A mixture of righteous anger, sorrow and radical activism permeated a vigil held last night to demand justice and accountability for Leonard Shand, the 49-year-old African American man killed by 10 police officers in Hyattsville last month. The vigil was held at a corner by the intersection of Belcrest Road and Toledo Road in Hyattsville, the same intersection where Shand was fatally shot Sept. 26, 2019.
A small parade of speakers during the vigil, including Hyattsville City Councilor Joseph Solomon, several activists, and at least two who knew Shand personally, implored the crowd – numbering about two-dozen – to push their elected officials and police policy-makers for sweeping reforms to law enforcement practices. In addition to the speakers, the vigil was also attended by members of Shand’s immediate family, including his mother Sonia Shand.
Solomon, who has been the only Hyattsville City Councilor to publicly dispute major elements of the police narrative so far put-forth surrounding Shand’s death, called on police and elected officials to listen to those who have been critical of how police handled the incident.
“I understand there is a lot to learn in this moment, but I think it is important we recognize black bodies cannot continue to be learning experiences,” said Solomon. “I hope that those who are able to are listening in this moment; are listening to this community and are listening to their concerns.”
Solomon was joined at the vigil by fellow City Councilor Ben Simasek and Prince George’s County Councilor Deni Taveras, though they did not speak during the event.
Two who knew Shand also spoke during the vigil., including Jonathan Newton, a Prince George’s County attorney who once worked as a police officer. Shand apparently worked as a ridesharing driver from time to time, and Newton met him after Shand chauffeured him from near Prince George’s Plaza Metro Station to his home. During their first meeting, Shand told Newton he was the victim of police violence that occurred in Washington, D.C. Newton said he encouraged Shand to find an attorney to take up the case, though it appears Shand never followed through.
“Leonard’s family needs justice. This is a cause that will not go away. We need to seek justice,” said Newton. He pushed for policymakers to implement laws to protect people with mental health issues during encounters with law enforcement officers. “Officers ought to have a protocol that is required. we have a protocal that we have with juveniles…it should be mandated. What happened to Leonard should never have happened.”
Following Solomon’s remarks, Thomas Ruffin, a firebrand D.C. attorney active in civil rights issues who once penned a column calling Barack Obama a “race traitor” for failing to take more decisive policy action on behalf of African Americans, said Shand’s death was the latest in a series of police killings he said were the result of “racially bigoted injustice.”
“A lot of people are recognizing that we live in the midst of a racially-bigoted police state. We recognize it. We can say it and aknowledge the truth or we can hide from it,” said Ruffin during the vigil.
Later, Ruffin cautioned people – especially people of color – against calling the police for minor issues.
“If you are not literally in fear of your life from some sort of threat to your life that will kill you, don’t call the police,” said Ruffin. “Don’t call the police if your son is disorderly and won’t leave your home. Don’t call the police if your daughter came in late. Please don’t call the police.”
Rev. Angela Martin, with the Poor People’s Campaign, said she was tired of the steady drumbeat of police violence against African Americans.
“Why is it we keep hearing the same stories over and over and over and over,” said Martin. “When are we going to demand that our police accountability system be accountable to us?”
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