By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer
Greenbelt Mayor Colin Byrd has never backed away from a challenge and looks to bring changes to the city’s police force the way he helped lead to major shifts on the campus of University of Maryland College Park. Byrd, the millennial mayor who led the fight for a name change of University of Maryland’s football stadium, is hoping to lead to reforms in his town’s police department.
Byrd, 27, became the city’s youngest mayor last November. He is set to propose legislation that would increase transparency and greater sensitivity training by law enforcement authorities. The neophyte mayor is trying to circumvent the potential for incidents, which have led to the propensity of officers taking the lives of minorities around the country, in the municipality he governs.
“Greenbelt is not Minneapolis or Baltimore,” Byrd told the AFRO in an exclusive interview. “A lot of this is proactive and preventative. Racism is not rampant in our department, but we would be doing our African American residents a disservice if we didn’t get out ahead of this.”
Byrd’s philosophy is not to defund the police department, nor is it to reign in the authority officers need to operate under while keeping the city safe. However, he is hoping that increasing the cultural awareness of officers on the force will be the first step towards alleviating tension between minority residents and those who are paid to protect them.
“This is more about changing the culture before making policy changes,” said Byrd. “Police have the legal authority to place people in handcuffs, jail, and body bags. Greenbelt doesn’t want to be reactive. We want to be a role model for the rest of the nation.”
After the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arberry and Breona Taylor, police reform has become a tipping point for the Black Lives Matter Movement. The angst in urban communities around the nation has become palpable. Byrd understands the passion for justice reforms has reached critical mass, leading to protests and demonstrations from coast to coast. However, he realizes that an organization needs to move from a demonstrative position and become a vehicle for legislative moves on the local and national level.
“Black Lives Matter can’t just be a slogan in Greenbelt,” Byrd said. “It has to be a governing principle in America.”
As a student, Byrd led the movement to remove the racist name of Harry “Curley” Byrd from the University of Maryland Stadium, which was successful as the Board of Regents voted to do so in December 2015. Now, as mayor, he is hoping to push forward legislation that would change the way Greenbelt’s Police Department interacts with the community. While he and a group of students were negotiating the deal that led to that transition in College Park, there were valuable lessons that were learned along the way that have served him during his political ascent. Byrd understands that real change only begins after protests, which leads to legislative mandates.
“Even though we got the name changed, there could’ve been more,” said Byrd. “In negotiations nobody ever gets all they want, but specific policy changes should be a result of any demonstrations or protests.”
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