When two Severna Park moms organized a silent vigil in honor of George Floyd on May 31, they intentionally gave as little notice as possible.
They wanted to discourage counter-protestors from attending the vigil in the Severna Park High School parking lot and they wanted their message to be clear: America has an issue with racism and there is no room for hate.
A 46-year-old Black man, Floyd was killed in Minneapolis on May 25 when a white police officer placed a knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, ignoring Floyd’s pleas of “I can’t breathe.”
Floyd’s death came about two months after Breonna Taylor was shot in her Kentucky apartment during a drug raid approved with a search warrant for someone who did not live at the residence.
With Black children of their own, the Severna Park moms planned the vigil to honor Floyd and to bring awareness to racism and police brutality in a way that also promoted unity.
“There was a lot more attention from rioting and looting than the peaceful protests,” one of the organizers said, speaking anonymously to keep the focus on the cause instead of herself. “The vigil showed how long nine minutes is and how loud violence can be.”
Roughly 200 to 400 people attended the silent vigil.
“I thought it was so incredibly respectful,” one of the moms said. “People just walked. We were in awe.”
Among those in attendance was Matthew English, a white man who graduated from Severna Park High School in 2015.
“I wanted to show solidarity not just for the George Floyd family but also for the rest of the nation that is experiencing this,” English said.
English was impressed with the turnout despite COVID-19. Everyone was wearing a mask, socially distanced, and together their silence made a powerful statement, he said.
“The vigil started at 4:00pm, and at 4:04pm, I looked down at my watch and it had only been four minutes,” English recalled. “I thought, ‘When George Floyd had a knee on his neck, he still had five minutes of that to go.”
The silent vigil organizers said communications about race have been ongoing in their households prior to Floyd’s death, but they hope this event sparks a conversation for other families.
“For my family, it was about activism, letting others know ‘you’re not alone,’” one of the moms said. “Our family was very touched by the number of families that showed up. It was an important moment for Severna Park, and it was a huge step forward.”
Excessive police force and body cameras were two areas where they want reform.
Following the vigil, in June, the Anne Arundel County Council approved Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman’s supplemental budget amendments to provide funding for body-worn cameras for the police department. The amendments will total approximately $1.8 million for Fiscal Year 2021.
In a statement, Anne Arundel County Police Chief Tim Altomare said adding body cameras is “the right thing to do.”
“Your police department supports any technology that invests in public trust,” Altomare said. “The addition of body-worn cameras is an opportunity to show the community and nation who we are as police officers entrusted with the safety of our residents, visitors and everyone in our community.”
Body cameras alone are not enough to address the issue, Black leaders have said. That was one subject discussed when the City of Annapolis held a virtual town hall on June 24 to discuss race and equity, and to determine next steps.
Civil rights activist Carl Snowden called for a community civilian review board to ensure accountability and transparency. He also urged civilians to hold elected officials accountable by voting, and he encouraged citizens to exercise their constitutional right to videotape any activities that infringe on civil rights.
Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley and Annapolis Police Chief Edward Jackson announced on June 4 that the City of Annapolis would seek a group of citizens to work toward establishing a civilian review board. The municipal body will be composed of citizen representatives tasked with reviewing complaints by members of the public concerning allegations of misconduct by police officers in their interactions with the public.
Jacqueline Boone Allsup, president of the Anne Arundel County NAACP branch, agreed with the need for a civilian review board.
“Even if we don’t know the means and strategies to stop the injustices, we must first start with arresting any individual that commits a crime, including police officers,” she said. “All people who use their status to kill or mistreat people of color should have the same ramifications of any other person committing a crime despite their occupation. Importantly, that would certainly send a message that we don’t undervalue the lives of Black people and excessive force is intolerable.”
Anne Arundel County Public Schools’ superintendent, Dr. George Arlotto, said the school system is a contributor to systemic racism.
“As a school system, we need to and will embrace the Black Lives Matter movement openly,” Arlotto said. “We need to understand how we contribute to the systemic racism that exists in our society and in our community. And we have to determine what needs to change to fully support all of our students, but in particular, our students of color.”
Putting action behind those words, Arlotto and his executive staff read “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo, and as AACPS evaluates its curriculum, Arlotto said the school system will collaborate with community partners to ensure that the complete national and local history is told.
“We continue to enhance teacher and staff professional development. Implicit bias professional development is mandatory,” Arlotto said. “This past Friday, [June 19], we had over 7,000 teachers and staff engage in professional development and which was titled ‘How to Talk About Race in the Classroom.’ We have never been able to bring people together like that, to hear that same voice in professional development at the same time.”
The United Black Clergy, NAACP of Anne Arundel County, the Caucus of African American Leaders and other groups have requested additional police reforms along with funding to support minority-owned businesses.
Other speakers during the town hall included Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, Aldermen DaJuan Gay and Marc Rodriguez, Annapolis Police Chief Ed Jackson, American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland legal program administrator Amy Cruice, Andre Dillard from Alpha Phi Alpha, and Dr. Charlestine Fairley from the Anne Arundel County Community Action Agency.
So, where do we go from here? Ideas have been championed. Elected officials have voiced their support. Now is the time for action.
“The vigil was just a moment of silence and a moment to know the community stands behind us,” one of the Severna Park moms said. “It doesn’t mean much if it’s all we do.”