During his six years in office, the lieutenant governor has been a reserved public figure best known for his wonky “Mundane (But Meaningful)” YouTube videos exploring state procurement and regulatory reform.
On Wednesday, he used the most visible post he holds — the temporary chairmanship of the Board of Public Works, the state’s spending board — to describe instances of racism he has encountered and call for a public reckoning of the enduring oppression of black people.
“It’s time for all of us, no matter what our race, age, gender or creed is, to look deeply within ourselves to acknowledge there’s work to be done,” Rutherford said.
He called it “work that must be done so that our nation may finally live up to the ideals of our founding, and ensure life and liberty for every American, once and for all.”
Before joining Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s ticket in 2014, Rutherford had never held elected office. He is considering a bid to succeed Hogan in 2022.
At the meeting, he described growing up under segregation as a young child in the District — three years after the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision declared separate was not equal.
He remembered warnings to be “extremely careful” about encountering police in neighboring Prince George’s County as a young man.
The lieutenant governor also talked about being a freshman at Northeastern University in Boston during the desegregation protests of April 1976, and recalled a now-iconic photo of a white man lunging toward a black civil rights lawyer in the city’s downtown area, using the tip of a flagpole — American flag still attached — as though it were a spear.
Rutherford said he was stunned when his college roommate, who’d grown up in the area, explained there were sections of town he should not visit at night because he was a black man.
He transferred to Howard University that fall.
The lieutenant governor, a lawyer, said he considers people in law enforcement, including family members and friends, to be wonderful people. But he added that “there are too many men and woman across the country who look just like me, who, instead of feeling protected when they see a law enforcement officer, they feel anxious and in some cases afraid.”
He urged today’s demonstrators not to “use this time of pain in our community to spread violence and destruction,” which he said has the effect of “overshadowing the legitimate peaceful protests” of communities that “have for far too long been denied fundamental rights.”
And he praised Maryland’s youths for conducting days of peaceful protests in Baltimore, including people who identified troublemakers and turned them over to police. He encouraged participants to continue to “not allow outside agitators to take over or hijack the message that we’re trying to send.”
When he finished speaking, State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D), 76, who is white and also sits on the Board of Public Works, said that she took part in many protests as a young woman 40 or 50 years ago.
In light of the events of the past week, she said, “I’m embarrassed and ashamed that I didn’t continue doing it.”