Nagender Madavaram discussed with Councilmember Will Jawando about his vision, agenda and issues facing the County. This is the second of a 2-part transcript of the interview which covered the topics of police, transportation, jobs and economy.
Nagender Madavaram: De-funding police is a popular slogan? You don’t have good experience with the police. What is your stand on it?
Will Jawando: I’ve been working really hard on this issue. You know, personally as an African American male, about desperate police treatment, I’ve been pulled over dozens of times in my life. I’ve been arrested. I’ve been harassed. I’ve had friends that have been killed by violence in our streets as well. I understand the need for police and grew up in a very low-income area here. So, it’s for me, it’s not about whether we need police or not. What we need is appropriate fair public safety for everybody. So, that’s why I said we have to reimagine public safety and make sure it’s fair that everyone in this County, would be a White person, or Black person, or an Asian person, need to be treated the same way fairly by our Police Department. You need to have police with guardian mentality. We’ve asked our police to do too much. We’ve asked them to answer when a cat is in a tree all the way to when there’s a murder and everything in between, and they are not trained. They’re not the best people to be dealing with a whole set of issues.
People are experiencing mental health crises. Kids in our schools who get into a fight or have some sort of disagreement. Police don’t need to be involved in so many things. I’ve tried to do is narrow the focus of what our police work. They should be focused on preventing, deterring and solving violent crimes. Most of the time, our police respond, get the crime scene after something happened or as it’s happening, but not before the crime takes place. That’s just the way law enforcement has typically been. Prevention is more about creating the conditions for crime to be less likely. Economic opportunity after school programs, investments in our recreation centers, high paying jobs and transportation infrastructure those are the things that are going to stop crime. When police do need to be involved, we want to focus on the most serious things because that minimizes the opportunity. Half of the people arrested in this county on any given year are Black, even though the Black population in the County is 20%. A Black person, almost three times more likely to get a ticket and be pulled over. If you’re an African American person in some parts of the county it is seven times. When force is used, it’s much more likely to be used against person of color. Half of our students arrested in schools are Black. Latino or Black students that are arrested in schools disproportionately, and so we need to narrow the focus of what they do.
We need to have the right training and the right people in the job. I often say we also pay our police too little. If you want to have high standards, you need to have high pay. Pay more and then hold them accountable to the standards that are set in place. We’ve been working on all of those things. I created the Law Enforcement Trust and Transparency Act to require independent investigations when police kill a resident. That’s now state law that was after we did it here. We changed the use of force policy to require that deadly force can only be used as an absolute last resort, and officers have to intervene when they see someone committing a crime and a whole range of things that you saw in the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. We’ve limited no knock warrants. So, we’ve taken a lot of steps as we need to because we know policing is felt differently here in the county. We also have to invest in all those other things I talked about, which we’ve been working on because that’s really how you’re going to get to the root causes of crime.
Nagender Madavaram: As an immigrant I am surprised that you are facing police harassment. Few years ago, a Councilmember also told me the same experience and left the Council. It looks like things are not changed much in the County. You are part of the County government if you don’t get fair treatment from the police what assurance you can give to the residents and particularly, new immigrants?
Will Jawando: Well, I think we still have issues. I’ve been targeted. I’ve had death threats. I’ve had police talk about me. Other residents talk about me and say really nasty things. Someone threatened and wish my son would be killed. My young infant son. I’ve had those things happened. I think it’s unfortunate that those types of things happened but you know, you sign up for public service to try to change things. Change is hard and people don’t like change but we have to change, because what we’re doing isn’t working. It’s particularly not working for people who look like me and look like you. So, I think we are in a situation where we’re seeing around the country. Two people attacked school board members because they’re trying to get people to wear masks and to be safe. You know, we have that in our county here we had a protest outside the County Council building where I’m sitting right now where people were protesting, they said, we were trying to help immigrants who are criminals. There are many more people who want to do the right thing by reforming our systems and to help people to achieve their potential. Some people always say negative and nasty things but I believe that when we have more people who want to do the right things, we just have to show them. Work with our community to get to that place together. That’s what I try to focus on.
Nagender Madavaram: You are running for Council At Large seat. Upper county is facing severe traffic problem. I-270 and route 355 are not meeting growing needs of upper county. Candidates are proposing new solutions during election campaign and forget after elections. What do you propose to address traffic issue in upper county?
Will Jawando: You know transportation is really important issue. It can get you to your job, your school or after school program. It’s a big issue and we have one of the worst. The good news is I think we have a unique opportunity now with what has happened in COVID and how working patterns are changing. We have Upper County, East County, West County, and any 500 square miles and it’s very different. We have rural, urban and suburban and everything in between. I do not think expanding roads, new highways are the way that we’re going to achieve better transit and better transportation in the county because it’s like loosening my belt. If I loosen belt one notch, I’m going to fill it up with something. Actually, when you build more roads, it actually encourages more sprawl and more development in those places and that adds more cars to the road. What we need to do is have economic development all around the county so that people can live and work closer. We also need to improve and rapidly expand teleworking and telecommuting, which is already happening in COVID. If you take people off the road one or two days a week that loosens up the whole system.
We need to invest in transit systems. Even if 5% or 10% of people take the transit that reduces traffic on the roads and that helps us. I think that’s what we need to do to help our capacity. We need to do all of those things at the same time and then we need to invest in other methods to make it safer to bike and to walk and do transportation improvements in street design so that people can use those methods of transit. You take all that together and then if there are rows in disrepair, we need to fix them. We need to build more sidewalks for people so kids can get to school. I doubled the amount of funding this year for safe routes to schools so that we can have safer ways to get to school. So, we need to do all of those things. I think if we do, we can leverage federal money to help us. That’s going to help improve our traffic system for the long haul.
Nagender Madavaram: MoCo youth particularly, Black and Hispanic students are not getting high paid jobs due to lack of necessary skills in latest technology. It is proven that the current system is not working. What do you suggest to provide necessary training to MoCo youth for getting latest technology?
Will Jawando: It’s a big issue. I’ve worked a lot for Workforce Development and connecting people to the jobs that are available because we have a lot of jobs that are available in the county that pay a lot. Electricians, plumbers and a lot of other skilled trades that we could be creating better pathways into for our students and that don’t necessarily require a college education. There can be other types of training. So we have to create better pathways and programs into those jobs. Worksource Montgomery is critical in that regard and I think that it’s one of the reasons I created a program before I was even elected. It was the largest county wide summer internship program we’ve ever had. Now every year hundreds of students, last year 600 students have participated in a summer experience where they job. They learn about an industry and that gets them thinking about what they want to do. We’re working now to try to expand those opportunities, not just this summer, but throughout the year grow the number of employers that are there. I think those are some of the things we need to do to connect our young people, put them on a pathway to those jobs, particularly students of color. There’s a lot of opportunity, and I think work source also has a role to play in giving new skills and training for folks who have had to leave the workforce. Their job was changed, technology was changed, and how do we remediate and retrain and rescale and upscale those students? I mean those workers that’s a part of it as well. I think you are going to attack that from both angles because any given day there are 30,000 open jobs in the county. We can fill and create pathways into those jobs. High paying good jobs. That’s going to be good for those families and those people, but also for our county.
Nagender Madavaram: MoCo residents are concerned that economic development. Washington Post published an article in last year that Prince George’s County is doing better than MoCo. There is a special Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation for attracting new businesses to the County. Whatever may be the reason MoCo is not getting good number of new businesses. Do you propose any solutions to the problems?
Will Jawando: We have a strong economy. I think, unfortunately, a lot of the narrative has been created that we’re bad and it’s not as good as Virginia. I think we have our own economy with different than Northern Virginia. We have a lot of strengths. We have a lot of Federal agencies here. We have a very talented and educated workforce. We have produced a lot of jobs over the last 10 to 12 years. So, they say we’ve lost thousands last year but everyone lost jobs in the pandemic. We have a diverse population. We have a lot of federal labs and entities to leverage. We have an educated workforce and a great small business community. I don’t have to tell you this, we have so many entrepreneurs here and small businesses of color and immigrant home businesses that we need to support so we can grow our home. I think our focus should be twofold. It should be supporting those young small and medium size entrepreneurs and businesses, helping them grow, giving them access to affordable retail space if that’s what they need. Give them loans and grants to expose, expand their businesses. Make sure we’re in touch with them, make sure that the regulatory process is easy and they can navigate it so that they can stay here. Good economy is here, we are leading the country right now in the venture capital investments. People put money into this area because we have so much is going on, particularly in the life Sciences. So, we have a lot of bio-health, bioscience and other industries in the county. I think we need to tell that story and market ourselves. Let’s talk about our own unique county story and then support the businesses who are here by saying that positive story. It’ll help to attract new businesses as well. I think that’s what I’ve been focused on. I think the economy is looking good in the county. We can certainly always do things better and I think we have an opportunity to really ramp up here in the next couple of years.