Roads were blocked and students sheltered
in place in Downtown Silver Spring last Monday as we heard the news
that an MCPD Officer died from a fatal gunshot wound, with one or more
possible killers on the loose. In a news conference that day, MCPD’s
Acting Police Chief reported the shooting was being treated as a
homicide. We now know the medical examiner’s office ruled Officer Thomas
Bomba’s death as self-inflicted.
We at Christ Congregational Church offer our deepest sympathy to Officer Bomba’s family, along with all those who serve and protect our community.
For some, events like the shooting of a police officer bring back traumatic memories of the D.C. Sniper or the gunman at the Discovery Building in 2010. With the news that Officer Bomba’s death was self-inflicted, many survivors are now drawn into the personal and painful losses inflicted by suicide and gun violence in their own families and communities.
The news of officer Bomba’s death comes CCC prepares to commemorate Robert White on October 20. Robert White, an unarmed Black resident, was killed by an MCPD Officer in June 2018. Many of us were left wondering what exactly Mr. White, a familiar neighbor and family man, did to justify being sprayed and killed other than walking in a ripped coat with hands in his pockets, perhaps in a mental health crisis aggravated by the confrontation with the officer. The patrol officer was found not legally culpable by a state’s attorney. A later inquiry by MCPD’s Internal Affairs found the shooting “lawful and justified.” The conclusions drawn by MCPD failed to provide a moral or cogent justification for the use of lethal force against a community resident. This disappointing finding led us, along with the Silver Spring Justice Coalition, to host a press conference, protest rally and memorialization of Robert White whose only crime, it appears, was walking while Black.
Our Racial Justice Circle continues to help our congregation hold up the humanity of Robert. He was loved by family, neighbors, and friends. We also want to engage the wider community to transform police practice in Montgomery County. As a congregation committed to racial justice, we are positioned to help shape the next step in the community’s life together as we confront unfair racial profiling and gun violence by police against our neighbors.
Holding the deaths of Robert White and Officer Bomba together, we could be tempted to take sides: Black Lives Matter vs. Blue Lives Matter. We either support people of color or law enforcement officers. However, we do not have to diminish the humanity of one person for the other to have meaning. We are never callous to the community-wrenching pain of death and the bloody marks of gun violence, no matter who is at the end of the barrel of a loaded gun.
We can mourn Thomas Bomba, a 38-year
old, 13-year member of the Montgomery County Police. We can be
heartbroken for his family and reach out to the police, fire and rescue,
and emergency response workers who put their lives on the line every
day to help keep us safe. We owe them all our gratitude and support.
We can also be disgusted with the killing of Robert White. His death represents all incidents of unjust policing in our nation where an unarmed Black person is killed by police officers at a rate of one every ten days. This death rate is only part of a wide pattern of questionable behaviors. Most recently, we lament last weekend’s killing of Atatiana Jefferson, a 28-year-old Black woman fatally shot in her home by a Fort Worth police officer.
With a search for a new MCPD Police Chief wrapping up, we can acknowledge resentment and frustration from those who want reform. Instances of departmental exoneration along with a widely assumed blue wall of silence around many acts of police misconduct all add to a pattern of police isolation from community feedback.
We can also offer contribute our time and energy to restore trust between police and community, consistent with our commitments to racial justice and compassionate outreach. As our elected officials weigh important steps in police reform, they need to hear and act on concerns from those who may too often feel voiceless.
As we confront the mental health implications of Officer Bomba’s death, we can acknowledge the enormous daily tension and trauma we ask police and first responders to bear, and we work to ensure they have excellent resources to help them cope with the emotional burdens we ask them to carry. We can also insist that MCPD gains further competency in mental health response. As participants in the One Mind campaign, MCPD must sustain partnerships with community mental health organizations, implement policies for appropriate responses to those affected by mental illness, and increase training in mental health first aid training.
Most of all, we continue to stand against gun violence in all forms. We understand violence as part of the structures that define the way we relate to each other. We all suffer when gun violence increases. We are, understandably, fearful and often paralyzed by the magnitude of the problem. We resist the toll that violence levies against us and we flip the descending spiral of violence into an uprising of hope.
Please join us Sunday as we commemorate Robert White, pray for those most deeply affected by the death of Officer Bomba, and recommit ourselves to a just world for all. After worship, CCC’s Racial Justice Circle will host a lunch and learn event with Councilmember Will Jawando and Carlean Ponder from the Silver Spring Justice Coalition. We will hear more about initiatives towards community policing, get an update on the Police Chief search, and have some time for questions.
The Racial Justice Circle has also provided a deep dive into some of these issues. Their paper, “Policing Reform in Montgomery County: Facing a Challenge, Responding to a Call,” is available on our webpage. Visit cccsilverspring.org and follow the link on the homepage.
Yours on the journey,
Pastor Matt Braddock