Can Elrich Fund Communities, Not Cops?

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Montgomery County’s new county executive Marc Elrich took office December 3rd, 2018 facing an uphill battle. Saddled with a massive budget shortfall by the previous administration, Elrich and his budget director Rich Madaleno are scrambling to make enough cuts to maintain the county’s AAA bond rating.

Given these financial limitations, Elrich’s mostly left-leaning supporters may have reason to doubt his ability to make good on the promises of his progressive campaign platform. (Full disclosure: this writer canvassed for Marc Elrich and other candidates with the Metro DC DSA in this year’s primary election.)

This could spell bad news for Montgomery County’s working class and people of color, especially given recent controversies sparked by the Montgomery County Police Department.

An oft-repeated phrase from Marc Elrich’s county executive campaign was “racial equity lens.” Candidate Elrich never missed an opportunity to stress the importance of considering the racial impact of every policy decision. We have not, however, heard him speak much on the woefully underreported issue of racial bias in our police department.

It’s only been five months since MCPD officers shot and killed an unarmed black man, and just a couple weeks before Elrich took office, another black Montgomery County resident was arrested for the crime of attempting to help out his neighbor. This disturbing pattern reflects the nationwide trend of abusive police behavior toward African Americans, but it is rarely discussed in the context of Montgomery County politics.

Elrich, for his part, has always been a proponent of modest police reforms such as requiring the use of body cameras, though many on the left question the effectiveness of body cams in general and the motives of Elrich in particular. Despite having been the strongest voice for reform on the county council, he has a fairly cozy relationship with the police department, and his campaign received the endorsement of the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge, which rattled his more left-leaning supporters. And while Marc has spoken eloquently about the problem of systemic racism in the areas of education and housing, he has had little to say about the way the police brutally enforce white supremacy.

For those who supported Marc and are concerned about police brutality in our own backyards, so to speak, it would be quite reassuring to hear him acknowledge the problem and explain how he plans to address it.

As for those budget cuts, Elrich is proposing a 1.5% cut to pad the county against potential local or national recession. Details like the departments and staff targeted by the cuts will likely provide a glimpse at what the Elrich administration’s priorities will be in practice. The police department, for instance, currently has an operating budget of $280 million for the fiscal year, which amounts to nearly seven times the total budget shortfall. The planned initiatives for that budget include the addition of more School Resource Officers, the expansion of the Vice unit, and “enhanced gang investigative capabilities.”

Under a truly progressive local government, such troubling–and potentially racist–programs would surely be the first to go. Will putting more cops in schools and ramping up the War on Drugs prove to be higher priorities for Marc Elrich and the county council than, say, public transit, social services, or education? The devil, as they say, is in the details.

by Trevor Drinkwater

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