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Monday, June 16, 2008

Let's Work for One Frederick

Guy Djoken

In recent months, Frederick County, Maryland has been getting some attention from the national media, thanks to the Frederick County Sheriff's office policy on tasers and immigration. At the time when a consensus is growing about the successes of other law enforcement agencies like the Frederick City Police Department, it is gratifying to see the positive response that the local NAACP has been receiving for standing up for victims, the powerless and the voiceless. By so doing, our local branch has restored credibility to the organization that was the subject of ridicule years ago and membership is growing steadily. As some politicians call on us to apologize for policies that are dividing the community, it is worth taking the time to clarify the NAACP position on the Frederick County Sheriff's policies on both issues.

On Tasers, a recent lawsuit was filed by attorney Ted Williams on behalf of the Gray family. This lawsuit was the result of the unfortunate death of Jarrel Gray after a Sheriff deputy used a Taser on him. The number of times the Frederick Sheriff's office has used tasers in the last four years appears to be disproportionate to the population they serve as compared to the City of Frederick and the Maryland State troopers who handle a lot more crime. The Local Gazette reported last Fall the following "During that four-year time span, deputies used Tasers 89 times in 70 ''incidents" from 2003 through 2007.

In the face of mounting evidence about the deadly nature of tasers, many jurisdictions are taking a second look at these deadly weapons. In December, an independent institution was asked by Sheriff Jenkins to examine the Taser use by the sheriff's office, making the agency part of an expansive study. We are still awaiting the name of the said company and their report. The fact that Sheriff Jenkins found it useful to review these weapons should have been a good reason to suspend their use pending the result of the fact finding.

Katherine Heerbrandt, a columnist with the Frederick News Post, said it clearly in these terms "In all, too many deaths have occurred by Taser and too many officers are using it when its use is unwarranted. This was recognized as far back as 2005 - Police Executive Research Forum and the International Association of Chiefs of Police recommended more judicious use of Tasers and encouraged law enforcement agencies to consider whether they should be used at all on some groups of people, including children and the mentally ill." Read her column here.

The other issue I would like to address is the Immigration policies of the Sheriff's office. Recently, Sheriff Jenkins is reported as saying the following "If you are an immigrant in the country illegally and you commit a crime, you are not welcome in Frederick County." For the record, the NAACP and other groups have always supported the detention and deportation of criminals who are known to be preying in our communities. The problem is about the hard working people who have not committed any crime. If the Sheriff will come out and promise not to go after those who have not committed a crime, we will be more than happy to work with him.

Consciously or not, his policy is resulting in the creation of a second class of resident within the community that will be reluctant to cooperate or seek the help of law enforcement should they be a witness or victim of a crime. This situation does not promote the image of Frederick County in the region. The recent crackdown on illegal immigration by Prince William County has also attracted national attention and has placed their county on a path that does not seem the model for us to follow. In Prince William County, Virginia, for example, the anti-immigrant ordinance of 2007 has effectively driven much of the Latino community, including many citizens and legal immigrants, from the jurisdiction. The County has since changed major aspects of their original bill.

As a prominent county in the region, Frederick County should think twice before sending out a message that may be perceived as anti-immigrant. Together we should go after the criminals and chase them out of our communities while reassuring hard working people who have not committed any crime that they can ask and seek the protection of the law.

Guy Djoken is President of Frederick County, Maryland NAACP Branch


Anonymous said...

So Guy, you want one Frederick as long as it is "your" view of Frederick.

Anonymous said...

Keep speaking up for an alternate view and those who fear these draconian measures - it's poor policy and time will tell - just today we learn that Deputies shot am an 10 times during an event -