Wednesday, September 27, 2017
MoCo mediators suddenly terminate mediation in Westbard cemetery dispute
Now the mediation is over, and the question is, why did the center terminate it? All parties had indicated they were willing to participate in the next session. Macedonia Baptist Church, which is the only remnant of the historic African-American community along River Road besides the cemetery, was not consulted by the center prior to the termination announcement. "Who authorized this decision, and why? County officials?" asked Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, Social Justice Director at the church.
Whoever did has set County elected officials up for yet another public relations disaster in the case. Public protests and marches had to be put on the back burner during mediation. Previous such protests were met with outsize police and security responses at the Planning Board and County Council, further indicating the institutional racism of Montgomery County government.
Now, cemetery advocates will be looking at protests - and any number of other new strategies - to save the burial ground from being desecrated for a second time (the first having occurred when Westwood Tower was built in the late 1960s).
Why would it be in the County's best interest to terminate the mediation? Very simple. Developer Regency Centers has sued the County to remove the delay on redeveloping the cemetery site. HOC's delays, and now the termination of mediation, could allow a judge to decide the fate of the cemetery before the questions about it can be resolved through other means.
In a statement, Macedonia Baptist Church said this is merely the latest case of the County looking the other way as developers take advantage of the River Road African-American community and its descendants. Black landowners were defrauded of their properties there in the mid-1950s, forced off homesites that would be worth around $1 million apiece today. Now even the earliest members of the community, who were among the first freed slaves in Maryland, could find their bodies being bought and controlled by $4 billion, out-of-state development firm Regency Centers and the HOC.
"Our ancestors should never have been sold," the church said in its statement. "We will not have them be sold again."