.
- Murder: 40; 31
- Assaults: 501; 549
- Robbery: 342; 457
- Domestic violence: 412; 431
- Burglary: 325; 363
Aziz said one of the most alarming statistics deals with carjackings, an offense he and other law enforcement officials throughout the D.C. region continue to seek ways to effectively resolve.
One of the reasons Aziz attributed to increased criminal activity was a decrease in applicants to the department which currently has 1,464 officers.
“We are budgeted for 1,786,” he said. “We need as many police officers as it takes to get the job done.”
In terms of those applying to the department, 7,445 applied in 2012. That figure decreased to 5,100 in 2014 and dipped to 1,003 last year.
To entice more officers to the department, Alsobrooks said the proposed fiscal year 2023 budget allocates $640,000 which includes incentives for officers to work and live in the county.
“We think this is so important to continue to incentivize having officers who live in the communities in which they serve,” she said. “It’s hard to serve people you don’t know or understand.”
Beverly John, a community activist from Hyattsville, said Clark expressed valid points on what county and law enforcement officials are specifically doing to protect the community.
“We have a question about what is going to keep us safe from the police officers who choose to do us harm,” said John, who cofounded Concerned Citizens for Bail Reform in Prince George’s County.
“Everything [county officials] talked about sounded good,” John said. “The community needs to be heard to address the real issue of police reform. It must be done.”