Sunday, October 25, 2009

What's the deal with Officer Kurtz?

Back in July several members of the Latino community paid a visit to Councilmember Graham's office to explain what Officer Kurtz had been doing that made them feel unsafe and discriminated against by an MPD officer they considered abusive and intentionally aggressive.

Councilmember Graham got Chief Groomes on the speaker phone in his office, and members of the delegation took turns telling her of their first hand knowledge of incidents of abuse Officer Kurtz had committed. They spoke of his carrying a video camera into Unity Park where many Hispanics go and alleged he purposefully shot video of people he thought were illegal. Councilmember Graham's visitors believed that their relatives had been deported because Officer Kurtz was working with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Chief Groomes was very receptive to the people's complaints, but asked for proof. The people in the councilmember's office agreed to write up statements to describe the incidents they were talking about; but, when it came to signing those statements, people backed off because of fear of exposure to immigration authorities.

However, Chief Groomes took the people's testimony seriously, and the same day they were in the councilmember's office, Officer Kurtz was reassigned to another PSA away from Columbia Road and a large Hispanic population.

Since that time, the Business Improvement District circulated a petition to have Officer Kurtz returned to Columbia Road. Members of the BID never reached out to the Hispanic Community or the people who made the original complaints about the officer. Nor did the BID reach out to ANC commissioners who represent the blocks the officer patroled to learn more about the bases of the allegations. The BID simply dismissed their complaints and circulated a petition among the businesses in the 1700 and 1800 blocks of Columbia Road NW. They allege to have the signatures of 35 businesses. The truth of the petition is that the BID's daytime ambassador got a few signatures. The rest were were printed in the same handwriting, not signed.

Officer Kurtz was returned to Columbia Road, but he's also been working in other PSAs . Officer Kurtz is under greater scrutiny these days. There have not been any reports of abuse of his power since his return, but unless he's had sensitivity training or classes in diversity when he was away, it's only a matter of time before he uses his power to violate the Constitution, the Supreme Law of the Land.

Clearly the First Amendment to the Constitution is second in Adams Morgan to the BID's unfettered right to commerce.

Freedom is a constant struggle. Vigilance is its price.

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