Friends, family, neighbors and even strangers walked Sunday afternoon to remember Robert White, a 41-year-old Silver Spring, Maryland, man shot and killed by a Montgomery County police officer in June of last year.
Many who attended the walk expressed their anger at the results of an internal investigation, which found last week that the officer was justified in killing White. Some raised concerns about the department’s integrity in conducting an investigation into its own officer.
“Certainly we believed that our police department would do the right thing and that they would recognize that there were many, many things that went wrong with the officer’s stopping of Mr. White,” said Carlean Ponder of the Silver Spring Justice Coalition, a group formed after the shooting.
The group walked half a mile from Christ Congregational Church in Silver Spring to the Three Oaks town home community, where the shooting occurred. Participants held signs and chanted “Black lives matter,” among other chants.
The administrative review by the Montgomery County Police Department found that officer Anand Badgujar was justified in stopping White because White thrust his hand into his pocket, leading Badgujar to believe White was armed. He was armed with a folding knife.
“There are no circumstances in which a man peacefully walking unarmed in his community, in his neighborhood, should be shot and killed by police,” said Maryland state delegate Jheanelle Wilkins, who represents the region of Silver Spring where the shooting occurred.
Cherie Branson of the Montgomery County NAACP said they believe White — who was black — was targeted because of the color of his skin and his torn clothing.
“Wearing a torn hoodie and walking with your hand in your pocket in your own neighborhood does not constitute reasonable grounds to stop you,” Branson said.
Body camera footage released showed Badgujar yelling commands to a visibly agitated White, then telling a dispatcher it might be a suicide-by-cop situation.
At one point, the footage shows White punching Badgujar, followed by the officer opening fire, killing White. The report found that Badgujar fired his weapon because he was “in grave danger.”
The Rev. Matt Braddock, with the Christ Congregational Church in Silver Spring, said he believes White was suffering from a mental health crisis, so he feels responding officers should have reacted differently using the appropriate intervention.
“That includes calling a crisis intervention team, calming the situation, creating some distance,” Braddock said.
A speaker at the event read a statement from White’s sister, Irene Thompson, in which she announced her family wants justice for her brother.
“Prayerfully, this situation will help other police departments across the United States to train officers to be able to deal with situations involving people with mental health issues,” Thompson wrote.
The administrative review comes months after Howard County State’s Attorney Dario Broccolino reviewed the officer involved shooting and also ruled the officer’s actions were justified and that no criminal charges would be filed in the case.
At the demonstration, there were calls for more transparency from the police department, and for the Montgomery County of Office of Legislative Oversight to review the investigation.
Speaking at the event, Councilmember Will Jawando said he would look into creating that transparency. Jawando is pushing his bill that calls for all police-involved shootings to be independently investigated.
“We’re memorializing, remembering Robert’s memory but also it’s a good day because we’re gathered and we’re convicted to have some big change,” Jawando said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been corrected to indicate the finding that Robert White was armed.