Family, Friends, and Advocates React with Outrage and Determination to Make Change Following Release of County Findings in the Police Killing of Robert White
Silver Spring, MARYLAND. (April 4, 2019) – Community members and friends of Robert White reject the contents of an official memorandum released this morning from outgoing Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger to County Executive Marc Elrich. The memo summarizes the police department’s findings in the June 11, 2018, killing of Robert White by Montgomery County Police Officer Badgujar. In this memo, the Montgomery County Police Department concluded that Officer Badgujar’s actions were lawful and justified.
These findings cause pain to our community because they fail to provide any moral, rational, or legal justification for the initial encounter by Officer Badgujar that led to Robert White’s killing. The memo erroneously concludes that a rip in Robert White’s jacket and the placement of his hand in his pocket as he turned away from Officer Badgujar justified a belief by the officer that Robert White was armed. This conclusion is unsupported by the law and demonstrates that in Montgomery County, walking while Black in a residential neighborhood is conduct that can subject any member of the community to confrontation and being followed by law enforcement. This is unacceptable.
We ask that Montgomery County establish policies and a culture regarding appropriate encounters with the police that rise above the bare minimums that courts have established. These courts sit within a national criminal justice paradigm that systematically targets people of color, people with disabilities, and others whom law enforcement over-police and marginalize. Our county can and should lead a better way.
The summary of facts contained in the memorandum does nothing to assure the community that Chief Manger conducted a thorough, fair, and transparent investigation. The facts include only what was visible in the body camera footage and statements from Officer Badgujar’s attorney that have been known to the public for months. Our community knows nothing more about how or why Robert White was killed than it did before the release of the memorandum. This is why it is essential for our County to require independent investigations and the publishing of full and detailed reports of those investigations when law enforcement kills a member of a our community.
Community advocates from the Silver Spring Justice Coalition, in partnership and consultation with Robert White’s family and friends, ask for appropriate changes to the state and county laws, regulations, policies, and institutional culture that created the conditions for this unnecessary and violent death of a resident. We call on all community lay and religious leaders, as well as our political leaders, to lead change in this area and grant all people the dignity and respect that they deserve. We are ready to work with all willing partners to achieve change so that some good can come from this tragic injustice.
Specifically, the coalition members and supporters propose the following:
- A change to policies about when police can stop residents and when they can use force.
- Transparency in police complaints and accountability through involving civilians in investigations.
- A change to county budgets to emphasize mental health care and education.
- Significantly more robust de-escalation policies and training.
- Unintended or implicit racial bias training for police officers so that they may recognize racial bias in themselves and re-orient themselves toward protection and service with the goal of recognizing and reinforcing the dignity and worth of all residents through their statements and actions.
Lastly, we found the method of this morning’s public memorandum release, authorized by County Executive Elrich, callous and disappointing. There was no offering of regrets or condolences, nor any recognition for the loss of life in this situation. In light of the trauma suffered by neighbors and family, we urge more due care and empathy regarding this tragedy going forward. Robert White was a beloved community member and friend who attended Blair High School and Rolling Terrace Elementary. He frequently took walks through his tree-lined Silver Spring neighborhood where he was well known to neighbors, with whom he would frequently stop to chat. Robert had a loving upbringing by a dedicated mother, a Montgomery County School Teacher and father, a John Wesley AME Zion pastor. He was a caring godfather, brother, and friend. It behooves all public servants, from the County Executive down, to recognize and reinforce the inherent humanity and worth of every county resident.
Robert White’s death was a neighborhood tragedy in which county law enforcement played a key role. His death has further shaken our trust in the police and in the public safety they should ensure. The county must take steps to establish trust and to require that the dignity and safety of all residents be respected. Robert White will not come back to us. The hurt his family suffers cannot be erased. The release of this memorandum has only exacerbated the pain our community is feeling. To be blind to this is irresponsible.
Silver Spring Justice Coalition (SSJC) is a coalition of community members and over 20 organizations working together to stop police violence and change the culture of law enforcement through advocacy and direct action. We, in partnership with coalition member Christ Congregational Church, will hold a press conference with a prayer vigil and public rally as follows:
Press Conference, Prayer Vigil, and Public Rally
Sunday, April 7th, 2pm
Christ Congregational Church
9525 Colesville Rd, Silver Spring, MD 20901
RSVP and Share on Facebook
Quotations from SSJC Members and other Allies of Robert White:
Irene Thompson, sister of Robert White: “We, Irene Thompson and Roddy Thompson, are deeply saddened by the news that the officer who killed our dearly beloved brother will not be disciplined or charged. All the Thompson/White family wants is justice for Robbie. Prayerfully, this situation will help other police departments across the United States to train officers to be able to deal with situations involving people with mental health issues, so that this doesn’t occur again, and other families will not have to endure the pain and suffering of the void left in families’ lives.”
Pastor Zacharias, John Wesley AME Zion Church (coalition member): “It has come to our attention that the June 11, 2018 murder of Robert White by police officer Anand Badgujar may result in him not being in violation of police policies. This is very disparaging news. So is it fair to say that Montgomery County Police Policies allow for and support the approach, pursuit and murder of unarmed black men? The policy needs to be changed to state that ‘no man, regardless of the color of his skin or outward appearance should be harassed or racially profiled and gun downed.’” [See full statement from John Wesley AME Zion below]
Jay Jimenez, County resident, on behalf of Silver Spring Justice Coalition: “Humiliating and unjustified police searches of myself as a child and young adult growing up in Montgomery County shaped my perceptions of belonging and depleted my self-confidence. It’s terrifying to learn as a young person that someone who doesn’t look like you, nor understand you, has the power to kill you or your loved ones without the fear of facing an ounce of accountability. That belief is what makes someone believe that they don’t belong or have no control over their future. That’s what made it farfetched in my family to think calling 911 would bring safety when you’re in danger. These are terrible thoughts to live with that continue to make community members feel helpless.”
Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins (Maryland-District 20): “The decision to deem this shooting ‘justified’ is shameful and disappointing, but unfortunately, it is not surprising. The fact is that Robert White was an unarmed Black man walking in his neighborhood. He unjustifiably lost his life at the hands of a Montgomery County police officer who initiated contact and aggressively pursued him without de-escalation. Robert White’s life mattered and he deserves justice.”
Montgomery County Councilmember William Jawando (At-Large): “I am deeply disturbed by the report Chief Manger issued to County Executive Elrich regarding the police-involved death of Robert White, which found no fault with the officer’s actions. This underscores why we need to enact legislation to safeguard the lives of our residents, to hold police accountable, and to increase transparency. This is also why I introduced the Law Enforcement Trust and Transparency Act. Robert White’s family is in my prayers on this difficult day and while they continue to ask for answers.”
Carlean Ponder, ACLU of Montgomery County (coalition member): “The report refers to the belief that Robert White was armed. This belief that a black person is armed (apparently, one that officers can make up) is being used as an excuse to kill unarmed black men, women, and children across this nation. Now, we’ve seen it provided as rationale for the killing of an unarmed, special needs, black man in Montgomery County, MD, one of the most diverse and politically progressive counties in the Washington DC area.”
Julio Murillo, CASA (coalition member): “The Montgomery County Police Department’s report on the death of Robert White does not provide justice for Mr. White and his family. In addition, it deteriorates the dwindling trust the community has in the police department. County leadership needs to act immediately to seek justice for Mr. White and pass legislation, such as the Montgomery County Trust Act and Law Enforcement Trust & Transparency Act, in order to begin improving community-police relations.”
Rosemary McCloskey, Neighbor of Robert White (coalition member): “Why did the officer approach Robert at all? His lack of de-escalation techniques and the lack of community policing are a problem. If they had a connection to the community, it is likely they would have known Robert and let him be free to walk as he usually did throughout our community.”
Dr. Laurel Hoa, Showing Up for Racial Justice (coalition member): “We are deeply disturbed by the finding that Officer Badgujar did not violate police protocols. If that is the case, the protocols need to be changed. No one should be chased down and killed by police simply for walking with a ripped jacket. This underscores the need for civilian involvement in reviewing police practices and disciplining officers.”
Dr. Sophia Marjanovic, Maryland Alliance for Court Reform (coalition member): “Considering that Montgomery County has had civilians trained and participate in investigations of the Montgomery County police, it is disappointing that this Council is not even willing to amend the LETT Act to include the possibility for civilian oversight, especially given the break down in community trust after Officer Badjugar is not reprimanded. Even the Montgomery County Mental Health trainer for the police stated that the way that Officer Badjugar handled Robert White is not what his office would recommend in handling civilians. In order to build community trust between the police and civilians, we need transformative solutions like civilian oversight and civilian cop watch patrols instead of feel good legislation.”
Dr. Melissa A Clark, DMV MOBB United for Social Change (coalition member): “Chief Manger’s report to the County Executive is deeply disturbing and only underscores the need for concerted action and reform of the investigatory processes connected to Police Use of Force and larger criminal justice systems. The fact that the mere belief – as opposed to due consideration of contradicting facts – that a black person was armed is grounds for justifiable use of force and exculpates officers who have clearly abused their authority is the gravest injustice which must stop now. Moms of Black Boys and Men are tired of their sons being perceived as threats just because they are black. We will continue to show up and be present in the fight for our sons. Our thoughts are with the family of Robert White. Our actions will be with fellow advocates and community members who will not stop until we see justice.”
Jo Saint-George, Esq. Co-Chair NAACP Maryland State Conference Political Action Committee (coalition member): “The outcome of the Robert White investigation case is a shame! I have reviewed over and over the body cam video of Officer Badgujar on the day of his murder of Robert White and I still do not see any justification for his actions. Officer Badgujar had “clear and convincing evidence” that Mr. White was unarmed. Yet, Officer Badgujar stalked Mr. White, gun pointed at him, demanding that he stop. For what? Because he had a rip in his jacket. The Supreme Court has held that officers are only to use the amount of force necessary to secure a situation. Maryland case law says, in summary, that deadly force is to be used only when there is a threat on an officer’s life. Officer Badgujar was “punched” by Mr. White after stalking him at gunpoint for no other reason than having a rip in his jacket. Badgujar was to use the same amount of force used against him, and a “deadly” gunshot is certainly not an equal amount of force as a “punch”. At best, Robert should have gone to jail for assaulting a police officer, but not killed.”
Statement from John Wesley AME Zion Church:
It has come to our attention that the June 11, 2018 murder of Robert White by police officer Anand Badgujar may result in him not being in violation of police policies. This is very disparaging news. So is it fair to say that Montgomery County Police Policies allow for and support the approach, pursuit and murder of unarmed black men. The policy needs to be changed to include that “no man, regardless of the color of his skin or outward appearance should be harassed or racially profiled and gun downed.”
Twenty (20) days lapsed before the Montgomery County Police Department released the body camera footage of Officer Anand Badgujar confronting Mr. Robert White. Many questions still go unanswered: Why was Mr. Robert White accosted; Did officer Badgujar ask Mr. White did he need any help; Who called the police and why? Was the caller charged for making a false police report; If the police are said to be a part of the community why didn’t they know him?
According to the 2018 Montgomery County Police Department Annual Pursuit Report the following was stated revealed:
“…In 2018, 55.6% of the suspects involved in pursuits were African American; 13.3% were Caucasian; 8.9% were Hispanic; 2.2% were Asian/Pacific Islander; and the remaining percentage (20%) were Unknown.”
Why is the number of pursuits of African Americans so high? According to a report presented by Doug Tallman, mymcmedia: Montgomery Community Media: revealed a letter stated by Chief Tom Manger which called the incident “unfortunate” as if we (family and friends) can just pick up their heads and move on. We are talking about a life well lived, a family man and friend.
It was hopeful that the Internal Affairs Division of Montgomery County police would have found that police office Anand Badgujar’s accost, harassment, pursuit and murder of Mr. Robert White was unjust.
It is unfathomable that in the 21st century we as human beings are still dealing with the ills and hatred of people of color.
Moving forward it is also hopeful that the polices of the Montgomery County Police Department would emulate its Mission …”safeguard life…protect the rights of all citizens…”
John Wesley AME Zion Church,
Pastor Christopher Zacharias
Social Action Committee