By: David M. Higgins II, Publisher
California, MD- On May 25, 2020, Minnesota resident George Floyd died at the hands of arresting police officers, according to an independent autopsy released on June 1, 2020. Since the day this all began, Black Lives Matters protests have cropped up all over the country, including several in Maryland. It wasn’t until this week that they begin in Southern Maryland. On Sunday, May 31, 2020, the first protest took place in La Plata, MD. This protest stayed relatively calm and dispersed a short time later. Shortly after a Facebook post said another was starting at the St. Charles Towne Center.
On Monday, June 1, 2020, Facebook post revealed a protest in Prince Frederick and Lexington Park for that evening, along with one in Leonardtown on June 3 and 5, 2020.
The Lexington Park protest took place at St. Mary’s Square with about three dozen protesters, including several children. The protest lasted for a short time with the group in front of the Autozone store holding signs and chanting, ” We demand justice”, “I can’t breathe”, and ” Lock him up”. Shortly thereafter, the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office(SNCSO) arrived on the scene in an attempt to get them to move to a safer location. SMCSO Corporal Danny Reppel showed up and spoke with the organizer, Shawanda. The two took a picture together. The group disbanded shortly thereafter with no incidents and their voice heard.
In Prince Frederick, MD, organizers were given a permit to protest from 6:00 p.m.- 7:00 p.m. starting in the Prince Frederick Shopping Center, with the March headed towards the Sheriff’s Office and then back to the shopping center. Our reporter at the scene, Tammy Showalter, described the scene as fairly calm.
This changed as protesters gathered within the roadway several hundred feet before the shopping center. Up until this point the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office(CCSO) had been marching with the group. The group organizers attempted to keep the group peaceful, as their permit time was ending soon. As the Sheriff’s Office, spearheaded by Sheriff Mike Evens in the front, attempted to get the crowd to move to the sidewalks and head back to their starting location, several individuals began shouting.
CCSO officers began showing up, putting on gas masks, and riot gear. The Maryland State Police-Prince Frederick Barracks arrived shortly thereafter. The organizers implored the protestors to remain calm, move to the sidewalks, and head back to their cars. At one point the protestors did move back to the sidewalk, as CCSO launched 1-2 canisters of tear gas. Then the crowd moved back into the road, with dozens just heading straight to their vehicles. The CCSO officers formed a line and began moving down the road in formation, slowly pushing the crowd back towards the shopping center.
The crowd arrived back at the shopping center where a group of several individuals began challenging the officers. Shouting profanities at them, several water bottles thrown, and the back of an unmarked Police SUV window broken out. Tear gas was deployed at least 2 more times, and the majority of the crowd was gone. At least 10 individuals stood challenging the officers, including screaming at the officers on why they had automatic weapons against unarmed people. Several individuals were handcuffed as the officers stood in formation, several left running, presumably to handle unruly individuals. The group that remained there was still being asked to leave after 8 p.m.
Calvert County Sheriff Mike Evans posted this on Facebook this afternoon:
My first priority has always been and will continue to be the safety of all Calvert County citizens. I am appalled by the death of George Floyd by a law enforcement officer and my condolences go out to his family. I want to make it clear that the men and women of the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office perform their duties and enforce the law without partiality or prejudice. Our deputies receive extensive training and continuing education in conflict resolution and de-escalation. The Calvert County Sheriff’s Office was the first in the Southern Maryland region to equip deputies with body cameras. Every use of force is documented and reviewed by command staff. I am proud to say these resources have demonstrated the professionalism of my staff. Should a deputy act in a manner contrary to agency policies and procedures, the incident will be thoroughly investigated by the Office of Professional Standards, and that deputy will be held accountable if misconduct occurred. From top to bottom, my staff takes great pride in the relationship we have with the community and appreciate the value of your trust and confidence.
Last evening, I together with law enforcement officers, Retired Police Chief Alphonso Hawkins and President of the Board of County Commissioner Kelly McConkey walked with Pastor Jeff Long and others conducting a peaceful march. Law enforcement protected the participants by stopping traffic, joined them as they prayed on the courthouse lawn and concluded the peaceful march at the Prince Frederick Shopping Center. Pastor Long thanked all the participants, law enforcement officers and ended the march stating it was a success.
Unfortunately, after a peaceful march a small fraction of individuals were determined to make a positive event into one of negativity through their own separate agenda. These individuals marched onto Duke Street toward the Courthouse without regard for their safety or the safety of others. As your Sheriff, it is my duty to enforce the law for everyone’s safety. I along with other community leaders pleaded with these individuals to keep this event peaceful and respect its positive intent. After a considerable amount of time, it was made clear that they would not deter from their agenda. I made the decision to take enforcement action to clear the street. The individuals were informed that if they did not disburse, they could be arrested and as a last resort tear gas was deployed to disburse the crowd in hopes of avoiding arrests. There were two arrests, no reported injuries and minor damage to one sheriff’s vehicle.
Most importantly, I want to thank the community who joined us in a peaceful march and to tell all of our citizens we hear you and support you.
I am available twenty-four-seven, to speak or meet with any member of our community. Without you, we could not continue to keep our county the safe place it is. As always, if you see something, say something.
At the same time as the Lexington Park and Prince Frederick protests were taking place, another protest was taking place in La Plata, MD. The protest in La Plata was peaceful with dozens of people in attendance. The group walked around the area near the La Plata courthouse carrying signs that read “Black Lives Matter”, “Justice for all”, and “I can’t breathe”.
The organizers of the march, Mahanoor Abdullah, Alyanna Salvador, Kelly Shaw, and Jordan Deare expressed gratitude the march stayed peaceful. They also were grateful and appreciated the Charles County Sheriff’s Office and La Plata Police Department for keeping them safe and respecting their space and right to peacefully march.
There are at least two other marches planned in Southern Maryland as of this publishing. On Wednesday, June 3 at 6 p.m. in the Leonardtown Square and on Friday, June 5, 2020 in the Leonardtown Square. The Southern Maryland Chronicle will continue to cover these protests in our community.
The Southern Maryland Chronicle reporters Tiffany Bement, Tammy Showalter,and Suzanne Copeland all contributed to this article.