Prince George's County police union president Laney Hester last night accused the Rev. Perry A. Smith and other supporters of Terrence G. Johnson of "practicing racism for nine months."
Smith, one of the leaders of the defense fund that supported Johnson, the 16-year-old youth who killed two county police officers last summer, vehemently denied the charge.
The two men, along with former State Del. Decatur Trotter and county Human Relations Commission Executive Director William Welch discussed the Johnson trial and its aftermath during the taping of Crossfire, a public affairs television program that will be broadcast on WJLA-TV-7 at 7 p.m. Sunday.
Johnson was acquitted of murder charges on March 31 in the shootings last June 26 of officers Albert M. Claggett IV and James Brian Swart in the Hyattsville police station. He was convicted of one count of man-slaughter and illegal use of a handgun.
The shootings and the trial heightened existing racial tensions in the county because Johnson is black and the two slain officers were white.
Last night, during early moments of the 30-minute show, Smith, Trotter and Welch took turns trying to discuss the positive aspects of the trial.
But Hester, who said after the verdict that "anyone who threatens to policeman in this county better be ready to meet his maker," quickly changed the tone of the discussion.
"I don't see things stabilizing," Hester said, contradicting the other three men. "Mr. Smith and others have stirred the pot. For nine months it was all racial talk, calling the police racists and trying to make this case be tried on race, not the facts.
"Now that it's over, you're all standing around saying, 'peace, love, tranquility.' You're playing both sides of the street and talking out of both sides of your mouth."
"That was what we called for throughout the whole thing," Smith answered. "We wanted to make sure Terrence had an adequate defense and wasn't swallowed up by the system.
"It was evident there were some racial problems in this case. He was treated differently from white teenagers in the police station and we heard testimony during the trial from police officers that Terrence was brutalized while in police custody. That was a violation of his civil rights."
"You have to remember one thing," Hester said. raising his voice, "the only two policemen who know exactly what happened aren't here to defend themselves. And don't forget Terrence had quite a previous record of violence."
At that point, moderator John Harter broke in and tried to steer the conversation back to Trotter and Welch, but Smith said, "Two officers testified that Terrence was brutalized, that he was kicked in the groin by a 270-pound policeman.
"But I don't want to retry the case here," Smith added. "It's behind us, justice has been done. I think we need very badly to get back to being a community in our county."
"Terrence was kicked in the groin after he had murdered two policemen," Hester replied angrily. "Why didn't you people think about community before the trial? All you talked about for nine months was racism. You stood outside the courthouse with signs saying the police and the Klu Klux Klan work hand in hand.
"You were trying to influence the facts. You practiced racism. You took a course of hate. You merchandised it and sold it. The only problem is now you may reap the profits."
"You didn't see me holding up signs," Smith answered. "I never wanted any part of that, I just wanted all the questions raised by what happened answered."
All four men continued a lively debate of the issues for about 20 minutes once the camera went off but shook hands as they left. Hester concluded by saying, "people are going to be hurt. Hurt by policemen and hurt by themselves."