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Silver Spring residents gather in vigil for Robert Lawrence White

Robert White vigil 20180805 183846About 150 people listen to speeches, and then later walk during a vigil for Robert White, the unarmed Silver Spring man who was shot dead by a County police officer. PHOTO BY SUZANNE POLLAKSILVER SPRING — Irene Thompson, the sister of Robert Lawrence White, the Silver Spring resident shot to death by a County police officer on June 11, thanked the 150 people who attended Sunday’s vigil for her brother. While holding back tears, she declared, “There is no justice. We knew the officer would not be prosecuted.”

Thompson referred to the Office of the State’s Attorney for Howard County’s ruling that Police Officer Anand Badgujar was justified in shooting 41-year-old White, who was unarmed.

The shooting took place near White’s home in the Three Oaks neighborhood off Sligo Creek. According to a police report, after being followed for some time by Badgujar, White charged at the police officer, who attempted to pepper spray him but missed. The situation then escalated, and White charged at Badgujar, who subsequently fired multiple shots.

Why, Thompson asked, did police follow her brother in the first place? “Is it illegal to walk the streets with a torn shirt?”

Sunday’s vigil began at the fountain in downtown Silver Spring, where multiple speakers questioned why police, in their opinion, escalated the situation rather than deescalating it, and why it had to end in death.

“We are gathered here to express our indignation, our sense of anger, over the slaying of Robert White,” said Rev. Vernon Shannon.

He accused Officer Badgujar of being “perhaps afraid of his own shadow and definitely big black men.”

“Robert’s parents taught Robby to have respect for police officers,” Shannon said, adding that White was “slain and murdered by a police officer.”

Shannon urged the crowd “not to be satisfied until justice takes place.”

Many in the crowd called on the police to review their deescalating and mental health training. They also asked to see the full report by Howard County.

“We are here to declare that Robert White’s life mattered,” said Brandy Brooks, who recently lost in her bid to become a member of County Council.

She praised the crowd for being nonviolent, but added, “nonviolence is not submission. We will be nonviolent, but there will be no peace until we have justice.”

Added Jheanelle Wilkins, Maryland delegate (District 20), “There is a problem when a man is walking peacefully in his own neighborhood, unarmed” and then is shot by police.

“We don’t feel Howard County did a good job,” said Rosemary McCloskey, a member of Showing Up for Racial Justice, Montgomery County, one of many of the vigil’s sponsors.

McCloskey was White’s neighbor and often saw him pacing around the development’s streets. “He was a good guy, a warm man. He was a fixture. I saw him which I picked up my papers, when I walked my dog.”

She suggested that if there was community policing in which officers got to know area residents, White never would have been killed.

“He was provoked, in my eyes. This was not necessary,” she said of White’s death.

McCloskey fears for her two African-American sons, one who “just hung his head” and the other who is angry after learning of White’s fate. 

Another neighbor said the incident shocked her. Calling the officer’s shooting justified is “totally contradictory to what the video shows,” said Becky Reeves. “I wonder what Montgomery County is going to do. I think every [political] candidate has to address this. This is not okay.”

Sophia Marjanovic urged those attending the vigil “to show up at council meetings, write, text and call your representatives” on the matter. She also asked everyone to join “community-based cop patrols,” and watch and video police “to hold them accountable.”

After more than an hour of speeches, the crowd walked about one-and-a-half miles to the shooting scene, chanting their way across Colesville Road and Sligo Creek. 

After hearing White’s sister call for the prosecution of Officer Badgujar, the crowd held up miniature candles in White’s honor. 

As the vigil ended, Brooks suggested that Silver Spring be the place where the shooting of black men stops and “where the tide turns.”

@SuzannePollak

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