HOWARD COUNTY, Maryland (Jan. 17, 2017) – Had there been more a spirit of giving and love than of conflict and tension, you may have easily guessed it was Christmas. Bright red and green t-shirts, signs, banners, and other paraphernalia peppered the halls of a packed Howard County Courthouse: in green, supporters of a proposed bill to become a Sanctuary County for Immigrants; in red – the opposition.
In part, the Sanctuary Bill generally seeks to discourage hate speech and violence related to xenophobic, Islamophobic, and racist attitudes given the recent national and political climate which is represented within the county, causing concern to both legal and illegal immigrants. If passed, Council Bill 9, or the Sanctuary Bill, would prohibit officers from questioning the citizenship status of people it stopped or from getting involved in disputes between private citizens which called into question an individual’s immigration status. Strong support for and against the bill brought nearly 300 people out to voice their opinions at the public hearing.
Although it was made clear early in the evening that no applause, cheering, or verbal responses of any kind would be permissible, the rules were easily dismissed by the passionate audience. Tensions among citizens were higher than might be expected of a County that touts the hashtag #OneHoward. In one instance, a female supporter who had not stopped speaking when the bell rang on her three (3) minutes of time faced boos by the audience who heckled at her to stop speaking, shouting, “[y]our time is up; your time is up.” Councilman Gregory Fox (Dist. 5) also caused excitement at his early responses to testifying citizens. In response to a Jewish female who voiced her support for the Immigrant population by reflecting on the enslavement of the Hebrews in Egypt. Councilman Fox attempted to minimize her perspective by mentioning that he too was a Jew and that, as a Jew, he had issues with President Obama’s politics. His statements caused uproar – the red team raising cheers, and the green team raising concerns of lewdness.
On the hills of a scandal with the Howard County Police Department, where the County Sherriff resigned his position in light of allegations that he used racist and vulgar language by referring to former-County Executive Ken Ulman a "little Kenny Jew-boy," and making disparaging remarks about African-American deputies and citizens, among other issues, Howard County Police Chief Gary L. Gardner offered testimony in opposition of the Bill, explaining that it was the Department’s policy that all citizens be treated the same. Questions from Councilwoman Jen Terrassa (Dist. 3) revealed that the Police Department had no written or set policy as to how it treated citizens in relation to their immigration status and that the policy articulated by Chief Gardner was unreliable at best. Still, one citizen insisted that if the Police Chief was against the Bill, that was good enough for him and should be good enough for everyone else as well. Chief Gardner’s testimony also revealed that he was the first Police Chief in a Maryland Sanctuary County to provide testimony opposing a similar bill.
Supporters of the bill shared similar sentiments, expressing that both the legal and illegal immigrant populations were vital to #OneHoward. One woman testified that failing to support the Bill would prevent the Millennial generation from moving into Howard County, generating revenue and bolstering the County’s economy – an issue to be cautious of in light of the major downtown project being raised in Columbia. Testimony from River Hill resident and local attorney Christina J. Bostick testified regarding the effects of “otherness” in relation to her own experience as an African American who grew up in the County (Video Above). Testimony went on into the wee hours of the morning. A work session on the Sanctuary Bill is slated for Monday, January 23, 2017 at 4:30.