Per Montgomery County:
This month, there will be several talks, lectures and other events scheduled across Montgomery County to mark Black History Month. Many will focus on the painful history endured because of slavery and racial injustices. We are grateful to the families that have shared their stories of oppression so that we can understand our true history.
I also wanted to mention there is an exhibit at the Wheaton library this month detailing the tragedy of 3 men who were lynched here in Montgomery County. The exhibit is on display through the end of February to remember the victims and to promote reconciliation and healing.
It’s frightening to me that in the 21st Century there’s still a drive to pretend that horrible, racist acts didn’t happen or don’t matter today. Some people believe racism ended with slavery or with the passage of the Civil Rights Act nearly 50 years ago. It’s not true because we’re still dealing with policies and decisions that stem from lack of educational and economic opportunities and embedded prejudices that go back generations. Change takes a long time, and we must continue to fight for the equity we all deserve.
On Saturday MCDOT will honor Civil Rights pioneer Rosa Parks as it marks Transit Equity Day. This is the fourth year we’ve saved a space on each bus for Parks, marked by commemorative reservation cards encouraging everyone to learn her story. The County also observes December 1 each year as Rosa Parks Day.
Parks was first arrested in 1955 for refusing to vacate her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama for a white man. Her defiance led to boycotts and sparked similar demonstrations highlighting racist and intolerant laws that would eventually change but not until the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
It is more important than ever that we continue to teach Black History in our classrooms as well as in our homes. Just last year, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) proposed changes to that state’s history curriculum that erases mentions of slavery, institutional racism and prominent figures of color. This is an outrageous disservice to the students and a warning that we must continue to promote and protect the teaching of Black History and end systemic racism.
Governor Moore’s First State of State Address
This week, Governor Moore gave his first “State of the State” address. I thought the Governor’s address offered new perspectives and priorities missing from the previous administration. I encourage everyone to watch the Governor’s speech.
As a former elementary school teacher, I really appreciated how Governor Moore spoke specifically about the challenges of childhood poverty and how it impacts our schools and communities. This is a critical subject that we don’t talk enough about, and I believe Governor Moore can help elevate this conversation in Annapolis. We must take a hard look at the effects of childhood poverty on learning. Children who are hungry, neglected, lack proper parental supervision, or are bombarded with anxiety end up taking these problems, stresses and traumas into the classroom. Governor Moore adequately and concisely made this link in his remarks, and the cost it has on all students and schools. I look forward to supporting his efforts to eradicate childhood poverty in this state.
I also appreciated Governor Moore’s focus on the need for investment in Maryland’s most valuable asset, its people. I thought the way the Governor connected the dots between investing in our children, becoming the best state in the nation for public education, and his initiatives to provide recent high school graduates with opportunities for community service as a means of future economic development for the state echoes what we have been attempting to achieve here in Montgomery County.
I have stated on many occasions that if we are to compete economically in our region, especially with Virginia, let alone with other jurisdictions around this nation and world, we must utilize our education assets to achieve economic development goals. This is a priority that Amazon cited specifically when they chose Northern Virginia over Maryland for their HQ2 project.
Governor Moore clearly understands this approach and it is refreshing that we now have a Governor who “gets it.” Our efforts to create the new University of Maryland 3 – Institute for Health Computing and help expand Montgomery College into the new East County Education Center facility in White Oak later this year are examples of how to strengthen education and improve our business community simultaneously while improving quality of life.
Besides developing a new generation of civic-minded volunteers the governor also spoke about the importance of using this service time idea as the “antidote to the epidemic of loneliness” or a way to connect generations post-pandemic as many people have felt isolated.
We look forward to working with Governor Moore, Lt. Governor Miller, and their new team. I feel that Maryland’s best days are to come, and Montgomery County will continue to be at the epicenter of the Maryland’s success.
Memphis Police Brutal Murder of Tyre Nichols
The horrific police brutality and murder of Tyre Nichols is an example of how an incident so far from here undermines community trust everywhere. We share the outrage and pain felt all across our country. And I appreciate Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones for also publicly addressing this tough issue.
Here in Montgomery County, we have been grappling with these issues even before the nation was outraged by the 2020 killing of George Floyd. Over the last several years, we created a Reimagining Public Safety Task Force and received recommendations for more police training, mental health support and increased compensation. We have improved use-of-force and de-escalation training and policies, and we are enhancing the review of body-worn camera footage and ensuring that investigations into police-involved deaths are independent, impartial and transparent. We also followed State law passed in 2021 by creating a Police Accountability Board and Administrative Charging Committee for officer complaints. We are still using the Effective Law Enforcement For All report for guidance and we appreciate that this has been an effort that has included the police and the community. We have made improvements, and we know there is more to do. We are working on an updated dashboard to track the recommendations and the progress.
We remain committed to continuing this work to ensure every resident feels safe in our community.
$800,000 Awarded to Protect Nonprofits and Faith Communities from Hate Crimes
Montgomery County is focused on improving how our faith and nonprofit communities can protect themselves. Over the past year, our County has experienced too many acts of hate, intimidation, and vandalism. Just this week, Gaithersburg High School, was the latest location for vile, racist vandalism.
On Monday, we announced the recipients of our $800,000 Nonprofit Security Grant program. We are the only local jurisdiction to provide operating support to community organizations facing acts of hatred. Through the application process we discovered that 55% of the 91 groups we awarded money to already had some prior history of dealing with threats and bias incidents.
Some of the community leaders that joined us Monday gave us some examples: Someone walking into a Jewish community center and verbally berating people. The leader of the Alef Bet Montessori School in Rockville told us about how she would walk around the perimeter of her campus and find weapons that had been left there. The leader of the Imaam Center for Muslims talked about recent incidents of intruders and people who tried to drive a vehicle into the building.
Many of the groups receiving grant money represent churches that have been vandalized for supporting social causes and targeted minority groups that represent Asian Americans, Sheikhs and the LGBTQ. Their money should be spent on helping their communities not on defending themselves.
Money available through this program can be used on security measures or crime deterrents like video surveillance systems. Last year, when Scotland AME was vandalized, the suspects were caught on a security camera the church purchased with this grant money. Many of the groups say they intend to use the money to protect vulnerable areas like daycares or senior centers.
I hope this acts as a wake-up call for our community to do more to fight intolerance and hate. We cannot be silent when we see bigoted disrespect in our community. When we see Pride flags ripped down. When we hear antisemitic graffiti laughed about or condoned.
We’re still calculating 2022 numbers but 2021 saw a more than 20 percent jump in hate and bias crimes. If you see something say something by calling police 240-773-8477. You can also sign up for the Securing our Houses of Worship workshop happening Wednesday February 15th by emailing Interfaith@montgomerycountymd.gov.
When any community, faith, ethnic, or minority group is intimidated or faces hate in this County, all of us are attacked. And we will continue to respond to these acts of hate, with unity, love and compassion for those who have been victimized.
COVID-19 Community Level Status Returns to ‘Low’
Some welcome news is coming from our hospitals: More COVID patients are being discharged and fewer are entering the hospital. This is a relief after several weeks when it seemed emergency rooms and EMS responders were pushed to the brink of crisis.
We’ve learned from just published CDC data that unvaccinated patients accounted for a much higher percentage of hospital beds. In some age groups, unvaccinated patients were 30 times more likely to end up in the hospital compared to vaccinated and boosted patients. Just the bivalent booster alone added 3 times the protection than simply being fully vaccinated, which is defined by having two vaccine shots, but no updated booster shot. Obviously, we continue to recommend a booster shot for everyone in your family.
January and December also continue to be the deadliest months for COVID. While the numbers are far below what we saw last year there are still too many people needlessly dying when vaccines and treatments are widely available at pharmacies and at doctor’s offices everywhere.
This week President Joe Biden announced that in May the federal government will end its declaration of a national emergency for COVID. It means federal funding will dry up for vaccines, testing and other public health measures that states and counties have been reimbursed for since the pandemic began. Additionally, the end of the emergency declaration is also going to impact Title 42, student loan forgiveness, as well as Medicaid and Medicare benefits when it comes to COVID tests, vaccines, and treatments.
Montgomery County plans to continue offering free test kits and scheduling vaccine appointments through the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30.
We will continue to provide regular updates on community health, and we will remain vigilant and aggressive in our prevention methods.