Hoyer, Palombi Talk Unity, Protests
5th District Congressional candidates Chris Palombi and Congressman Steny Hoyer both support the right to protest racial injustice, but both draw the line at violence and have serious concerns over the call to defund the police.

Hoyer said that his district is more unified than many, but he understands the outrage that prompted protests. “A horrendous act occurred. And it occurred so that everybody could see it because it was videotaped. And we saw a policeman kneeling on an African American’s neck saying, ‘I can’t breathe’ for nine minutes. This was not a thirty-second scuffle. This was nine minutes of kneeling on George Floyd’s neck. Americans became outraged and the world became outraged.

And there was much more talk about systemic racism.  Racism that people of color…  and they can be African American. They can be Indian. Asian Indians. They can be Asian. They can be Hispanic. Every day, people of color will tell you, every day, people of color face racism. Doesn’t have to be a George Floyd event. It can be a little sleight. It can be waiting on somebody third because they can wait longer.  Women experience the same thing every day.

So, let me say something first, what people are doing is demonstrating for justice. That’s very American. That’s what America is about. That’s what the First Amendment is about. But let me tell you what the First Amendment is not about. People committing violence. Destroying property. Attacking other persons or the police. That should be no part of a demonstration.”

Accountability and Transparency
Palombi, a former police officer, said he attended local protests. “I attended two of those local protests, one in Calvert and one in St. Mary’s. I heard the constituents’ concerns and that was an important time to listen to their ideas, listen to their voices and understand different perspectives to ensure that we’re doing equitable and safe policing within our district. I spoke to a lot of our local law enforcement officers and our sheriffs. Fortunately, they’ve been very proactive with their policies and training with their law enforcement officers. Are there injustices within our country? Absolutely there are. And we need to do everything we can to fix those injustices where they’re found. 

I fully support everybody’s ability to protest, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with them. I admire that people find injustice where they see it, and they go to the street and they protest peacefully. That’s our inalienable right. I fully support that and I’ll fight tooth and nail to protect that for everybody.”

Palombi said his experience in law enforcement gives him insight into what’s needed to improve the relationship between officers and the communities they serve. “I understand a lot when it comes to the training as to how they work and how law enforcement functions. Are there ways we can improve the system? Absolutely. We can provide much better accountability and transparency within our law enforcement departments. We absolutely need to work towards eliminating excessive use of force. That is paramount to work towards having a good relationship with the community and law enforcement. Again, law enforcement, we’re there to protect and serve. That’s the number one absolute thing.”

Defunding The Police
Both candidates spoke out against the move to defund the police.  Palombi said, “You hear a lot of discussions about defunding the police. That’s been going on throughout the country. Places where they have looked to defund the police, you’ve, unfortunately, seen some spikes in crime.”

Hoyer called the idea ‘crazy.’ “Defund the police. It’s a crazy idea. We get somebody trying to break into our home, we want the Sheriff there, and lickety-split. We want to fund the police properly. We want to fund the military properly. We want to make sure we have police, however, that are accountable if they do wrong. Because we give them a lot of power. We give them a gun. We give them a badge. We give them a lot of power. They ought to be held accountable for misusing that power.”

Failing To Act
Hoyer criticized the Senate for failing to act on the Justice in Policing Act. “We passed a bill.  I want everybody who’s watching this to know. We Democrats and Joe Biden made a very powerful statement. We will not tolerate violence and we will hold people accountable who commit violence. So, we put the policing act. Accountability, training, having proper ways of dealing with people.

We sent it to the Senate.  They haven’t touched it. They haven’t taken it up. They haven’t debated it. We would hope they would take it up. We would have a legitimate democratic debate as to what the best policies are. Because we know that the overwhelming majority of police are good people doing their duty. But let me tell you, in Congress, there are some bad people. Not very many of them, but some do wrong. One was convicted, a Republican member from New York, of insider trading and pled guilty. Accountability. Whether it’s a member of Congress, whether it’s a doctor, whether it’s a lawyer, whether it’s an Indian chief. I hope we would pass that and then we would need to deal with the larger issue.”

Community Policing
In addition to improvements in training, Palombi emphasized the importance of community policing. “This is a concept that’s been around since I was in college. What can we do to better do community policing? You’re not just seeing law enforcement officers sitting in their cars by the road pulling somebody over, but you’re interacting with them; you’re engaged with them. We’re humanizing everyone from the community and the police officers. Again, police are part of the community and we need to realize that we are building bridges, not building walls.”

Palombi also called for citizens to have a greater say in law enforcement policies. “Also have members of the community have an outreach program to see if there are certain things that they don’t agree with, certain policies, that here’s the process to go through to change those and help benefit everybody.” He also feels that a greater emphasis on mental health could prevent tragedy. “We need to make sure we are having psychological and mental checks to make sure that we are cognitively and mentally ready for the job day in and day out, because they don’t know what they’re going to experience. So, there’s a lot of different things that we can do. But again, we need to work on bridging the gaps and building bridges in the community, because I do believe that police are an integral part of our society for security and stability.”