Collins column: Stirring up a long, hot summer on race

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By Michael Collins


Racial tensions are simmering in Anne Arundel County.  Or at least, that’s what some political activists want you to believe.

County Councilman Pete Smith, D-Severn, thinks Anne Arundel County needs to declare a “state of emergency” on race relations.  Activist Carl Snowden, and his new group, the Caucus of African American Leaders, have joined the fight.

At a caucus meeting last month, Smith said he would push the County Council for the state of emergency, citing a discrimination complaint against the deputy fire chief at BWI airport, a few unsubstantiated complaints against Annapolis police, and the murder of Richard Collins at Bowie State by a white man from Severna Park.

The murder of Second Lieutenant Collins is indeed horrific, and the perpetrator should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

In the meantime, the deputy fire chief was disciplined and the Annapolis police chief has been fired.  Which begs the question: where’s the need for a state of emergency?

Smith, Snowden, and the Caucus then teamed up to push an anti-hatred resolution in the County Council.  The purpose of the resolution was only symbolic.  But some people seemed to make the debate more about attacking Councilman Michael Peroutka, R-Severna Park, for his past association with the League of the South.  Since being elected to office, however, Peroutka has conducted himself honorably and there has not been a whiff of racial intolerance or animosity connected to him.  So the animus by Smith and the Caucus seemed puzzling — as if they were spoiling for a fight.

Racial justice

Snowden also has been calling for “racial justice” in court appointments too.  He began last year by making it imperative to put an African-American woman on the bench, something that never has happened in Anne Arundel County history. He championed the candidacy of Claudia Barber, an African-American woman in the 2016 elections, which she lost.

Barber might have stood a better chance of being a circuit court judge had she been found qualified for the post by the Judicial Nominating Commission. And her election prospects might have improved had she not been found to be in violation of ethics standards in the District of Columbia where she served as an administrative judge—after a complaint was lodged by a fellow Democrat.

For his part, Snowden might have been on firmer ground to complain about the lack of judicial appointments of African Americans had he not been silent for the eight years in which Gov. Martin O’Malley failed to put an African-American on the circuit court bench in Anne Arundel County.

Rally on the Dock

In late June, Smith, Snowden, and others held a rally on City Dock in Annapolis to renew calls for a state of emergency on race relations.  Many of the protestors carried signs with names and faces of African Americans whose deaths sparked national outcry.

Those represented included Sandra Bland (Texas), Michael Brown (Missouri), Aiyana Jones (Detroit), Antonio Zambrano (Washington), Trayvon Martin (Florida), Timothy Stansbury (New York), Rekia Boyd (Chicago), Philando Castille (Minnesota), and Amadou Diallo, who was killed in New York nearly 20 years ago.  While all of those deaths are tragic, none of those cases have a connection to Anne Arundel County.

The case closest to home was that of Freddie Gray, who died in Baltimore.  The mayor, police chief, states attorney, half the arresting officers, the U.S. Attorney General, and the President were African American at the time.  Was Gray’s death tragic and avoidable? Yes.  Was it racism? No — though many would insist it was a result of decades of institutional racism.

Whatever it was, it was not in Anne Arundel County.

Dog whistles

I found it surprising that absent in this protest were names like Kymici Brown, Walter “Buck” Bryan, Charles Edward Carroll Jr., Shawn Crowdy, Jordan Davis, Davon Jones, Charles King, Martin Vasquez, and Deandre Waymen—all persons of color murdered in Annapolis in 2016.

Carl Snowden is right that there is an emergency in the black community, but it may not be the one he is implying.  Most of these homicides were connected to public housing, which he oversaw for years as chairman of the board of the Annapolis housing authority.

By whipping up the visage of rogue police murdering unarmed black men, Carl Snowden is making the problem worse.  Studies have shown that police are indeed pulling back from communities of color, known as the “Freddie Gray Effect,” which leaves those communities at higher risk of mayhem.

He seems not to be as interested in solving the problem that is right under his nose—black-on-black crime in his community—as he is in blowing the most vile dog whistle for partisan political advantage.

Partisan politics

Carl Snowden has been a longtime Democratic activist with a history of stirring up racial issues in election years, and getting plum appointments afterward.

In a June 27 column in The Capital newspaper, Snowden rightly implored voters to cast informed votes.  But he gave up the game when he said that, “the 2017 elections will be a dress rehearsal for the 2018 mid-term elections.”

Snowden’s message seems clear.  The tactics of racial division are being road-tested in this year’s mayoral election in Annapolis, and will be refined for use in next year’s gubernatorial election.  This is not about addressing systemic racism.  It is a cynical ploy to turn out the black vote for Democrats, and should be called what it is.

Michael Collins can be reached at

Related links

“Anne Arundel County passes-anti-racism resolution”

“Groups hold anti-racism rally at City Dock”

Photo Gallery: State of Emergency for Racial Injustice

“Annapolis marks deadliest year for homicides”

“2016 Annapolis homicide victims”

“Baltimore Homicides”

“Carl Snowden: City residents need to cast informed votes”