With Prince George’s County continuing seeking to improve its police department, some residents continue to push for transparency to restructure that department and other law enforcement agencies in the county.
During a rally outside the Fairmount Heights police station Monday, organizers highlighted a simple message that Black lives should matter in a majority-Black jurisdiction.
They also presented a list of demands for elected officials such as: include community input to hire a new county police chief, eliminate school resource officers in the schools, pass a law prohibiting the use of excessive force and ensure police officers live in the county.
“The list of demands are growing as we look at other jurisdictions around this country,” said Krystal Oriadha, co-founder of the LGBTQ Dignity Project, who helped organize the rally and march. “The ability for officers…to assault someone and be out on paid leave. None of us can go to work, assault someone and commit murder and get paid. There’s so much work that needs to be done.”
Monday marked the fourth rally Oriadha and Amity Pope, president of Our Prince George’s, organized to force county leaders to institute change, especially within a police department laced with allegations of systematic racism and retaliatory practices.
Fairmount Heights became the chosen location to highlight violence against women.
Earlier this year, former a grand jury indicted a former Fairmount Heights police officer on charges of first- and second-degree rape, assault and other charges after he arrested a woman for a traffic stop. An investigation determined the former officer, Martique Vanderpool, is HIV-positive.
The inclement weather Monday didn’t deter the more than two dozen people on hand from rallying for justice.
“I saw the video of George Floyd. It just made me realize there’s a time for a change all over this country,” said Terry Thomas, 18, who graduated last month from Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville and will attend Howard University in the fall. “For my peers, show some things on social media and how things relate to them. That’s one of the best ways to learn to come out and make a difference.”
As residents fight for equality on the streets, a court battle continues for those incarcerated in the county jail. A virtual court briefing took place Monday to determine whether the county’s Department of Corrections has conducted a plan to provide COVID-19 testing for inmates and improved sanitary conditions.
U.S. District Court Judge Paula Xinis ruled last month that jail officials have “recklessly disregarded” the health of inmates during the coronavirus pandemic. According to court documents, temperature check logs showed records “were spotty and did not reflect the purported twice-daily checks.”
In some cases, detainees had temperatures that ranged between 96 degrees and low as 90 degrees “indicative of hypothermia.” No temperature recorded rose above 99 degrees, although the jail said 18 inmates contracted the virus.
The judge requested jail officials present comprehensive plans on its treatment of detainees, training of staff and the number of coronavirus tests administered.
The judge ruled Monday jail officials, a defendant in the case, have provided a plan such as hiring six additional nurses to treat patients. Also, staff must participate in two-hour training sessions and receive a passing grade of 80 percent or better.
In addition, she summarized how the law isn’t designed for the courts “to be a super-warden” in overseeing jails and prisons.
“Does the defendant have some work to do? Yes, but perfection is not the standard,” the judge said.
Katie Chamblee-Ryan, senior attorney for Civil Rights Corps, a nonprofit organization in Northwest that filed the suit in April against the county jail, said Monday’s decision is one of many steps in the legal process.
“The law in this country is not very protective of people who are in prison,” she said. “We’ve been spending weeks talking to people in this jail. Their lives do matter. We are going to fight as hard as we possibly can to prove what’s going on in that jail.”