County Rolls Out “Anne Arundel United” Initiative to Combat Racism

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Anne Arundel County Compliance Officer Alanna Davis speaks to the audience at a press event unveiling County Executive Steve Schuh's anti-racism initiatives. Photo: Anne Arundel County
Anne Arundel County Compliance Officer Alanna Dennis speaks to the audience at a press event unveiling County Executive Steve Schuh's anti-racism initiatives. Photo: Anne Arundel County

By Brenda Wintrode and Leah Frazier

Anne Arundel County officials and staff outlined an anti-racism initiative before an audience of about one hundred people gathered at the Boys & Girls Club of Annapolis. County Executive Steve Schuh identified seven actions to address racism, including a new community outreach initiative called Anne Arundel United. “I want everyone in our county to feel like they matter, to feel like they have a voice,” said Schuh. He expressed a desire for all county members to “celebrate our differences and commit to loving one another.”

Councilman Pete Smith, the only county councilperson in attendance, spoke in a show of support for the initiative. “Steve [Schuh] and I are on different sides of the aisle, but this is one thing that is not about politics,” said Smith. Smith alluded to the recent and more public trials the county has experienced in regards to race relations. In May, a noose was found hanging on a lamp post at Crofton Middle School, and the alleged murderer of Bowie State graduate Richard Wilbur Collins III was discovered to be from Severna Park. “I’ve said it before, if we can put a man on the moon then we can sure as hell end racism,” said Smith, who previously called upon Schuh to declare a countywide state of emergency on race relations.

Anne Arundel United, one of the 7 initiatives that Schuh outlined, will be overseen by Community and Minority Outreach Officer Derek Matthews. It will consist of a volunteer corps of community ambassadors to serve as “boots on the ground” in responding to race-related incidents. It will also involve efforts to bring communities together through public meetings and “fun events.” Other steps announced include plans to issue an executive order denouncing racism and marketing campaigns to increase diversity in county hiring.

The seven initiatives announced also involved personnel changes. Such changes include the recent hiring of Compliance Officer Alanna Dennis, who fills the vacancy created by the termination of the previous and inaugural Compliance Officer after over a little over a month on the job. Dennis will be responsible for the diversity and inclusion training of all six thousand county employees over a twenty-four month period. The educational program serves as another initiative covered in the plan. Dennis will also hear disputes of those feeling they are being discriminated against on the job and ensure the county is in compliance with all discrimination laws. Dennis explained to attendees she will demonstrate and encourage others to: “Treat everyone the way you would want to be treated, with respect.” Another personnel change announced was the promotion of Community Grants Administrator Maria Casasco to the position of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs Officer. She is tasked with working towards “ensuring access to services that facilitate assimilation and success in our society and our county.”

Schuh explained that a Human Relations Core Group will be formed to implement the plan.  The group will include Chief of Staff Diane Croghan, Matthews, Dennis, Casasco, and Constituent Services Officer Nancy Schrum.

Maria Casasco spoke at the podium of her desire to assist immigrants in Anne Arundel County. After the event, Casasco, who has worked with Latino immigrants for over 25 years, described immigration as one of her passions. When asked if the county’s implementation of the controversial 287(g) program that deputizes detention center officers to be I.C.E. agents will only increase the level of fear in the Latino community, she responded, “Probably. But again, the most important thing for us is to tell the immigrant community to talk to their lawyers and the people that they trust. Some things we don’t have any control over.” The County Executive voluntarily applied to enter into a 287(g) agreement with the Department of Homeland Security at the end of 2016, making Anne Arundel County one of 60 localities nationwide that participate in the program.

Yevola Peters, retired county Human Relations Officer, commented on the significance of her former employer’s plans compared to years past. “What’s different now is the person who is responsible for the government has declared that there is racism, first of all, and is willing to organize strategies to actually address racism and discrimination,” said Peters. Anne Arundel County Branch NAACP President Reverend Stephen Tillett had a similar sentiment. “I give the county executive some credit. He’s taking on something most Republicans don’t even want to touch,” said Tillett. “But you gotta break some eggs to make an omelet. So when they start breaking eggs, we’ll see what happens.” Peters agrees, “Now we have to see how this translates into action and results.”

It is unclear how the success of the County’s anti-racism efforts will be measured. According to Matthews, no performance metrics have yet been set, and standard operating procedures have yet to be drafted. Matthews declined to commit to a timeline for the issuance of such procedures.

Brenda Wintrode is a freelance writer from Anne Arundel County.

Leah Frazier is an attorney and a hockey fan from Anne Arundel County.

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