SILVER SPRING, Md. — With racial tensions running high across the nation, Montgomery County residents packed a town hall meeting on race Tuesday night in Silver Spring.
When the audience was asked to rate the county on race relations, whites and African-Americans handed out differing report cards.
Scott Schneider, of Silver Spring, offered a B- when James Stowe, Montgomery County’s Director of the Office of Human Rights, asked for a county grade on race relations. Other whites in the audience recommended a B or a C.
But race relations are apparently in the eye of the beholder.
“If I had to rate Montgomery County, I would definitely give us a D,” said Necol Scott, of Damascus, a black mother of eight who outlined concerns for her children’s safety.
“Why am I having to have a conversation with my 11-, 9- and 8-year-old of how they must conduct themselves with the police in this community,” Scott said.
While many whites painted a picture of positive vibes between whites and African-Americans in the affluent county, blacks described a sense of alienation and fear of the police.
“I was assaulted by a police officer for no reason,” Schai Schairer, of Silver Spring, told the stunned audience. “The moment he laid eyes on my mother, he got off of me — and it was because my mother is white.”
The 28-year-old African-American student at Coppin State University, who was born in Haiti and later adopted, says the incident crushed her dreams of becoming a police officer.
“You saw a black woman and you took a look at my clothing and you presumed that I was a thug,” Schairer said of her interactions with police.
Police Chief Tom Manger asked the audience to understand the challenges that police face.
“I’m not saying there aren’t bad police officers who’ve done some very bad things in this country. All I’m asking is that we not paint every single police officer in this country with that same broad brush,” Manger said.
Manger also said that the way a citizen reacts to contact with a police officer has a lot to do with the outcome of the interaction.
Citizens — black and white — called for greater accountability for police actions and some recommended civilian review boards.
County Executive Ike Leggett asked for mutual understanding.
“Place yourself in the position of some of these officers — and the officers have to place themselves in the position of some in our community,” Leggett said.
A second town hall on race is scheduled Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Upcounty Regional Service Center in Germantown.
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