About 20 people gathered again Tuesday to protest Prince William County’s hiring of former Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham, requesting that the Prince William Board of County Supervisors rescind the offer ahead of his Feb. 1 start date.
The protesters held banners and chanted outside of Prince William County Complex during today’s meeting of the Board of County Supervisors, the first of the new year. It is the second such protest to occur in the last month.
Newsham was hired by the board on a 7-1 vote during a Nov. 24 closed meeting. Only Supervisor Margaret Franklin, D-Woodbridge voted against his hiring. Since then, some county residents have expressed outrage over the decision, largely raising objections over the Metropolitan Police Department’s response to Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020.
Aracely Panemeño, one of the organizers of the protest, said Tuesday afternoon that protesters are upset by Newsham’s treatment of protesters, including the use of tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse protesters on numerous occasions, including during some peaceful protests.
“Leaders set the tone. So, we need somebody better,” Panemeño said.
Panemeño also alleged that Metropolitan police officers were involved in the forcible clearing of Black Lives Matter protesters from Lafayette Square on June 1 so that President Donald Trump could appear at a nearby church for a photo op.
Newsham has denied that his officers were involved in the incident. He said at the time that he was only made aware of the move to clear the area moments before it happened.
Some county residents have also raised concerns that the community was not allowed enough input into the decision to hire Newsham. Three citizen members were part of hiring panel that helped select the chief, and a citizen survey was conducted by a hiring agency contracted by the county prior to the board’s decision, however.
But many say they still feel that the hiring process should have been more transparent.
“The community at large wasn’t meaningfully engaged in his selection here in Prince William County. We want to be a part of the process,” Panameño said. “We want our voices heard. We think he’s the wrong person for the job … So, we want a better person for the position.”
Newsham has been mired in controversy in Washington D.C. since taking over as D.C. chief in 2017. Aside from D.C. residents’ pushback over the department's response to protests, Newsham has also faced criticism for several high-profile police killings in the city and for other police tactics used disproportionately against Black residents.
That includes the department’s latest “use of force report” that showed that 91% of all reported use of force subjects were Black community members. A 2020 study of D.C. police traffic stops conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union showed that Black people comprised 72% of all stops in the city despite making up 46% of the population.
Protesters in Prince William County have said they will continue to protest Newsham’s hiring until the supervisors either rescind their offer or fire him. So far, no board members have said that they intend to bring forth any motion to terminate Newsham’s contract prior to Feb. 1.
In a press release issued ahead of Tuesday’s civil action, protesters said that they believe the board’s “wait and see” approach to their decision to hire Newsham will impact the lives of many community members in Prince William, which, like Washington D.C. has a large non-white population.
“Our community members’ lives, civil, human, and First Amendment rights are too important to put on a probationary period,” the press release said.
Several people opposed to Newsham's hiring also spoke out against it during citizens' time at the Jan. 12 board of supervisors meeting.
Reach Daniel Berti at email@example.com