By Julia Lerner
Students, community members and campus police officers met to discuss racism, police brutality, and the value of black lives in America in a panel hosted by the Black Male Initiative.
A panel discussion featuring University of Maryland Police Chief David Mitchell, activist attorney and organizer of the Black is Back Coalition Aaron T. O’Neal, President of the African National Women’s Organization Yejide Orunmila, and playwright and activist Keith A. Wallace addressed audience concerns regarding the relationship between police and minorities on campuses and at a national level.
Throughout the night, panelists discussed the current state of being black in America, discussed the death of Lt. Richard Collins III and referenced victims of police brutality, including Michael Brown, an unarmed teenage whose death sparked riots and protests around the country, and 43-year-old Eric Garner, who was put in an illegal chokehold and later died from his injuries.
“Mike Brown was gunned down like a dog in the middle of the street,” O’Neal said. “His body laid on the concrete for four and a half hours. This is an example to the black community. This is what happens when you fight against the police.”
O’Neal went on to point out that the night Brown was killed, protestors at the police station were chanting, “Kill the police!” because “this is just the kind of relationship the community had with [them] at that time.”
Mitchell also acknowledged the lack of community relationships as a catalyst for future incidents. “If you were working in community policing, where you get to know your neighborhood, you would already know Mike Brown,” said Mitchell. “Instead of approaching the issues in an antagonistic, combative way, you would already know each other to begin with, and I think that would have made a major difference.”
The police Chief went on to say, “the death of an 18-year-old at the hands of the police can never be valid.”
Additionally, Wallace suggested “black community control” of the police would help reduce incidents of police brutality. “If anybody is going to be sitting in that community with a gun, the people in that community should decide who that is. So we should have the ability to hire the police, the ability to fire police, the ability to train the police, and we should have the ability to discipline the police.”
After opening the floor to questions and comments from students and community members, panelists were faced with questions from black students about how to avoid being harmed by officers, and comments from mothers and activists.
Tracey Perry, a pastor at Hyattsville’s University Christian Church, spoke to listeners about how it feels to raise a son after Collins’ death. “Right here on this campus, Richard Collins was murdered for daring to say no. Let me tell you about a mother’s heartache. When that happened, I looked because there was a memorial, and I looked at all the black men and I said ‘who’s next?’
“This is a mother’s limit” Perry finished. “All we’re trying to do is keep you alive. Please be aware. This is not a safe environment and your life … your life doesn’t matter. Remember that your mothers are praying for you.”
At the end of the night, panelists recognized and thanked the emergency officers who responded to Collins’ stabbing earlier this year, and encouraged everyone to stay safe.
“What happened in Ferguson isn’t just what happens in Ferguson,” O’Neal said. “It happens in Baltimore. It happens in D.C. It happens everywhere.”
Featured Photo Credit: Some of the panel members discussed the history of the phrase “Hands up, don’t shoot!” (Julia Lerner/Bloc Photographer)
Julia Lerner is a junior journalism major and can be reached at email@example.com.