Chase Cook – June 13, 2017
Anne Arundel County Councilman Pete Smith, D-Severn, pledged to push for a state of emergency declaration on race relations in Anne Arundel County during Tuesday’s Caucus of African American Leaders meeting.
Smith likened the push to the state and county’s opioid state of emergency and hoped to establish a task force on race relations as part of the declaration. He pointed to several events in the county over the last five years that were the result of or involved race issues: the discrimination against the deputy fire chief of the BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, multiple accusations against the Annapolis Police Department and the death of 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III, a black Bowie State University student who was stabbed to death allegedly by a white man from Severna Park. The incident is being investigated as a possible hate crime.
He plans to push for the task force and state of emergency after the Anne Arundel County Council approves the budget. The budget will be voted on Wednesday morning.
“A state of emergency comes with an aura of importance,” said Smith, who is the only African-American member of the council. “That means it is a significant issue for the county; it needs to be treated as such.”
Smith’s comments come after a highly contentious Anne Arundel County Council meeting on June 5, where emotions ran hot after anti-racism resolution was introduced and ultimately passed. That resolution referenced Collins’ death as well as other events in the county.
During that meeting, speakers claimed their First Amendment rights were violated when Councilman John Grasso, R-Glen Burnie, forbade references to Councilman Michael Peroutka’s, R-Millersville, former ties to the League of the South, an organization labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Peroutka left the organization in 2014 after a disagreement over some of the member’s comments on interracial marriages.
Grasso and Peroutka were invited to Tuesday’s caucus meeting but were not in attendance. Peroutka didn’t return a call for comment.
Grasso said he didn’t want to be in the same room or work with an organization that is affiliated with Annapolis resident Carl Snowden.
Snowden is the leader and convener of the Caucus of African American Leaders.
Grasso firmly disagreed with Snowden’s approach on racial issues, saying the former Annapolis alderman picks fights that divide and alienate people.
“I don’t want to be at any gathering that man is at,” Grasso said. “I don’t want to be near an organization that he is involved in.”
The Caucus of African American Leaders is a civil rights group founded in 2013 that focuses on inequality and injustice. The group has backed several lawsuits initiated by African American police officers against the Annapolis Police Department. In those cases the courts have sided with Annapolis city government. The caucus also backed the BWI deputy fire chief who was rehired after a court determined his removal was discriminatory.
The caucus’s agenda focused on race relations with presentations by local groups’ approach to the issue.
The caucus also released a pledge with 12 positions covering opioid drug use, the Annapolis Housing Authority, the Annapolis Police Department and other issues. This documents will be given to candidates running for office in Annapolis. Some of the points call for the candidate to make a specific pledge while others ask the candidate to elaborate on strategies for particular issues.
“So the people of the city will have an opportunity to know what candidates stand for in an election,” Snowden said.
The Severna Park WISE group — Women Indivisible Strong Effective — announced during the meeting it would be holding an event, “Conversations on Promoting Equity in our Community,” from 7 to 9 p.m. June 21 at Opportunity Builders Inc. in Millersville.
The focus of the meeting is to have a frank discussion about the prejudice and racial bias people have, said Kathy Bain, a member of the group’s steering committee. The group is also running a social media campaign in which Anne Arundel County students are sharing instances of discrimination. Those will be at the June 21 meeting.
“We want people to recognize the discrimination others face,” Bain said.