BALTIMORE, MD – On the seventh episode of Thinking Freely, “Race Discrimination on the Prince George's Police Force”, Officers of Color discuss their lawsuit against Prince George’s County Police Department (PGPD) and the challenges of working in an environment that fosters a combination of racist and sexist police practices and retaliation against POC officers who raise concerns. Featuring Lieutenant Sonya Zollicoffer, a leader with the United Black Police Officer’s Association, and Captain Joe Perez, President of the Hispanic National Law Enforcement, this month’s podcast will dive deep into systematic racism and sexism within PGPD.
Last month’s episode focused on the power Marylanders hold during the 90-day state legislative session. This month, Thinking Freely will focus on the power Officers of Color hold when they tackle racism and sexism that often intersect. Amber Taylor, host and producer of Thinking Freely, and the featured guests address how they navigate government institutions that have a long history of racism.
After speaking out against unacceptable police conduct, Captain Joe Perez was retaliated against for his advocacy. Captain Perez said about the PGPD: “Your rank didn’t mean as much as your counterpart who is white. Your word as a minority didn’t hold as much weight as some of our white counterparts.”
Back in December 2018, 13 Officers of Color with the PGPD – along with the United Black Police Officers Association and the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association – filed a lawsuit in federal court that challenged the department’s racist patterns and practices and unconstitutional conduct. There is a longstanding failure of leadership in the PGPD, as well as systematic racism, that worsened under Chief Henry Stawinski, a white police chief who has allowed dominance by white officials and fostered racist conduct and retaliation against officers and community members of color.
Lieutenant Sonya Zollicoffer was sexually harassed by her field officer. Like Captain Perez, she also faced retaliation for speaking out. Lieutenant Zollicoffer said: “I was always one to speak up while I was on the department. I noticed there were not a lot of minority women in positions on the police department. Minority women, we are in a predominantly male organization and it to motivated me to prove to other Black/Brown women that we can do the job the same way men could.”
Black and Brown people have been fighting against racist systems and government policies since the founding of this country. This fight continues even today as Black and Latinx officers from PGPD demand just and fair police conduct. The PGPD serves a community, whose residents are 80 percent Black and Latinx. But there is a very damaged relationship between Black residents and police because of decades of racial profiling and police brutality. These POC officers are caught in the middle and fighting for changes to their police department.
Captain Perez said: “The biggest reason for the lawsuit was we had no other choice. We were trying to improve things from the inside and all they did, under this administration, is come after each and every one of us.”
For real public safety for all, we need more officers willing to speak up against racist police practices and sexual harassment to help change the culture of policing.
Thinking Freely informs Marylanders on what is going on locally and gives a platform for other Marylanders to voice how they are making an impact in the community. Listen to this episode of Thinking Freely and learn about what is going on in your community! Listen here.