“One officer looks at us,” Turner wrote, “and says, ‘Now go back to your projects.’ ”
The broader context of the email, written eight days ago, was Turner’s effort to explain why he wanted a protest in downtown Silver Spring.
“We come in peace, commander,” wrote Turner, 36. “March with us. It’s time for a change. I’m ready to help, are you?”
The email set off six days of written and phone dialogue between Turner and Capt. Darren Francke, who commands the Silver Spring police district for the Montgomery County department.
It culminated Sunday afternoon when Turner, Francke and three other Montgomery County police officers took a knee in front of more than 200 protesters facing them and stretching half a block down Georgia Avenue.
Everyone sat still for 2 minutes 53 seconds, the estimated time George Floyd lay unconscious with his neck pinned below the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
For two weeks, demonstrators protesting police and the killing of Floyd have poured into streets across the United States. The protests have included countless, spontaneous moments of cooperation between protesters and police, with officers taking a knee and chiefs mixing and mingling with the crowds. But Turner’s protest in the sprawling suburb just miles north of the District had a different twist: It was a demonstration put together with the active help of the police.
It didn’t start off that way. Turner said his initial approach to the police, on June 1, was borne out of suspicion related to events the day before.
The Germantown resident grew up in Montgomery County, played football through high school and studied at Montgomery College, where he now works in the financial aid office. Turner is a member of two local go-go groups: High Gravity Band and New Vision.
The evening of May 31, he recalled, he received a text message about possible rioting nearby. Then he heard helicopters overhead, grew concerned things were getting out of hand and drove to see it.
Turner said the situation was tense.
Young protesters were yelling at police officers parked inside their cars. Turner tried to intervene but said the first two officers he approached ignored him. He moved on to other officers. Two got out, he said, and agreed to take a knee to honor Floyd. At least six more followed suit.
The next morning, with video of him and the kneeling officers popping on social media, Turner contacted police, trying to find out whether they had pushed out the videos to generate good publicity.
Turner’s concern: The police were trying to take credit for the officers’ positive interactions with protesters without getting his side of it.
Three hours later, with no response, Turner announced on Twitter that he was forming a protest for the coming weekend in downtown Silver Spring: “Come with peace in your heart and your voice to be heard. If you come to LOOT YOU WILL BE HANDLED. @mcpnews I reached out to you. And every one has seen it. I have heard nothing back.”
Hours later, the department contacted him, as did Francke, who as commander of the Silver Spring district was in charge of policing the area. Turner learned that the police hadn’t pushed out the videos. He dashed off a 1,500-word email to him.
“I’ve never done this,” Turner said of the protest planning, “so I’ll try my best to explain myself the best I can.”
He described his upbringing and the encounter with police officers outside the party in 2002.
“They saw the white kids running. They did not chase, but harassed us,” Turner wrote. “From that point, I will not lie, I have kind of had a chip on my shoulder towards the police. Hatred towards the police.”
“I get how hard it is to be a public servant. Trust me I do,” he wrote. “But something has to be done. We the people of Montgomery County understand that you all cannot do anything about what has happen in Minnesota and you all did not do that. However, you have done bad here as well.”
Montgomery County has faced allegations of excessive use of force over the past two years, starting with a patrol officer’s fatal shooting in June 2018 of a man who charged at him in a residential parking lot. Last year, a Montgomery officer was convicted of misdemeanor assault for driving his knee into the neck area of a handcuffed man who was lying face down on a sidewalk. And last month, a patrol sergeant fatally shot a man who charged at him armed with a large kitchen knife.
Turner told Francke that a joint protest with police would help mend relations with the community. Turner detailed his broader goals: Justice for George Floyd. Education reform. (“I know that isn’t your department but I’m sure you understand.”) The release of inmates locked up over marijuana laws. A rollout of police-sponsored teen centers to engage officers with kids. A detailed study of Montgomery arrest statistics to analyze whether minorities were being disproportionately targeted.
In closing the letter to Francke, Turner said he’d been criticized for fist-bumping the kneeling officers the day before, with some Twitter users accusing him of being a police stooge.
“What I have had to deal with negatively in the last 24 hours for dapping up your officers, I get it,” he wrote. “Now it’s time for you all to get us.”
To Francke, it all made sense. He had served in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and joined the Montgomery police in 1996. A father of three, including a daughter who also came to the protest, he previously commanded the department’s major crimes division — supervising murder investigations throughout the county.
“Thank you for sharing your story,” Francke wrote. “I don’t blame you for having a chip on your shoulder. I am not proud of some things that a few officers did before and now. . . . I am saddened and angered by what happened to George Floyd, and a number of other events over many years that were clearly violations of the values that the vast majority of officers have.”
“My officers and I will march with you,” Francke added. “With your assistance we will also help to keep the event safe from those that would want to turn your message into something else. We want your message heard.”
Francke also offered his services in planning and logistics.
That led to six days of discussions — not just about routes and security and speaking times for the protest — but larger conversations about go-go music and police race relations.
By 1 p.m. Sunday, more than 200 people had gathered at Veterans Plaza in downtown Silver Spring. They marched three blocks to the corner of Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue, halted, and waited for Turner to lead everyone to one knee.
He swayed back and forth, his head buried in a towel weeping as he thought of Floyd’s family. Francke stood next to him clapping. Next, a quick prayer.
Then the kneel.
The crowd erupted with applause at the 2 minute 53 seconds mark as the group marched back to Veterans Plaza.
A series of speakers addressed the crowd, some going on so long it started to thin out in the midday sun. About 3:30 p.m., Turner handed the microphone to Francke.
The commander told the crowd about Turner’s encounter with the police 18 years earlier. And then the captain turned toward him.
“I’m sorry,” Francke said.