The Trump Effect

How does the national political discourse affect us locally?

In regard to hate crimes in Montgomery County, the evidence is disturbingly clear: nearly one-third of last year’s incidents occurred after the presidential election (see chart).  That’s a 167 percent increase in the number of hate crimes reported to the Montgomery County Police Department compared to the same period in 2015, according to a report issued by the MCPD.

              Reported Hate Crimes, 2016.                      Source: Montgomery County Police Department

Even more troubling, nearly half of hate-based vandalism reported last year happened at our county’s schools.  Since October, more than 35 bias incidents have been reported by or linked to schools, mostly involving vandalism with swastikas, and racial epithets.

This trend showed no signs of slowing in 2017. According to the Washington Post, bias incidents across our community have soared more than 80 percent compared with the first six month in 2016.  Among them were three noose incidents, an anti-Semitic message aimed at a student, and anti-LGBT vandalism.

This is unacceptable.

By any standard, Montgomery County is among the nation’s most culturally diverse places to live, with cities like Gaithersburg, Silver Spring and Germantown regularly topping national lists.  The benefits of living in a multi-cultural community are many. A growing batch of research shows that greater ethnic diversity boosts the competitiveness of cities, and spurs creativity and business growth, particularly in underserved neighborhoods.

Fortunately, our local leaders recognize the seriousness of the problem.  “The Montgomery County Police Department remains committed to upholding the civil and human rights of all people and reducing fear among our residents,” Chief J. Thomas Manger said in the bias report.

To assist residents, MCCRC and our allies regularly host training workshops across the county to teach residents how to identify what hate-base incidents or crimes look like, and how to safely intervene, if appropriate. “When people are targeted when walking or being blocked from a bathroom for example, if you don’t get a chance to practice or train for these situations, you may not know how to respond or be confident enough to respond,” says Jim Huang, a bystander intervention expert.  To date, nearly 4,000 people have  participated in these workshops.

Contact us or check MCCRC’s calendar for the next available training.

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Victory for Rockville’s Fostering Community Trust Ordinance: Lessons Learned

On June 19, Rockville became only the third city in Maryland to pass an ordinance limiting the role of its local police in enforcement of federal immigration law, following Takoma Park in 1985 and Hyattsville earlier this year. After nearly four months of advocacy, supporters of the Fostering Community Trust ordinance, [1] including many members of the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition (MCCRC), erupted in applause after a majority of City Councilmembers raised their hands in favor of the measure, which enshrines an unwritten Rockville City Police (RPD) policy into law.

FCT Final Vote

As immigrants and their supporters celebrate this historic achievement, we’re hoping other jurisdictions will join Rockville in passing similar legislation, which simultaneously protects public safety and civil rights. To that end, we offer this after action report as a guide.

LAYING THE GROUNDWORK

Our campaign was born November 8, when Donald J. Trump was declared winner of the 2016 presidential election. To our horror, some of his supporters celebrated by committing hate crimes against our most vulnerable neighbors. In its report Ten Days After: Harassment and Intimidation in the Aftermath of the Election, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented 867 hate incidents, the greatest number of which–280–targeted immigrants. Progressive regions like Montgomery County were not immune from this paroxysm of violence:  less than a week after the election, a Silver Spring church was vandalized with pro-Trump messages.

On December 11, 2016, City Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr and two other members of the immigration working group for Progressive Women Working Together (PWWT), a Rockville-based women’s group formed after the election to resist the Trump agenda, held their first meeting. At that meeting, Palakovich Carr expressed concern that the RPD’s unwritten policy of limiting cooperation with federal immigrant enforcement actions was no longer robust enough to withstand increased pressure from Washington on our police to take enforcement actions at odds with our city’s values. She agreed to talk to RPD officers and the city’s attorney and research options to shore up the policy, which has served the community well for decades. With one out of three residents born abroad, Palakovich Carr believed Rockville would support the effort to protect immigrants and preserve community policing. By the next immigration working group meeting on January 29, Palakovich Carr presented a draft ordinance she had developed after discussions with police and lawyers and research into similar legislation from other jurisdictions. To gauge support from the community, working group members launched a Change.org petition and a Facebook page. Their belief in Rockville’s values of diversity and inclusion was well-founded; an overwhelming majority of city residents expressed support, with most opponents residing outside city limits.

Pro tips: Know your community: your chances of successfully passing legislation are greatest if you live in a diverse, progressive community, where residents experience on a daily basis the benefits of immigrant neighbors. In addition or instead of the online petition, activists could borrow a tactic from Sanctuary DMV and send out volunteers to canvass neighborhoods in the community, collecting signatures on hard-copy petitions in support of legislation while notifying them about other opportunities to support the immigrant community, including know-your-rights workshops, ICE check-in accompaniment, and rapid response teams to document ICE raids and provide support to family members left behind. Find a champion for the ordinance among your elected representatives; in this climate of xenophobia, that could be a challenge; Palakovich Carr and other City Councilmembers received hate mail from across the country, including threats of physical violence. Leaders with that kind of courage may be hard to find nowadays, but they exist. And if they don’t, consider running for office yourself.

BROADENING THE BASE OF SUPPORT

The ordinance wouldn’t have gotten far without the support of affinity groups, first and foremost MCCRC. At its general meeting on February 7, the organization invited me, as a member of PWWT’s immigration working group, to speak about the ordinance and afterwards help lead a break-out group to discuss how to help Rockville pass it, as well as similar legislation at the state and county level. MCCRC was critical in organizing events in support of the ordinance and publicizing them afterwards, offering advice on management of social media, and simply showing up to testify at numerous City Council meetings.

Pro tips: Solicit the support of affinity groups and tap the expertise of more experienced activists. If we had to do it again, we would have made an even greater effort to engage immigrant groups like CASA or United We Dream, whose members have the greatest stake in this kind of legislation and offer the most compelling testimony in support of it.

MEETING (AND RESPONDING TO) THE OPPOSITION

Palakovich Carr introduced the ordinance at the City Council meeting on February 27, and about 75 people showed up at the next meeting on March 6 to voice their opinion, stretching the normally brief public input portion to about four hours. We expected some opposition–we got a preview when opponents launched their own Change.org petition—but we also expected a majority of city residents to support the ordinance, which they did. The opposition, however, was vocal and well organized and required a strong, strategic response.

Mythbusting

One step we took was to painstakingly review video from the March 6 hearing to compile common misconceptions propagated by opponents of the ordinance and conduct research to rebut them. We published these myths and facts in a blog post, Mythbusting Rockville’s Sanctuary Ordinance, printed them as talking points on the backs of posters and in media handouts, and shared them with members of the City Council.

Dealing with Anti-immigrant Groups and Controversy-loving News Media

In an earlier post, we discussed our response to organized anti-immigrant opposition and our observation that some news media were more interested in generating heat than light in covering the ordinance. We will provide an update on these topics in a future post.

Organizing Immigrants to Support Other Immigrants

One of our challenges was how to respond to the large contingent of Asian Americans who testified, as immigrants, against the ordinance. Members of Asian/Pacific Islander affinity groups, including API Resistance and Asian Americans Advancing Justice, rose to the challenge, forming a coalition that developed strategies to counter the “good immigrant/bad immigrant” narrative and make common cause with all immigrants. We shared their inspiring statement in an earlier post and will provide more details on this effort in a future post.

Pro tips: Conduct opposition research. Listen to your opponents’ arguments and respond to them with all the tools at your disposal, from credible scientific data to moving personal stories. Research press and public records on efforts by other jurisdictions to pass similar legislation to help identify groups and individuals who might show up at hearing to oppose your proposed ordinance.

NEVERTHELESS, WE PERSISTED

When the ordinance was introduced to the City Council in January, no one predicted it would take almost four months to come to a vote. During that time, supporters strove to maintain the momentum, writing letters to the Mayor and Council, testifying at Community Forums (some of us multiple times!) or observing them in person or online for additional opposition testimony, attending Mayor and Council drop-ins, writing public blog posts and sending internal emails, and organizing and attending counter demonstrations. All this, while juggling jobs, school, family and activism on other issues. If you decide to try to undertake a similar effort in your city (and we hope you will), brace yourself and pace yourself. It’s tiring work, but if the end result is a law that protects your community’s values, it’s worth it. As Palakovich Carr said in her statement before the vote, “More than a thousand Rockville residents weighed in, when you factor all the emails, people who have come and spoken in person, and the two dueling petitions in favor and in opposition to the ordinance. And Rockville residents made their voices loud and clear: They overwhelmingly support this ordinance by a margin of more than two to one.”

We welcome your questions about our support for Rockville’s Fostering Community Trust ordinance and the advice of others who helped pass this or similar legislation.

This is the first of 3 posts reviewing the Rockville “Fostering Community Trust” campaign:

  1. Victory for Rockville’s Fostering Community Trust Ordinance: Lessons Learned (Carol Schlenker)
  2. [coming soon] Victory for Rockville’s Fostering Community Trust Ordinance: Hate Groups (John Appiah Duffell)
  3. [coming soon] Victory for Rockville’s Fostering Community Trust Ordinance: API Resistance (Jim Huang)

See also our collection of testimony offered in favor of the ordinance.

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[1] Although at the outset we referred to the proposed legislation as a “sanctuary” ordinance, we have since eschewed that term, for two reasons: (1) “sanctuary” has no agreed legal definition, and (2) opponents of such ordinances have turned this beautiful word, derived from the Latin “sanctus” meaning “holy,” into a pejorative.

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Letter to Congress: Do Your Job and Curb Domestic Spying

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act enables law enforcement to spy on Americans.

It’s time for Congress to act!

Over two dozen civil rights and civil liberties groups sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee asking for common sense reforms to curb improper spying on law-abiding Americans and to “enhance protections of fundamental privacy, due process, and civil rights.”

The letter points out that Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has been used to collect information on Americans despite the fact that it “was passed to combat threats from hostile foreign powers and international terrorism, and was not intended for domestic law enforcement investigation of U.S. persons for matters unrelated to foreign intelligence.”

We know Section 702 powers have been abused.  But we don’t know how many Americans have had their nomination scooped up by the FBI. Or the number of times the NSA spied on peaceful groups in Montgomery County, individuals pursuing constitutionally protected political goals, or the former lovers of NSA personnel or government contractors?

Congress needs to takes action to fulfill its oversight responsibilities by investigating and determining answers to these questions.

The American Civil Liberties Union, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee,  Brennan Center for Justice, Color of Change, Defending Rights and Dissent, and NAACP were among the two dozen signatories to the letter.

Learn more about Section 702 here.

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The Proliferation of License Plate Readers

A little noticed surveillance technology, designed to track the movements of every passing driver, is quickly proliferating on Maryland’s streets. License plate readers (LPRs), mounted on police cars or at fixed locations like on road signs and bridges, use small cameras to photograph thousands of plates per minute.

They might be called license plate readers, but this technology can also capture images of the car’s passengers along with other data like the date, time, and location of the picture taken.  This information is than often pooled into regional sharing systems. As a result, enormous databases of innocent motorists’ information are growing rapidly and is often retained for years, with few or no restrictions to protect privacy rights.

License plate readers are mounted on police cars across Montgomery County

Knowing where someone drives is one thing, but this technology could also allow someone to pin-point where an individual works, shops, worships or goes to have fun — all information that someone, even a law-abiding citizen, may not want law enforcement to have in their records.

Under Maryland law, the use of data collected by license plate readers is limited to “legitimate law enforcement purposes,” and requires law enforcement agencies to create basic minimum procedures governing access to LPR data. But the law exempts LPR data from public records act requests—including a requestor’s own data, and there are no limits on how long the data can be stored.

So how many images are being collected?  In nearby Washington, DC, a Freedom of Information request found that over 200 million scan were made by DC police in 2012.

In Virginia, the state’s Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge over how long police can keep data from automated license plate readers.  Privacy advocates warn that keeping the data beyond a short period of time amounts to “mass surveillance” and creates the possibility for abuse by police or others who can access the data, by creating a trail of personal movement.

The court’s ruling in this case could have a big impact across the country.  Only 14 states have laws addressing the use of license plate readers at all, and just eight of those address how long the police can maintain the data.

“As modern technology evolves and law enforcement uses it more and more, there’s got to be checks and balances and real regard for the privacy rights of innocent citizens,” said ACLU lawyer Hope Amezquita.

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Activists weigh in on Takoma Park police chief selection process — join us online and next Thursday!

Elizabeth Wallace testifies about Takoma Park police chief selection process

MCCRC, ACLU-Montgomery County, and other activists joined the discussion of the Takoma Park Police Chief selection process during a Takoma Park City Council meeting (video forthcoming) held Wednesday evening in the Recreation Center on New Hampshire Avenue.

Why is this important? As Thomas Nephew told Mitti Hicks of MyMCMedia,

“The people that lead the police department are the ones who have the biggest effect on the policies and culture of that police department. The new leader will determine the attitudes towards the use of force, programs like countering violent extremism […] and so I think it’s important to be a part of the process from the very beginning.”

The process began when former police chief Alan Goldman resigned in March.  (In the interim, the role is being filled by a rotating group of TPPD captains.)  After an initial work session on April 19th (video), the pace has stepped up with discussions on Monday, June 19th (video), Wednesday’s meeting, and a meeting next week (Thursday, June 29th, 7pm) in the Azalea Room of the Takoma Park Community Center that will be entirely dedicated to the topic.

Councilmember Peter Kovar has discussed some of the basics about the selection process and some of the ideas the council is considering on his blog:

Under Takoma Park’s City Charter, the Council doesn’t have direct involvement in the selection of the Police Chief. That’s a decision, like all other City personnel matters, that lies with the City Manager. The Council does have a role in establishing overall policies for the Department, including designating areas like community policing that we may want a new Chief to place more emphasis on. Whether the Council should have a more direct role in reviewing applicants, approving the City Manager’s choice, etc., is something we’re debating now. Beyond that, it may make sense to have a Police Commission, composed of residents and community members, that would help set and monitor Police Department policies.

In her remarks to the council on Wednesday evening, Elizabeth Wallace recalled comments by the reform-oriented Tucson PD chief Chris Magnus to the council on Monday.  Chief Magnus opened those remarks by saying that the job can be a great opportunity to “show what you can do as a team in a city”:

[That team] not only has to bring out the best in the police department — in other words it’s not just about the chief or the command staff [–] your best team members are often those folks who are line level patrol cops responding to calls [–]  but it also has to involve really working effectively with other city departments. It’s amazing how cities of any size can be “super-siloed” when it comes right down to it, and that’s a factor. And then perhaps most importantly [working] with the community overall. And that’s something that historically we don’t do so well in policing — we tend to like to tell the community how they *should* be policed as opposed to listening to the community tell us what they see as their priority.

He also warned, as Ms. Wallace emphasized,  that “Any police department that is content to rest on its laurels … any time you take that approach, you’re already behind.”

Lorig Charkoudian (who has declared herself a 2018 candidate for one of the three District 20 delegate seats) commended the council for an open, deliberate and deliberative process that resembles the kind of “community led policing” she advocates.  (Here’s one description of a “civilian led model,” authored by ex-Baltimore police officer Michael Wood.)

In his remarks to the council, MCCRC’s Thomas Nephew said that Continue reading

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Asian American Groups Support Rockville’s “Fostering Community Trust” Ordinance—Council Meeting June 19

welcometorockvilleA coalition of organizations, including several Asian and Pacific American groups as well as the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition, will attend the Rockville City Council hearing on Monday, June 19 in support of the “Fostering Community Trust” ordinance introduced by Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr earlier this year. This ordinance would restrict all City of Rockville employees—including police officers—from requesting citizenship or immigration status of any person unless required by law, and would additionally prevent detention of individuals based on immigration detainers in most cases.

In a statement released this weekend, our coalition makes the case that ordinances such as these are vital to the safety of our communities, noting “It is impossible to build a strong community in an environment of fear and distrust. Police departments across the country have indicated that increased fear due to increased immigration enforcement actions and anti-immigrant rhetoric have led to decreases in crime reporting, including sexual assault, in immigrant communities. This ordinance is an important first step in keeping all members of our community, including undocumented immigrants, safe.”

The statement can be read in full below. Please join us tomorrow, Monday, June 19, at the Rockville Mayor and Council meeting as the proposed ordinance is taken up for consideration by the mayor and city council. More information can be found on the Facebook event page. Be sure to RSVP if you’ll be joining us!

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Youth-police panel: student arrest rates in MoCo schools much higher than in MD or US

On Monday night I was honored to be part of a panel, convened by the remarkable Montgomery Blair High School student activist Alix Swann, on the topic of “Youth Police Interactions.” Panelists included:

L.to R.: Alix Swann, Minister Kenyatta Gilbert, Rick Hart, Thomas Nephew, Officer Ana Hester, Julian Norment, Eddie Ellis

The panel — organized as part of a Girl Scout Gold Award project by Ms. Swann — was preceded by a viewing of a video she and other members of Montgomery County’s “Gandhi Brigade Youth Media” made, titled “To Serve and Protect?

Alix will be providing video of the panel and her writeup of the evening.  In the following, I’ll share the data and remarks I prepared before the panel discussion, which focused on one of the questions Alix circulated before the event: “Recently we have seen many videos of School Resource Officers using excessive force. Do you think School Resource Officers are important? If so, why?”  During the event, I excerpted from those remarks as Alix and the audience posed questions to the panel.


Prepared remarks for Youth and Police Interaction Panel
Congratulations on convening this important panel, and thank you for inviting Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition to be a part of it.

We share your concern about police reform generally and about youth/police interactions specifically.  Our newly formed Police Reform Committee is active on several issues touching on statewide and county police reform; broadly, we support greater transparency of police conduct, more effective penalties for misconduct, and a greater civilian role in overseeing all of that.  Specifically, our two police reform campaigns at the present time advocate…

  1. civilian participation in MCPD administrative boards – that is, a civilian role in the final stage of police misconduct review, and
  2. full reporting of SWAT team activities throughout the state.

MCCRC has also played an active and constructive role in local youth/police interactions.  I think it’s very worthwhile to remember that just a few years ago (2011 to be exact), County Executive Ike Leggett, many County Council members, and even advocacy groups like Safe Silver Spring were in such a panic about a fight in downtown Silver Spring that they advocated first a youth curfew and then an “anti loitering” bill — both designed to allow police to subjectively penalize youths they deemed a nuisance or a danger.  I’m still proud to recall MCCRC’s support of Leah Muskin Pierret and other high school students who successfully resisted the curfew — and then our successful collaboration with Howard University Law students to resist the  loitering bill.

That’s right — in the end, nothing was done.  Sometimes you have to fight for that.  But in the years that followed, we all did just fine without either a curfew or a loitering bill.  You’re welcome!

It might be that doing nothing, or at least the very absolute minimum, is often the best approach when it comes to youth and police – especially in our schools.  As persuasive as associations like NASRO (National Association of School Resource Officers) or our friends here from MCPD can be that their hearts are in the right place, we’re particularly skeptical of “School Resource Officer” programs in Montgomery County, Maryland, and the US.  American schools once did just fine without SRO’s – maybe, just maybe, they might be able to do so again.

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Digital Security Workshop recap: Protecting Yourself Online

X-Lab’s Jeff Landale hosted a Digital Security workshop to empower residents with the tools and skills to protect themselves online.

As if you needed another reason to protect your personal information, President Trump in April signed a law allowing internet companies to sell your browsing history to whoever they want. The new law scraps a Federal Communications Commission rule that let customers control what internet companies do with information on what websites they visit and with whom they exchange emails. Compounding the problem, the ensuing massive stockpiling of customer data in private hands will be a tempting target for hackers.

To fight back, The Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition partnered with Defending Rights and Dissent to host a digital security workshop on May 9.  Aimed at anyone who uses their phone and computer for work and in their personal lives every day, the workshop provided residents with practical tools and skills to guard their online information.

The Workshop was hosted Jeff Landale, Executive Assistant at X-Lab, an innovative think tank at Penn State University focusing on technology and public policy.  He spoke about the different threats most people encounter online and compared digital security to safety features in a car.  “You wouldn’t drive a car if it didn’t have seat belts,” Landale told the crowd.

A spirted crowd peppered Jeff with questions about the benefits of using a web browser that does not track users (Duck Duck Go) and encrypted messaging apps, like Signal, a popular app for those who want to protect their text messages.  Using ad blockers and virtual private networks (VPNs) were also discussed.

“Whether you’re supporting victims of domestic violence, engaging in activism, or just buying something online, everyone has a reason to want to protect their security and privacy on the internet,” Landale said.

While many of the protections discussed at the workshop are relatively new, protecting yourself digitally in the Trump era will be the same as protecting yourself in any era, since good digital practices are important no matter who’s in power.

Want to receive MCCRC updates?  Sign up here.

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Maryland-wide SWAT data files obtained by MCCRC show need for standards *and* reporting

Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition (MCCRC) has obtained the detailed data files compiled by the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention (GOCCP) used to generate annual reports on SWAT team deployments throughout the Maryland between 2010 and 2014.

The files were obtained via a Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA, similar to the federal FOIA) request mediated by Muckrock.com. The data collected — mandated by the 2009 Maryland law SB447, which was allowed to sunset after 2014 —  include SWAT deployment-level details about legal authority, underlying reason, forcible entry, property seizure, arrests, firearm discharge, officer injury, and personal and animal injury  or death associated with each SWAT team deployment.

Unlike the GOCCP annual reports, which aggregated single year data to arrive at state or county totals, our analyses below focus on more detailed comparisons of SWAT deployments by police department, aggregated across all five years of data collection. The results show substantial variation among police departments in the reasons, legal authorities, and consequences of SWAT team deployments.

Figure 1 below shows the distribution of origin of legal authorities (the kind of judicial warrant or emergency) underlying SWAT deployments by law enforcement agency.  Fourteen police departments including PG County PD (1986 deployments) and Aberdeen PD (101 deployments) relied on search warrants for 95 to 100 percent of their deployments across the five year period.  This may be cause for concern since search warrants are relatively weak legal justifications for SWAT team deployments.  As the 2014 ACLU report “War Comes Home” puts it,  “Even though paramilitary policing in the form of SWAT teams was created to deal with emergency scenarios such as hostage or barricade situations, the use of SWAT to execute search warrants in drug investigations has become commonplace and made up the overwhelming majority of incidents the ACLU reviewed—79 percent of the incidents the ACLU studied involved the use of a SWAT team to search a person’s home, and more than 60 percent of the cases involved searches for drugs. The use of a SWAT team to execute a search warrant essentially amounts to the use of paramilitary tactics to conduct domestic criminal investigations in searches of people’s homes.” [p. 3]

Figure 1. Legal authorities for SWAT team deployments in Maryland, 2010-2014, by law enforcement agency; the total number of deployments is given in parentheses next to each agency. Data source: GOCCP, via MPIA request by MCCRC. Generally speaking, we’d prefer this chart to be less blue. Click the image to enlarge it.

It’s only gotten worse — the “TOTAL” stacked bar near the middle of the chart shows that only about 5 percent (light green part of the bar) of the 8249 deployments between 2010 and 2014 fit the “barricade” description, while about 91 percent of SWAT team deployments overall were authorized by search warrant. In our own county, 93 percent of 830 Montgomery County PD SWAT team deployments between 2010 and 2014 were done with search warrant authority; Takoma Park PD SWAT teams were deployed on this basis in 73 percent of their 15 deployments.

Figure 2 shows how Maryland law enforcement agencies differ in their distribution of underlying reasons for SWAT team deployment. Police departments like Takoma Park PD, and Calvert, Montgomery, and Worcester County PDs focused around 90% or more of their SWAT team deployments on situations where there was a violent or property “Part I” crime underlying the deployment.  Police departments like Aberdeen or Kent County were at the other end of the spectrum: all of their SWAT deployments were about “Part II” crimes such as vice and drug offenses.

Figure 2. Underlying reasons for SWAT team deployments in Maryland, 2010-2014, by law enforcement agency; the total number of deployments is given in parentheses next to each agency. “Part I” crimes are violent or property crimes, as opposed to “Part II” crimes which are mostly vice- or drug-related. Generally speaking, we’d prefer less red and more blue in this chart. Data source: GOCCP, via MPIA request by MCCRC. Click the image to enlarge it.

Figure 3 shows the distribution of combined legal authority and underlying reason  for SWAT deployment by law enforcement agency. Over a five year period, six police departments or sheriff’s offices used SWAT raids solely for non-Part I purposes that were justified only by search warrant.  Overall, over half (52 percent) of the SWAT raids in Maryland between 2010 and 2014 fit this description, with 26 police departments — large and small, urban and rural — exceeding that percentage over the same time period.

Figure 3. Combination of legal authority and underlying reason for SWAT team deployments in Maryland, 2010-2014, by law enforcement agency; the total number of deployments is given in parentheses next to each agency. Data source: GOCCP, via MPIA request by MCCRC. “Part I” crimes are violent or property crimes, as opposed to vice or drug related crimes. “SW” stands for search warrant; generally speaking, we’d prefer less purple (non Part I, search warrant deployments) in this chart. Click the image to enlarge it.

These and other charts are also available as an online slideshow.

No SWAT reporting since 2014 — Maryland’s legislative failure
There are questions the data gathered from 2010 to 2014 can’t answer: what was the age, race, and gender of the target or targets? In search warrant cases, did the target have a history potentially justifying the threat of extreme force? What was being searched for? When property was seized, how much and what kind of property was it — drugs, weapons, other contraband?  Many of these SWAT team survey questions and more have been proposed, and re-proposed , and re-proposed in the years since SB447 was allowed to lapse.

But the real struggle has been to restore any data reporting at all. In mid-February MCCRC’s Thomas Nephew joined a number of other advocates at a House hearing to advocate for SWAT reform bill HB0739 which, in its original form, included both SWAT reporting, training, and standards requirements.  Unfortunately — and despite the best efforts of both House sponsor Delegate Moon and Senate sponsor Senator Will Smith — crucial reporting requirements were stripped from the bill, amid claims that no one (not even Maryland legislators?) read the resulting reports anyway.

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Rockville “Fostering Community Trust” supporters counter FAIR, HSM claims

“If it bleeds, it leads,” that old adage of for-profit media, reflects two unfortunate realities: (1) advertising revenue determines content and (2) consumers have an appetite for the sensational. While supporters and opponents of Rockville’s Fostering Community Trust ordinance and similar legislation haven’t drawn blood, they did face off twice in Rockville in the past week: at demonstrations/counterdemonstrations on March 26 at the County Council Building and on March 30 at the Montgomery County Board of Education. Both demonstrations were organized by Help Save Maryland (HSM), one of a couple of opponent groups with virulent anti-immigrant agendas. (The other is Federation for American Immigration Reform [FAIR], whose Northeastern Field Representative, Jonathan Hanen, spoke against the ordinance at the March 6 Mayor and Council meeting.)  We presume the news media who extensively covered both events were invited by the organizers. It’s a symbiotic relationship: the media get controversy that boosts ratings and revenue and, in return, fringe groups get coverage and legitimacy.

“Fostering Community Trust” supporters square off against anti-immigrant rights protesters across the street at the County Council Building on Sunday, March 26.  More photos here.

The news media were also present at an event held between the two demonstrations and counterdemonstrations: the March 27 Rockville Mayor and Council meeting. The proposed Fostering Community Trust ordinance dominated the Community Forum section of the meeting, but best we can tell, no one reported on it. We assume this is because there was no controversy: all 18 speakers who testified about the ordinance spoke in favor of it and in defense of the diverse, inclusive, safe community it seeks to protect. Perhaps the corollary to “if it bleeds, it leads” is “good news is no news,” but we think this is a story worth telling.

Facts Matter
Many speakers urged the Mayor and Council to rely on the facts, rather than the fear or prejudice, in their vote on the ordinance. John Appiah-Duffell, a Rockville resident, cited a recently published legal brief from the libertarian Cato Institute showing that immigrants to the United States, whether documented or undocumented, are less likely to commit crime than native born population; that programs like Secure Communities, in which local police help enforce federal immigration law, are ineffective; and that there’s a strong correlation between lower education and propensity for crime, meaning it’s in our interest to educate immigrant youth, for the kids’ sake as well as the community’s.

Shuo Jim Huang of Silver Spring testified about a report from the Los Angeles Police Department showing that in the three months since Donald Trump took office, reports by Latinx of sexual violence and domestic violence have dropped by 25% and 10%, respectively, because victims believe they risk deportation by coming forward. Huang also noted that cities who honor detainers (requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to local law enforcement to hold immigrants and additional 48 hours after their release dates) risk lawsuits for violating the civil rights of detainees.

John Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, provided a national perspective on immigration, debunking myths that the country is experiencing a major surge in undocumented immigrants from Latin America and that undocumented immigrants originate only from that part of the world. Yang, who was once undocumented himself, noted there are 1.6 million Asian undocumented immigrants in the United States, 37,000 of these in Maryland, including nationals of China, India and the Philippines. Watch his full testimony here.

Teaching Tolerance
Alison Lepard of Bethesda, a Montgomery County Public Schools teacher and mother of an MCPS student and two graduates, wants all students to feel safe, but cautioned this can’t be achieved by vilifying a group of people. In the wake of the alleged rape of a 14-year-old MCPS student by two older classmates, both recent immigrants, Lepard feared that her immigrant students, who already are adjusting to a new language, culture and academics, could become targets of hate and even violence. “Humanity at worst when we believe one group is worth less than another group, and there’s no logic to fearing immigrants over this assault,” Lepard said. “After the Stanford swimmer’s assault of a woman, we didn’t all run away from Stanford students or from swimmers.” She believed Rockville’s proposed ordinance presents an opportunity that extends beyond the city. “We in Montgomery County and in Rockville in particular are privileged to be one of the most diverse school systems and diverse cities in this country, and I feel that we can be a model for the country, and say this is how we live together and this is how we work together.” Watch her full testimony here.

No Hate in Our State (or City or County)
Several speakers expressed alarm at groups like HSM stirring up anti-immigrant hatred in the community. One speaker, Colin Fletcher, who recently moved from Rockville to Chevy Chase, spoke about his father’s firsthand experience with Nazism. The elder Fletcher was born in the United States but grew up in Luxembourg, where as a teen he was arrested by the Gestapo in his high school math class and taken to prison camp for a year before being deported. He later joined the U.S. army and fought in World War II in Bavaria, afterwards becoming a history professor specializing in the Holocaust and a member of the Holocaust Memorial Council. His lesson to his son was this: “You must speak up early, you must speak up often, and you must speak up repeatedly against racism and bigotry, because once that campaign is started it is difficult to overcome.” Watch his full testimony here.

Immigrants Welcome
Many other speakers shared their personal experience as immigrants or with immigrants.

Gabriella Orellana of Rockville expressed gratitude for her single mother, who fled El Salvador’s civil war and entered the United States illegally in order to give her daughter a better future. She also spoke of her two daughters, both U.S. citizens, MCPS graduates, workers and taxpayers, without any criminal records. She urged community members to be more tolerant and educate themselves about how immigrants end up here, before rushing to “stereotypes or discriminatory conclusions.” “At the end, regardless of legal status, nationality, and any personal background and culture,” she said, “we all belong to the human race.” Watch her full testimony here.

Harriett Chen, a naturalized U.S. citizen who has lived in Montgomery County for more than 35 years, testified about how police in her hometown of Gaithersburg work successfully with the city’s diverse immigrant population and other residents to make the community “a tight, big family,” through neighborhood watches, face-to-face meetings, extra patrols and neighborhood block parties, among other initiatives. She spoke fondly of her next-door neighbors from El Salvador, including three teenage boys who help her shovel snow and do garden chores. Watch her full testimony here.

Salima Appiah-Duffell of Rockville, daughter of an African-American “military brat” and an African immigrant, recalled her own brushes with racism and xenophobia growing up in the Washington metropolitan area but felt very fortunate never to have a serious fear of racialized violence until this presidential election. She and her husband asked themselves where they should go if conditions worsened, but research showed they were already in best region for interracial couples. Appiah-Duffell believed this type of tolerant environment was no accident; rather, it was fostered by the government and community, and the proposed ordinance is another example. “It’s a choice that we can make in Rockville to keep our community the way that we want it.” Watch her full testimony here.

Next Steps
We have two successful counterdemonstrations and another very successful city council meeting behind us, but it’s critical we sustain the momentum towards a Rockville “Fostering Community Trust” (aka sanctuary) ordinance by advocating it every week at City Hall.

  • Please write to the council at mayorcouncil@rockvillemd.gov saying you still support ordinance 11-3, “Fostering Community Trust.”
  • Please join us at the regular Community Forum during the council session, scheduled from 7:15 to 7:30pm, 3 minutes per speaker. If you want to speak, call the city clerk at 240-314-8280 before 4pm Monday to get yourself on the schedule. (If you can’t attend but would like to provide written comments/testimony, you can do so by emailing mayorcouncil@rockvillemd.gov.)
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