BY EMILY STRAB — On July 23rd, a crowd gathered at Hyattsville’s University Town Center (UTC) to pray for peace and healing for those who have fallen victim to the rising tensions between minority citizens and the police officers sworn to protect them. It was the third event in a “Vigil for Life” series presented by “Municipals for Change,” a group of activists from all over Prince George’s County. The event was supported by the businesses of the UTC, which had cooling stations for the crowd because of the heat advisory issued for that day.
The crowd, which included residents from not only Hyattsville, but College Park, Riverdale Park, North Brentwood, and University Park, showed that people from many different walks of life are concerned about the alarming trend of violence that has overtaken the media and the fears of many neighbors. The participants represented a rainbow of skin colors and a range of ages. There were families, politicians, clergymen, and police officers.
Braving the 96-degree heat, coordinator Joseph Solomon, Hyattsville councilmember for Ward 5 and president-elect of Prince George’s County Municipal Association, took the stage to greet the crowd and remind them that the purpose of the vigil was to “awaken and pray to recognize the lives of an almost uncountable number of minorities (particularly African-Americans), lost in fatal policing incidents. We also gather recognizing the lives and contributions of officers slain in this recent climate of conflict between law enforcement and the communities they serve.” He was joined by many important to the Hyattsville community, including Chief Douglas Holland of the Hyattsville City Police Department and Deacon Neal Conway of St. Jerome’s Parish. There were also local politicians from the municipal to the state level present: Councilmembers Marsha Dixon (Riverdale Park) and Chris Wiley (North Brentwood), College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn, as well as state delegates for District 22 Anne Healey and Alonzo Washington.
In his remarks, Solomon said he is “honored that communities all across Prince George’s County are willing to gather here today in solidarity and determination to find common ground, and remember the human element, often overshadowed by tragedy and anxiety.”
The vigil brought diverse community members together to meditate on race relations in the community as well as mourn the victims across the nation, and was seen as a positive and necessary chance to begin dialogue on this issue in Prince George’s County. As one attendee, Andrew Payton, said “I think these events … serve as preemptive measures against discord and as a vehicle for organizing.” He said he felt that the community members and police officers present expressed that Prince George’s County Police had progressed beyond the controversies of racial profiling and excessive force and that now “we present a model for other communities.”
Also held in Hyattsville, at the Municipal Building, was a Social Justice Potluck and workshop on July 31st. These events seem to be just the beginning of dialogue on these issues in the community. For more opportunities to be heard when it comes to the community and policing, the Hyattsville Police and Public Safety Citizens Advisory Committee (which reports to the city council) meets every first Wednesday at 7:30pm. The meeting takes place in locations throughout the city so check the city calendar at www.hyattsville.org/calendar for more information and agendas.