More than a dozen black community leaders and civil rights activists emerged from a two-hour meeting with prince George's County police chief nominee James R. Taylor last night saying they were inclined to oppose his nomination. Their support is regarded as essential for Taylor's approval by the County Council.
The meeting behind the closed office doors of County Executive Lawrence Hogan was scheduled to allow community leaders -- particularly those of black groups -- to question Taylor on his controversial record as chief of two small police departments, in Newburgh, N.Y., and Petersburg, Va.
The blacks leaders refused to make a public announcement following their meeting with Taylor. They said only that they needed to do more research on his record.
However, several of those who attended the meeting said later that the black groups were likely to oppose him, and thus, in the view of many, effectively eliminate Taylor's chances of being confirmed by the County Council.
"If a vote had been forced after the meeting," one source said, "they would have sent him down the tubes."
Yesterday's meeting came amidst a growing debate over Taylor's record on racial issues. County officials agreed that it will be the council's judgment of Taylor's ability to cooperate with Prince George's growing black community that will determine the final vote on the issue next month.
Sources said that the only consideration now preventing county black leaders from publicly opposing Taylor as chief is a fear that a rejection of Taylor by the County Council would create unacceptable political turmoil in the county.
"We know we have the power to make or break the issue," one black leader said, "but there's a feeling that we're caught between a rock and a hard place."
"They asked some hard questions," said Taylor as he strolled through the council's chambers following the meeting. "Some of the questions . . . maybe if we had a perfect society I would have had better answers. On the whole, it went all right."
Taylor spoke briefly with black councilman Floyd E. Wilson Jr., then met privately with white councilman Gerald T. McDonough before departing for the airport.
In an executive session yesterday, council members agreed to hold the required public hearing on Taylor's nomination on the afternoon of Dec. 3. The vote on the issue could come the same day, council members said.
The position of the county's black leaders on Hogan's police chief nominee has become crucial, several council members said yesterday, partly because Hogan made police relations with the black community an integral part of the selection process.
Last summer, Hogan announced that he would not appoint Acting Chief Joseph D. Vasco as chief, and one of the reasons he gave was that Vasco could not be trusted by county blacks. In announcing Taylor as his nominee, Hogan said that he had been attracted to the Petersburg chief because of his record in two majority-black cities.
Sources said yesterday that leaders of the Fraternal Order of Police, who in the past have held preeminent influence with the council on police issues, are waiting to see where black leaders will stand. "Let face it," one source said yesterday, [the union] "wants to come out on the winning side."
The sudden importance of black leaders in a political struggle that has been made into the most important issue of the year in Prince George's caused several black leaders to predict yesterday that the events of the coming month would leave county blacks with more influence on county politics than they have had in the past.
"This issue has been a catalyst that has brought black groups together," said council member Deborah R. Marshall. "And slowly people are beginning to realize that there are black people in this county and they count. We've finally gone past being slaves."
Marshall noted that Black leaders in Prince George's have often been politically ineffective in the past because they have been unable to present a unified front on major issues. "We were all going different ways," she said "Even on the [Terrance] Johnson trial [when Johnson was accused of killing two white police officers], we were not together.
"But now we realize we have to pull together on this one, because the chief is going to determine how police officers treat blacks for the next few years. And everyone's coming out of the woodwork."
Hogan's staff members acknowledged yesterday that the support of county blacks for Taylor has assumed great importance. But Larry Hogan Jr., who has taken charge of lobbying for Taylor with the council, maintained yesterday that a black endorsement "is not crucial."
"It's one thing the council will have to look at," he said. "But I feel confident Taylor will gain the support of the black community."