HOLLYWOOD, Md.—Police use of force in St. Mary's County rarely reaches the level of officers having to use their firearms to shoot or even kill a suspect but in recent weeks with the slaying of African American men by police officers in Minnesota and Louisiana and the subsequent ambush and killings of even more police officers in the wake of those tragedies, some residents here are worried that sort of violence may come.
At a community forum on police use of force and race relations on July 29 at the House of Dance in Hollywood, residents were quick to point out some of their stories when it came to relating to the police as African Americans at Zion United Methodist Church in Lexington Park. A man recounted one incident in which he was followed by police for three-quarters of an hour closely before being pulled over and, in his words, profiled by them.
"They asked if I had a gun even though I had a carry permit," Moore, who is black, told a dais of speakers at the event, which included Sheriff Timothy K. Cameron. "I even told them I was a police chaplain."
Others at the event said they believed there was even racism inherent in the county school system; when they saw white children get in fights they were sent to the principal's office.
When they saw black children fighting, they were sent home, they said.
One woman, Monique Melton, said that she had to have a conversation with her children about how to deal with police that she believed people of other races did not have to have for fear that her children might one day become the victims of police force.
"Why do I have to have this conversation with my children?" she said, adding that by doing so she was forced to deprive her children of a part of what was supposed to be a fun, care-free childhood.
Tujuanda Jordan, president of St. Mary's College, said that parents of African American children have always had to have that kind of conversation with their children.
"After the Civil Rights Movement, we thought there was equity, there isn't," Jordan said. "We've gotten complacent."
One speaker, though, said that fears over police use of force against black men, particularly young men, might be allayed with better parenting in homes.
"If they were being policed at home first that might solve some problems," said Jacinta Bobbins-Spencer. "You can't rely on the community to raise your children.
"I hear a lot of blame being placed but what are you doing at home?"
One man speaking from the audience said that according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice the number of white people being killed in police shootings was going up while the numbers of African American men being killed, despite the wide-spread media reports, was actually going down.
He also argued that those same statistics showed that the vast majority of police on the streets were white, which meant that any black person had a greater chance of coming into contact with one than a black officer.
"Police violence, it's not racism, it's probability," he said. "Cops don't want to kill people.
"How is this race related when the statistics say something else?"
He also blamed the media for inciting emotions and tension that did not accurately reflect reality.
Aaron Rodgers, one of the event's organizers, said he believed the media, both the main stream variety and the social variety, played a large part in raising tensions between police and the African American community.
"We've gotten baited into things we shouldn't have stepped in," Rodgers said. "We've got tensions on both sides of the fence."
Cameron said that in the wake of the tragic killings of black men and police across the nation, the onus was on police to stay professional and train diligently on always delivering the right level of force and always looking for ways to de-escalate any tense situation.
That training paid off for one deputy who just days earlier had a tense standoff with a homeowner who came up behind him with a handgun when the deputy arrived to answer a call for a domestic disturbance.
Body camera evidence from the deputy's point of view convinced Cameron, he said, that the homeowner knew the person on his property was a deputy but the homeowner confronted him with a weapon anyway.
The best part, though, Cameron said, was that the deputy de-escalated the situation without discharging his weapon even though he was well within his rights to do so.
It also detailed one of the realities of police work, a potentially deadly ambush that any officer would have to walk into because of the nature of their job.
The killing of five police officers in Dallas showed that the ambush is one of the worst situations a law enforcement officer had to deal with and constantly be on the watch for.
"When Dallas happened it showed that strength was not in numbers," Cameron said. "You've got to be pros and never let down."
But despite some of the best training, Cameron realized that in law enforcement in general there were still lingering problems.
"There is racism and it is in policing," Cameron said. "It's unacceptable… and if they can't adhere to these [higher] standards then they can't stand among us.
"What hurts me is that this badge and this uniform is sometimes a barrier and it shouldn't be."