Prince George's County Police Chief Gerald M. Wilson yesterday described the loss of his job as being forced into the wilderness and said he does not plan to remain in the department, because "in fairness to my successor and my family, I think it's best that I sever my ties."
"Sometimes you have to go out in the wilderness," Wilson said during a town hall meeting of more than 1,000 people at Ebenezer A.M.E. Church in Fort Washington. "If you picked up the paper today, you will know that I am about to go out in the wilderness, but our God is able."
Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) on Friday announced that he had picked Norfolk Police Chief Melvin C. High, a former assistant chief with the D.C. police, to replace Wilson within two months. Wilson, a 19-year veteran of the Prince George's department, was appointed acting chief last spring by Johnson's predecessor and confirmed as chief in July.
In an interview following his remarks during a town hall meeting on the state of black youth, Wilson said he is proud to have served as the first African American police chief in Prince George's.
"I don't have anything to hang my head about," he said. "I've done the best that I can do for the community as well as the officers. I think history will tell whether we have gotten on the right track. . . . I think that we are moving in the right direction, and I wish my successor my best, and I certainly respect the county executive's position."
While Johnson spoke of the county's need for a reformer in naming High as chief, Wilson said, "I didn't consider myself a reformist, I consider myself a transformist. Rather than go invent the wheel, my goal was to take us into a whole new direction."
The meeting was hosted by national radio and television personality Tavis Smiley and featured Wilson, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose and church and business leaders.
Smiley challenged the young people to step forward to be the leaders of their generation in the same way Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X became soldiers in the civil rights movement when they were young adults. "I am looking for a Martin to meet Malcolm at age 13," said Smiley, who has been traveling across the country convening national town hall meetings on various issues.
He said following the event that the black community doesn't engage in enough dialogue on pressing issues. "In Washington, there are many think tanks, but in the African American community, we need more think tanks and dialogues on various issues," he said.
The young people didn't get a chance to make many comments during the forum, but many of them said they were glad they came.
Howard Parker of Fort Washington came to the event with his 9-year-old daughter, Myles, who said she was glad to listen to talk about being a leader because "my mother already says that I am a leader."
While the event was designed to encourage young people to aspire to leadership, Moose used the occasion to admonish national political leaders who he said had not set a good example when it comes to teaching about peace and getting along.
"We as adults are not doing our job as role models," he said. "We talk about Dr. King, but on a national scale, but we can't solve conflicts by using bombs."
Later, in an interview, Moose talked about his earlier expressed interest in being Prince George's police chief. "Well, there was a chance to help people and to make a difference," he said. "You always want to listen. You never want to just shut the door."
When asked whether he planned to remain in Montgomery County, he responded, "As long as the Lord decides that this is where I should be."