Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Macedonia Baptist Church members kicked out of MoCo Executive's office during Westbard cemetery protest (Video+Photos)

Leaders and members of Macedonia Baptist Church, and their supporters in the community, converged on Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett's office in Rockville yesterday morning for their first "Justice Tuesday" protest. The action is in response to the Planning Department cover-up of the "lost" cemetery with ties to the black community that existed on River Road in Bethesda for about 100 years after Maryland Emancipation.

Church members, surrounded by
Sheriff's deputies, are thrown
out of County Executive Ike Leggett's office

Desecrated during construction of Westwood Tower in the late 1960s, the cemetery is now threatened by a plan by developer Regency Centers and Montgomery County to build a parking garage atop the graves.
Tensions during the months-long dispute have been raised by disrespectful and misleading treatment of church representatives by the Planning Department and Planning Board. The latter called in 7 squad cars to planning headquarters, when protesters showed up quietly there. Yesterday, they received a similar response, being asked to leave under threat of physical force.

MBC's social justice director, Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, told a Leggett representative that church officials felt the executive had "treated us like dogs" in a recent meeting. That meeting resulted in a letter from Leggett to the Planning Board, which - it was later discovered - was written with the knowledge that Planning Director Gwen Wright had secretly given Regency the go-ahead to conduct their own, unsupervised cemetery investigation. In essence, the letter's proposal of a mediator to reach agreement on monitoring the investigation was an empty promise - the investigation was already underway.

"Gwen Wright must go!" protesters chanted. Leggett's office then summoned at least 5 Sheriff's deputies to inform protesters they could either move into a hidden conference room, thereby sparing Leggett further public embarrassment, or get out.
Eventually, the body-armor-clad deputies encircled the group of protesters, as MBC's pastor, the Rev. Segun Adebayo, attempted to deliver a prepared statement. "This is what you offer us," a protester said, gesturing to the armed deputies, "a show of force." Leggett's representative again exacerbated the situation by reverting to the County's talking point that the cemetery's existence is in question. "We don't know what is there," she told protesters. That is false, as land records prove the cemetery existed, and there is no document so far to indicate any legal relocation of remains from the graveyard.
"You're throwing us out?" asked Rev. Adebayo. "I am the pastor of a church." Turning to Leggett's representative, he noted that Leggett has been to Macedonia Baptist Church in the past to seek votes from the congregation. "He cannot hide behind his office," Adebayo said. "He has to stand up."
The group then filed out of the office toward the elevators, singing the civil rights standard, "We Shall Not Be Moved." Adebayo reiterated that the group will continue the Justice Tuesdays initiative next week. Protesters then walked over to the County Council Building, where the Council was in session to discuss the Bethesda Downtown Plan. That meant Wright and Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson - who infamously surrounded himself with armed police officers when Coleman-Adebayo attempted to hand him a petition at a Board meeting - were on hand, as protesters silently made their presence known.
The cemetery case has not only exposed the institutional racism of Montgomery County Government, but also that there is something going on behind the scenes with Westbard for the County Council and Planning Department. Normally hyper-politically-correct, the County Council and planning commissioners have had no qualms about appearing racist in the Westbard case. Already, emails obtained by public information requests have shown that planning officials conspired to cover-up the cemetery during the Westbard sector plan process. Where there's smoke, there's usually fire.


Harvey Matthews (plaid shirt at right),
one of the surviving members of the
River Road black community

Pastor Rev. Segun Adebayo

44 comments:

Anonymous said...

That's a lot of firepower to meet a church group.
The MoCo Way?

Anonymous said...

I watched the video. It looks like it was handled professionally. What's the problem?
Although the 70's style music is catchy, but the police slo-mo is pretty awful. But that's just my opinion.

Anonymous said...

@5:30AM Please learn how the police department works before embarrassing yourself. Find out what their recommended response procedure is for a protest group in a county building. (they don't have extra special rules for church groups)
Captain Falcinelli's office would be happy to help school you.

Anonymous said...

I can't help but notice that as our elected officials drift further and further away from the will of residents, the are desperately trying to consolidate power and build walls between them and the public.

Robert Dyer said...

5:48: The deputies were very professional. I think the question is, should they have been summoned in the first place, and what does it tell us about our elected officials that they apparently can't recognize the optics and subtext of this are so bad?

5:58: As far as I recall, these were from the Sheriff's department, not the County police.

6:05: Absolutely. Their need to "bunker up" is a clear signal that they intend to continue thumbing their nose at their constituents even more in the future. How they expect to be reelected, is another story. We now have term limits partly because of Westbard-Damascus-Lyttonsville-CBAR, and the other shoe will drop on election night 2018.

Boom.

Anonymous said...

It was handled appropriately. The bones will be dug up and moved. Get a life people.....

Anonymous said...

I watched the video. These people are so obnoxious and lame - "they have the guns and power." LOL. The county had a discussion with them and said that a study is under way and they were so rude and don't listen to reason. Their way or the highway... classy!

The best part was the Burger King Cheeseburger review (dimensions and all LOL) that followed this silly protest.

Anonymous said...

What's sad is most of these Westbard NIMBY's wouldn't normally give two craps about this cemetery, they just see it as a way to further their xenophobic agenda and block any and all progress (development) in the County.

Robert Dyer said...

6:56: Wait a minute - the study that is underway is the developer's study, with no oversight from the church or any other independent expert. By definition, that study's findings will be suspect and tainted.

Of course the church is continuing to protest - it's clear the County plans to cover something up in this cemetery "investigation," or else they wouldn't be afraid to have eyewitnesses on-site, and wouldn't be putting people under gag orders. That's what you do when you're trying to hide something.

7:21: So, you have no problem with a multibillion dollar corporation owning the bodies of the first generation of freed slaves in Maryland? I'd call that a lot of things, but "progress" wouldn't be one of them.

Anonymous said...

7:46: Do you honestly (not trolling you here) think these people would care at all about this cemetery if it didn't so happen to help their cause rallying against a development plan they don't like?

Roald said...

8:04 AM I don't have a dog in this fight, but the idea of building a garage on top of the historic final resting places of freed slaves offends my conscience. It should offend you as well.

Westbard Concerned Citizens said...

@7:21 and @8:04 - And you know that no one would care about this cemetery ... how? You're not familiar with people of integrity? You know ... People who see that "wrong is wrong" and therefore choose to fight alongside their neighbors at the Church because that is the morally correct thing to do? Your tired and worn stereotype of Westbard residents as NIMBYs has been up-ended, yet again, as the community shows you and the developers that our community stands together; all for one and one for all. Get to know us ... and you'll soon discover that neighbors helping neighbors isn't that unusual around Westbard.

Friends of Woodmont Triangle said...

My plea to MoCo government: lay down your guns and listen to these people

Anonymous said...

8:10: My comments don't have anything to do with my personal opinions on what to do with the cemetery site. I find it interesting and equally disturbing that all the Westbard NIMBY's are all of a sudden huge advocates for the cemetery that conveniently supports their protest goals. They didn't seem to care at all about documenting or preserving it for the past 100 years.

Anonymous said...

Friend of Robert Dyer -

Were guns ever pointed at any of the protestors?

Friends of Woodmont Triangle said...

More dialogue, less guns
Graves, not parking places

Anonymous said...

GRAVES NOT BEDROOMS!!!

DEAD BLACK PEOPLE NOT LIVE BLACK PEOPLE!!!

Anonymous said...

The images of deputies surrounding peaceful protestors remind me of Martin Luther King and his famous march on Selma, Alabama. Bad optics for the County Executive's office and for the officials who have opposed Macedonia Baptist Church.

Whether or not you support Westbard, it has to be acknowledged that the Church has been treated shamefully. The Church has requested something eminently reasonable: that the archaeological investigation of the cemetery site be structured and monitored by independent experts acceptable to the Church.

It defies belief that County officials have not been able to reach closure on this issue. The disrespect being shown the Church is sickening.

Anonymous said...

I live about a mile from the cemetery site. I cannot believe that a church concerned about the resting places of the ancestors of its congregants is being treated so badly.

Anonymous said...

I would think that Regency Centers, Equity One and the County planners would want an unimpeachable study of the cemetery acceptable to Macedonia Baptist Church. Perhaps they fear that such a study would delay and/or alter the development plan.

I understand the developers would take such a stance. But County planners should be more objective. The handling of the cemetery investigation by the planners shows that they represent developers-- not County residents.

Anonymous said...

12:19 PM: No one opposes placing affordable housing on the Westbard site. 15% of the residential units are being reserved for affordable housing-- that's above the County's typical 2.5% requirement. That's a good thing. Ignoring an African-American cemetery site is not.

Anonymous said...

@6:56 AM: The issue is that the cemetery study does not have a work plan and monitoring by an independent expert acceptable to the church. The church wants assurance that the study will be done correctly. Without an independent expert involved, the church is concerned that the study will be incomplete and biased.

Why doesn't the Planning Department want to involve an independent expert? Maybe something is being hidden?

Roald said...

My sense is that the developer will do a cursory study, say they found nothing and move ahead desecrating the cemetery.

Their PR firm will try to put the fires out meanwhile and hope everyone forgets.

The original sin of Westbard happens a second time...

Anonymous said...

12:36 AM - Your comparison to "Martin Luther King and his famous march on Selma" is utterly ridiculous, and insulting to the Selma marchers, for several reasons:

1) Ike Leggett is black whereas most of the protesters (as shown in Robert Dyer's photos) are white.

2) The protesters in Selma were peacefully marching through the streets, not invading a government official's office.

3) The protesters in Selma were met with billy-clubs, vicious police dogs, fire hoses and fire bombs. The protesters in Rockville were met with... words and stares.

Anonymous said...

2:12 PM You do understand that these "government officials" work for residents, not the other way around?

In terms of #3, I don't think the Council would hesitate to take extreme measures if protesters try and physically stop the desecration of their family's final resting place.

Anonymous said...

This poor developer. What a bunch of idiots. If they find bones, they'll move them. Get over yourselves. You're not Martin Luther King, Jr.. dream on! This church stands to profit from the silly museum they are demanding. Pay for it yourselves.

Anonymous said...

@ 2:26 PM - Six residents, in a county of one million, are not "the people". They are a special interest group.

Anonymous said...

Roald @ 8:10 AM - What exactly distinguishes a "historic" cemetery from a "non-historic" one?

Roald said...

I'm sick of this. Why can't the Council and Planning Board bring relief to these folks who don't want to see their relatives buried under a concrete garage for eternity?

Anonymous said...

Why can't these so called activists buy the land back themselves? To above commenter: of the bones are there, they'll be relocated. Get a life.

Tim said...

7:05 PM You're just saying that because they're black, right? Not worthy of respect in your eyes, right?

I mean, if this was the Berliner family plot, I doubt the Council and Planning Board would just say these are a bunch of old "bones" to be discarded.

You're a bigot.

Anonymous said...

Didn't the County try to get a indepedent expert to evaluate this, but couldn't come to an agreement with the expert over payment?

Robert Dyer said...

9:28: The dispute was over more than simply payment. The Planning Department sought to make a gag order on the anthropologists a part of the contract. All information that would have come out during the investigation would have been through the developer and the County government. To have a legitimate process, the church and community need to have the same information in real time that the developer does.

Remember, the County is a partner with the developer on this particular site. That is a conflict of interest. If remains are found on the site, that is to the disadvantage of both the County and Regency Centers. So Montgomery County government is not an honest broker in this dispute, and we're likely to learn more about their double-dealing on this matter as the Westbard lawsuit proceeds.

Anonymous said...

It is not a conflict of interest. Counties partner with developers all the time. Public private partnerships are standard. Keep grasping

Anonymous said...

Tim,

No i'm not saying that because anyone is black. Throwing out racism accusations because someone disagrees with you is a cheap tactic. No wonder....

Robert Dyer said...

2:49: While a public-private partnership is not unusual in itself, it remains an indisputable fact that the County has a financial conflict of interest regarding this property.

Anonymous said...

White protesters ganging up on our black county executive. Sounds like a lynching. I'm glad our police were able to stop it.

Robert Dyer said...

6:01: There was an even split between black and white protesters, and one Asian protester. What dimension are you in where it was "white protesters?"

Nobody could "gang up" on the executive, as he was not in the room at the time. You apparently have the same poor self-awareness about racial subtexts as your buddies on the County Council do.

Anonymous said...

There is no financial conflict of interest. The county offered to set up a mediator and the developer will do the investigation. These people are just butt-hurt that they won't get the museum at tax payer dime.... a museum is another reason to not get a real job. Looking at some of them and they way they speak, it's clear that besides preaching and protesting, there's little left for them to do.

Anonymous said...

Will Lyttonsville get a "museum"? Will Ken-Gar? Hawkins Lane? Scotland? Tobytown? Spencerville?

What makes Westbard so extra-special?

Robert Dyer said...

6:41: "No financial conflict of interest?" Montgomery County is buying the property from Regency Centers!

6:55: You'll have to ask the County Council why they've neglected all of those communities for so long. They just learned the HOC (coincidentally one of the partners that wants to build a garage on graves) had poorly maintained the cemetery they were responsible for at Tobytown - by watching a video. Maybe we need councilmembers who don't need to watch a video to know where historic black cemeteries are in the County, and keep track of the things they're supposed to have oversight of.

I've heard that HOC built houses on top of graves in Tobytown. If true, it again underlines the institutional racism in Montgomery County government. One of the last vestiges of the Confederate legacy in Montgomery County our elected officials thought they could absolve themselves of by moving a statue. The video above proves it's a systemic problem.

Anonymous said...

"I've heard that HOC built houses on top of graves in Tobytown."

I'm sure Dyer has "heard" a lot of things.

Anonymous said...

The planning board reports to the County Council, not to Ike Leggett. The council appoints planning board members, not Leggett.

Oh, and the council approves master plans, not Leggett... He couldn't even veto a master plan if he wanted to.

And Leggett, our first black county executive, offered to have a mediator intervene.

By the way, Leggett isn't running again, how was he in the community recently asking for votes?

Anonymous said...

Did you ask him?