Thursday, November 02, 2017

HOC changes public message under heat of cemetery protests (Video + Photos)

Protesters returned to the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission in Kensington yesterday, and the increasing heat over a threatened African-American cemetery on HOC land had commissioners changing their public stance on their development plans. Public documents and testimony by HOC representatives earlier this year made clear the commission intends to build a parking garage atop the cemetery on its Westwood Tower property in Bethesda. Emails and memos obtained via public information requests show HOC has been a player in the Regency Centers development plans from the beginning in 2012.

But yesterday, commission chair Jackie Simon had a new message for protesters and the public. Reading from a heavily-lawyered prepared statement, Simon declared the HOC has no plans to redevelop any part of the property at this time. It does plan to purchase the Westwood Tower property it currently operates from Regency Centers, but will merely continue to operate the existing building. Of course, the legal language left open the possibility of exploring future redevelopment of the site.

The new public stance is "fake news," as HOC engaged in mediation hearings with the Macedonia Baptist Church over its plan to build the garage all summer. HOC's plans for the garage and new housing on the cemetery site were detailed and far along in the planning process up until 4:00 PM yesterday.
Protesters organized by the church and the Montgomery County chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice were not buying the prepared statement, asking for votes by the commission that would provide actual concrete protections for the cemetery, which was already desecrated by construction workers building Westwood Tower in the late 1960s.
Several speakers, including Macedonia Baptist Church Social Justice Ministry director Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, called on commissioners to resign if they would not stand up to protect the sacred ground of the cemetery, which holds many remains of the first generation of freed slaves in Maryland among its dead. In appealing to the HOC, she said, "like our ancestors, we were met with the stony eyes of contempt and disregard" by commissioners and staff. "There is no moral core to HOC," Coleman-Adebayo continued. "George Wallace would understand why you are hiding behind rules and regulations. Your names will be forever linked with such racist titans. Your leadership is bankrupt." She challenged the commissioners to protect the cemetery and allow a museum on the site instead of a garage, adding, "if you cannot do that, the only decent choice you have is to resign."
Protesters also pushed back on the baseless allegation by HOC that the church had leaked information from the mediation sessions over the summer. "That is a lie," MBC's pastor, the Rev. Segun Adebayo told commissioners. "We want to demand an apology." Commissioners and staff were unable to substantiate the leak allegation yesterday.
Of the Westwood Tower property, Pastor Adebayo said, "Our people were there before you got there. And they will be there long after you are gone. We are law-abiding. We are not violent. But we will use every moral fiber to resist. You may not care about those bodies. [HOC Executive Director Stacy] Spann may not care about those bodies, but we do."
"Give us the vote!" protesters chanted. Kevin Berends of the No Fear Coalition pressed commissioners again on the leak allegation. He challenged the commission to provide proof, or retract the charge. Simon acknowledged she knew of no specific basis for the allegation, but said she was "not going to comment." Quoting Marcus Garvey's belief that "A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots," Robert Stubblefield of Impact Silver Spring advised commissioners to "forget the tree being doomed to fall - it has already fallen, and is being eaten by termites."
Resident Peter Burr came to the meeting to see for himself "what kind of people think they're entitled to build a parking garage on top of a cemetery." He accused the commission of "standing idly by," not only threatening the future of the graveyard, but also failing to "cure the desecration that has already occurred."
"Your treatment of the descendant community is deplorable," SURJ representative and resident Laurel Hoa said. "What you are doing is just impeding justice. Recalling the pre-civil rights era, she added, "What was done in the 1950s was wrong. What you're doing in 2017 is even more wrong."

A major protest rally against HOC/Regency Center's garage plans is scheduled for Sunday, November 12, 2017, at 1:30 PM at the Macedonia Baptist Church at 5119 River Road. Spread the word. Be there!


Anonymous said...

And the bastardization of "fake news" continues...

Barwood Sucks said...

Glad to see a huge turnout! Don't develop Westbard!

Anna said...

"Barwood Sucks" - which one are you in the pictures?

Anonymous said...

How many attended? From Robert Dyer's pictures, it looks like about 15-20.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the informative report - the county prefers to ignore this group and the cemetery, so I am grateful to hear what is really going on.

Anonymous said...

"Pastor Adebayo said, 'Our people were there before you got there'."

Adebayo is from Nigeria.

Robert Dyer said...

6:25: And his statement is totally accurate in two ways - He is speaking as the pastor of the church, whose past members are among those buried in the cemetery. And, geography update: Nigeria is in Africa. This is an African-American burial ground. So the phrase "our people" is appropriate in either interpretation.

These many former slaves and church members WERE buried there long before Dr. Tauber, Capital Properties and Regency Centers came along.