What’s it like to collect signatures for a ballot initiative when you can’t do it in-person? That’s what Melissa Lavasani and the people behind “Decriminalize Nature D.C.” are trying to do. Lavasani joined The Politics Hour to talk about the initiative.

Decriminalize Nature D.C. sent petitions for Initiative 81 to all D.C. voter households. (Cydney Grannan / The Kojo Nnamdi Show)

The “Decriminalize Nature D.C.” Campaign

  • “Decriminalize Nature D.C.” is a campaign to make psychedelic plants (like magic mushrooms) the lowest enforcement priority for the police department. Although its name says otherwise, the campaign is not trying to decriminalize psychedelics.
  • Lavasani refers to the plants and fungi as “entheogenic” instead of “psychedelics.” “The word ‘psychedelic’ comes with a lot of negative connotation,” she said on The Politics Hour.”
  • The campaign is trying to make this change by ballot initiative, which requires signatures to get on the November ballot. But the coronavirus pandemic has made it hard to gather in-person signatures. So, the campaign is sending petitions to all D.C. voter households.
  • The campaign needs to collect about 25,000 signatures by July 6 to make it on the ballot in November. Decriminalize Nature D.C. says its “Democracy-by-Mail” strategy is the first of its kind being done on this scale.

Arlington County Board Member Christian Dorsey (right) takes part in a Kojo Roadshow event about Amazon in December 2018. (Tyrone Turner / WAMU)

Arlington County Board Member Christian Dorsey (D) joined us to talk about the protests and his county entering Phase Two of reopening.

Dorsey On George Floyd And The Protests

  • Dorsey and Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey were two of the hosts of a major march on Saturday from the Arlington to D.C.
  • Dorsey shared his thoughts about the killing of George Floyd and necessary policy changes on his Facebook page. He called for changes in “how law enforcement officers are hired, trained and evaluated so that implicit bias awareness and psychological fitness are prerequisites for carrying a badge.” But he also said that some of these issues can’t be addressed by policies or legislation: “People must look inward and seriously examine why they are so afraid of black and brown people.”
  • On May 31 and June 1, the U.S. Park Police requested assistance from the Arlington County Police Department to help manage protests in Lafayette Square under a mutual aid agreement. On June 1, Arlington police were involved in forcefully removing peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square. On The Politics Hour, Dorsey said that the police force was misused.
  • The Arlington NAACP is calling for the county police department to implement body worn cameras and create a civilian review board of the police department with subpoena power.

Northern Virginia To Reopen Friday

  • Northern Virginia and Richmond enter Phase Two of reopening on June 12, catching up with the rest of the state.
  • The maximum number of people at a social gathering will be bumped up to 50, restaurants and bars can open at 50% capacity indoors, and gyms can operate at 30% capacity.
  • “We’re talking about substantial increases in what people are able to do,” said Dorsey on The Politics Hour. “We want to make sure that as they’re doing it, they don’t forget the fundamentals that control the spread of the virus,” like wearing masks in close proximity to people and maintaining social distancing when possible.
  • Prince George’s County will enter its next reopening phase on June 15, and Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said the county will likely enter its next phase during that same week. Earlier this month, D.C. officials said that June 19 is the earliest the District would enter its next phase.

Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando introduced a resolution to make racism a public health emergency. (Montgomery County, MD / Flickr)

Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando (D-At Large) joined The Politics Hour to talk about racism, the coronavirus and more.

Should Racism Be Considered A Public Health Issue?

  • Jawando thinks so. On June 9, he introduced a resolution with full council support that declared racism a public health crisis.
  • The resolution recognizes that racism has real effects on health disparities, household incomes, unemployment, poverty and education.
  • It also suggests more than a dozen actions that the county can take, including the support of ongoing racial equity and social justice training for legislative branch staff. The council is expected to vote on the resolution next week.
  • Montgomery County has not been immune from calls to “defund the police.”
  • On The Politics Hour, Jawando said the council will be introducing a use-of-force bill that would require an officer to intervene if he sees another officer breaking the law or using excessive force; ban chokeholds; ban hitting people in restraints; and change the use-of-deadly-force standard from “reasonable” to “necessary.” Jawando is introducing the bill with the three other councilmembers of color: Nancy Navarro, Craig Rice, and Gabe Albornoz.

MCPS Reconsidering School Resource Officers

  • This week, the Montgomery County Board of Education asked the school superintendent to evaluate the school resource officer program, which places police officers in schools. 
  • Superintendent Jack Smith has been asked to review three years of data about arrests on school property, particularly the demographics of the arrests, and to make a recommendation about whether to continue with the program moving forward.
  • On The Politics Hour, Jawando said, “I think there are better uses for those police officers … in the community that they serve. And I think we need nurses and counselors in our schools.”

Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

Produced by Cydney Grannan


  • Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper; @tomsherwood
  • Melissa Lavasani Proposer, Initiative 81, "Decriminalize Nature D.C."; @DecrimNatureDC
  • Christian Dorsey Member, Arlington County Board; @CD4arlington
  • Will Jawando Councilmember (D-At Large), Montgomery County Council; @willjawando


  • 12:00:10

    KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour, starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom is our Resident Analyst and Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.

  • 12:00:31

    TOM SHERWOODHello, everyone.

  • 12:00:33

    NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with Will Jawando of the Montgomery County Council and Christian Dorsey of the Arlington County Board. We'll also be talking very shortly with Melissa Lavasani about Initiative 81, but before we do that, Tom Sherwood, why is Mayor Muriel -- what's this talk about Mayor Muriel Bowser being a Vice Presidential candidate or being vetted as a Vice Presidential candidate for Joe Biden?

  • 12:01:01

    SHERWOODWell, you know, Biden-Bowser has a good ring to it, but this is a boomlet that has occurred, because of her handling of the demonstrations and her standing up as best she could to President Trump. But a cold-dose of reality, it's very unlikely if not highly unlikely she would be the candidate. You know, the District has three electoral votes. They are locked solid for any Democrat living or dead who's on the ballot. The mayor hasn't been personally or professionally vetted by the Biden team. You know, that's a process long on the way.

  • 12:01:40

    SHERWOODShe supported Mike Bloomberg, which also doesn't help her. I would say that it's more likely that should Biden win in November, because of her raised profile the mayor certainly could be considered for a significant appointment in a Biden administration. And at minimum she certainly has raised her profile for dealing with Capitol Hill or other issues that may come the city's way.

  • 12:02:03

    NNAMDIWe will have to see what happens.

  • 12:02:04

    SHERWOODBut Vice President no.

  • 12:02:05

    NNAMDIOf course, the usual response Tom gets when he asks these questions of elected officials is "I love the job I am doing right now and my plan is to stay in that job." We'll have to see what happens.

  • 12:02:18

    SHERWOODAnd can I mention, now last night she was in the "Late Late Show with James Corden." She did a terrific job. If you wanted to see how she would campaign you could go back and play that online. How well she did responding for about 10 minutes to his questions. She was really good there.

  • 12:02:35

    NNAMDIYes. At your urging, I just watched it a little while ago. Joining us now is Melissa Lavasani, the Proposer of Initiative 81 and the Leader of Decriminalize Nature D.C. campaign. Melissa Lavasani, thank you very much for joining us.

  • 12:02:49

    MELISSA LAVASANIThanks for having me, Kojo and Tom.

  • 12:02:52

    NNAMDII apologize for butchering your name in the billboard that I did earlier.

  • 12:02:57

    LAVASANINo. It's okay. It sounded good enough.

  • 12:02:59

    NNAMDIMelissa, tell us about the Decriminalize nature D.C. initiative that you're trying to get on the November ballot. What's it all about?

  • 12:03:08

    LAVASANIYeah, so this is a voter led initiative in D.C. We're all D.C. residents and we are trying to decriminalize entheogenic plants and fungi. I think we need to define entheogen for people, because this is a relatively new term that we're trying to get mainstream. But it's a naturally occurring plant or fungi substance, which initiates a non-ordinary state of consciousness and it usually inspires mental and spiritual growth.

  • 12:03:36

    LAVASANISo, you know, traditionally these types of substances have been called psychedelics, and, you know, the word psychedelic comes with a lot of negative connation. You know, there's a lot of propaganda in the drug war that we are trying to breakdown those barriers. So, yeah, we are trying to promote these substances for like mental health and mental well-being. And, you know, people are suffering in the city. And a lot of our options right now are not that great.

  • 12:04:08

    NNAMDIYou are -- had a personal experience that caused you to be doing this. Can you briefly describe that?

  • 12:04:16

    LAVASANIYeah. I had severe post-partum depression anxiety and suicidal ideation after the birth of my second child. I had never experienced anything like this before. And I was resistant to getting on antidepressants. I had a friend who took his own life, because he struggled with finding the right medication for himself. And the research for antidepressants wasn't really convincing to me that I should take them.

  • 12:04:43

    LAVASANISo I tried talk therapy and that really wasn't working for me. And I was going down a really hard downward spiral. And I found that these substances have really great benefits for mental health issues. So I took a chance and I treated myself with psilocybin mushrooms and Ayahuasca.

  • 12:05:06

    LAVASANIAnd I was so shocked that they worked so quickly and so effectively that I decided to start this campaign. And I think that everyone should have access to these substances. I think they're probably the safest thing we could be doing right now. And, yeah, it's just -- it was so profound that I decided to make a change.

  • 12:05:29

    NNAMDIAllow me to interrupt, because our time is limited. And I wanted to make sure that Tom gets his question in.

  • 12:05:35


  • 12:05:36

    NNAMDIBut it's called decriminalize, but you are not asking for legalization of these substances, are you?

  • 12:05:42

    LAVASANINot quite yet. You know we have the Harris Rider, which Andy Harris was trying to stop full cannabis regulation in the city. And the Harris Rider states that we can't touch any penalties or fines that involve schedule one drugs.

  • 12:06:00


  • 12:06:01

    LAVASANIWhile we have the Harris Rider on us right now, we can only move these substances and the enforcement of these substances in the MPD to the lowest law enforcement priority.

  • 12:06:14

    NNAMDITom Sherwood.

  • 12:06:15

    SHERWOODThat's exactly my question. I kind of see this as legal light. It won't be legal, but you're asking the police department to turn its head. Is this for only medical reasons kind of like medical marijuana was? Are you looking to have it be used in medical treatments or is this also recreational? And then I have a follow-up.

  • 12:06:38

    LAVASANIYeah. I mean, people connotate mushrooms with recreational use. But what we're talking about is therapeutic use. So people with any kind of depression, anxiety, veterans with PTSD, this would be -- this is the road that we're going down right now, also private use in your home. There's some people that would be uncomfortable going into a clinic and taking mushrooms. I am probably of that mindset. I would rather do this in the privacy of my own home. But there's also some people that want to be in a clinic with a therapist talking through their experience, because it might be a little bit intimidating to them. So that's kind of -- we're kind of -- go ahead.

  • 12:07:19

    SHERWOODOkay. Let me rush on here. So this initiative if it were passed by the voters would allow both medical and recreational use. It's the lowest level of enforcement. Let me move on, because, you know, you hear magic mushrooms and people laugh. But I did some research on this and I know that George Washington University and John Hopkins University have schools of special studies, excuse me, on psychedelics.

  • 12:07:45

    SHERWOODBut you've got a unique campaign to get this out. Because of the virus, you can't go door to door to get signatures, you have mailed out your organization over 200,000 petitions to get people to sign them and turn them in to get this on the ballot. Who is paying for -- the New Approach Pac, I understand is paying for it. That's from Dr. Bronner who does a lot health soaps and organic materials. Is that right? It's about $170,000 that's paying for this. So it's not just D.C. residents. It is the New Approach Pac.

  • 12:08:21

    LAVASANIYeah, right. So funding --

  • 12:08:23

    NNAMDIAllow me to interrupt for a second to add to that, because we got a tweet from Tim Craig of The Washington Post who said, "I got one of the "Decrim Nature" mailers yesterday. It is one of the most comprehensive political mailers I have ever received. I wondered, who was paying for all of this." Now you, Melissa.

  • 12:08:39

    LAVASANIYeah. So the Bronner family has been extremely generous. Yes, they really care about this issue. They've donated about a million dollars to Oregon statewide effort. And they have been extremely supportive. I think our budget, you know, significantly increased when the pandemic hit. And we decided that we had to do a mailer. And no one's ever done anything like this. So we are making it up as we go. And the mailer is very detailed. But, you know, we needed to be detailed. You know, this is not a common thing like cannabis was where everyone knew what we were talking about. You know, we needed to be clear.

  • 12:09:19

    SHERWOODHow many votes do you need? How many petition signatures do you need and when is the deadline?

  • 12:09:24

    LAVASANIYeah. So are trying to get in the November general ballot, which the deadline for that is July 6. So we're on an extremely tight deadline. And, you know, the mailer has been hitting people's mailboxes this week. So we really need people to go check their mail. Open this envelope. Read the instructions. Sign the petition. Sign the affidavit at the bottom. There's multiple steps that have to happen here.

  • 12:09:51

    SHERWOODYes, but how many qualified signatures do you need?

  • 12:09:57

    LAVASANIWe need 25,000, but we're shooting for 30,000.

  • 12:10:01

    NNAMDIIf a D.C. voter did not receive the Decriminalize Nature D.C. packet, but want to sign the ballot initiative what should that person do?

  • 12:10:09

    LAVASANIThey need to go to our website, which is decrimnaturedc.org/petition. They can download a petition and we got some regulations changed at the Board of Elections and some emergency legislation package at D.C. Council. So you can actually take a picture of your signed petition and just submit it to us at submit@decrimnaturedc.org. And that will be counted as a valid signature.

  • 12:10:35

    NNAMDIMelissa Lavasani is the Proposer of Initiative 81 and the Leader of the Decriminalize Nature D.C. Campaign. Melissa, thank you very much for joining us. And good luck to you. I think you'll need it.

  • 12:10:45

    LAVASANIThanks so much, Kojo and Tom.

  • 12:10:48

    NNAMDIJoining us now is Christian Dorsey, a Member of the Arlington County Board. Christian Dorsey, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:10:55

    CHRISTIAN DORSEYThank you, Kojo. Good afternoon to you and Tom.

  • 12:10:57

    NNAMDINorthern Virginia enters its second phase of reopening today. Restaurants will be able to operate at 50 percent capacity. Gyms can reopen with 30 percent capacity. And the maximum number of people allowed at a social gathering has been bumped up to 50 people. Is Arlington County ready?

  • 12:11:15

    DORSEYWell, you know, our data indicates that we have made some steady progress over the last couple of weeks while we've been in phase one. So we are up to the challenge of incorporating the relaxed restrictions for phase two. But that said we're talking about substantial increases in what people are able to do. And we want to make sure that as they're doing it they don't forget the fundamentals that are going to control the spread of the virus and that is wearing masks when you're in close proximity to other people and, of course, all of the principles of social distancing, personal hygiene, those don't change. Even as the restrictions are relaxed those become even more essential to ensure that the progress that we've made over the last couple of weeks doesn't get halted or heaven forbid reversed.

  • 12:12:03

    NNAMDIWhat should residents know about what's open and what's not during this next phase?

  • 12:12:07

    DORSEYWell, you know, legally we have our restaurants, which for the last couple of weeks have been able to provide outdoor seating. We have expanded the ability for them to do that. Well, those restaurants can now have people indoors. We can have gyms, which were previously relegated to either being closed or only offering outdoor classes, they can open the indoor facilities, but, you know, even though these are permitted it doesn't necessarily mean every business is going to do it. We've heard from some that they're just not comfortable yet with their ability to bring staff and patrons into the same environment. And they may work on their own timetable.

  • 12:12:50

    NNAMDITom Sherwood.

  • 12:12:51

    SHERWOODI want to ask about Arlington riot police. As a District citizen, I have to admit I really was upset when I realized and knew that Arlington riot police were invited into our city by the U.S. Park Service. We got to take a break?

  • 12:13:06

    NNAMDII'm going to have to interrupt, Tom, because I think, yeah. We have to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation with Christian Dorsey. But you can call us 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:13:29

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Christian Dorsey. He's a Member of the Arlington County Board. If you have questions or comments for him, call now 800-433-8850. Tom Sherwood, I interrupted you.

  • 12:13:40

    SHERWOODYou interrupted my rant, but I'll get to point. Arlington Police came in at the invitation at the U.S. Park Police without any cooperation from D.C. Police or the mayor. And after you discovered how they were used, Libby Garvey from the Board and the police chief from Arlington recalled the officers back saying they were misused. Is there an apology owed to the District of Columbia citizens? I just can't imagine if we sent riot police into Arlington that that would be okay even if we apologized later.

  • 12:14:13

    DORSEYWell, just to level set, Tom. You know, we were there at the request of the Park Police under a mutual aid agreement. And our original purpose was to assist in, you know, making the civil disturbance functioned smoothly. There was peace and order and that the constitutional rights for people to protest were protected.

  • 12:14:37

    SHERWOODI understand the background, but the mayor and the D.C. police chief were not involved in this mutual aid agreement. I don't think you want D.C. police coming to Arlington unless it speaks to your police chief first. Apology?

  • 12:14:52

    DORSEYJust to be clear, though, we were there to not to police the streets of the District of Columbia, but the Park Service governed property of Lafayette Square. Our purpose was not to, you know, work to control any disturbances on the streets that were policed by the Metropolitan Police Department.

  • 12:15:14

    SHERWOODBut that's what they did. They were on the streets of the District of Columbia.

  • 12:15:18

    DORSEYWell, from what I understand, Tom, the perimeter around Lafayette Square is also co-jurisdictioned by the Park Police.

  • 12:15:30

    SHERWOODThe sidewalks are park -- I don't want to get into an argument about it. Do you agree that your police force was misused?

  • 12:15:36

    DORSEYAbsolutely, our police force was misused. You know, we have a police department that is trained in what's called Level 1 civil disturbances. And we're unfortunately, I think only one of a couple jurisdictions that have that level of training. And the purpose of it is not to actually suppress civil disturbances, but to ensure that you deescalate any tensions so that the constitutional rights of people can be protected. That's why we were there.

  • 12:16:06

    SHERWOODIt was a public relations gambit for the president, but there are other issues. So I won't keep up with my rant.

  • 12:16:13

    NNAMDIWell, I'll keep it up.

  • 12:16:14

    DORSEYIt's an important consideration. Go ahead, Kojo.

  • 12:16:16

    NNAMDII'll keep it up. We got a tweet from accountcarfreehq2 who says, "When will Arlington leaders apologize to protestors and residents of Arlington and D.C. for whatever lapses in judgment led to Arlington riot cops being in Lafayette Park and ultimately helping Park Police attack a peaceful demonstration?" Is do you think an apology the right way to go?

  • 12:16:39

    DORSEYWell, I think what we have said very clearly is that we did not want our police force being used improperly to not distinguish between people who were there to peacefully protest versus people, who were actually causing a civil disturbance. And when we found out that we were being used as part of an effort that was designed to either show strength or produce a photo op for elected officials, we decided that we were going to withdraw them. That we were not going to allow them to be misused.

  • 12:17:14

    DORSEYI think that speaks very well to what we thought about the entire incident by making sure that we were no longer a part of it. I'm not really sure what is meant by an apology. I think our action when we found out that something was happening that was contrary to our stated objective that we were not going to tolerate it any longer speaks for itself.

  • 12:17:35

    SHERWOODI could write it for you, we apologize for the fact that our officers unintentionally were even -- were misused by the U.S. Park Service.

  • 12:17:43

    DORSEYWell, just to be clear, we've used that language in communication with everyone, who is commented and written to us about the incident without question and without equivocation.

  • 12:17:53

    NNAMDIYou on Facebook wrote a response to the killing of George Floyd. You called for systemic changes specifically for quoting here "reforms in how law enforcement officers are hired, trained and evaluated so that implicit bias awareness and psychological fitness are prerequisites for carrying a badge. You also called for updated use of force policies. What conversations about that are you having with the Arlington County Board about policing?

  • 12:18:20

    DORSEYWell, we're going to be having some extensive conversations that we'll publicize soon about use of force, what is permitted by policy, why it's permitted by policy. Thankfully in Arlington I think we're ahead of the curve in having already adopted long before the recent initiative such as "It can't wait" to really make sure that, you know, uses of force that can become lethal -- you know, all uses of forces can become lethal. And therefore ones that are the most lethal we have long prohibited.

  • 12:18:54

    DORSEYA lot of the egregious actions that we've seen elsewhere we've long had policies that have prohibited them. But what I was trying to speak to to that post, we have a history in this country of policies being in place that protect against awful behavior. However, until we get to the point where we're really looking on the individual level to make sure that the people, who are responsible for carrying out those policies not only understand them, but are fit and able to work within the parameters of their tremendous power and authority in communities, we're not going to see this change. So training is essential.

  • 12:19:37

    NNAMDIGary in Arlington, Virginia has a question along that line. Gary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:19:42

    GARYThanks, Kojo. Mr. Dorsey, I'm an Arlington resident looking at my tax bill and how my tax dollars are spent. CNN has footage that shows ACPD helmets in the middle of the charge at protestors. The Washington Post has gone through and done a detailed examination of video from multiple sources, police logs and it appears that group involved was preparing to use tear gas. Did tear gas and the pepper bullet, charged at protestors before the curfew faster than they could get out of the way.

  • 12:20:19

    NNAMDIOkay. We've kind of established that, Gary. What's your issue and your question?

  • 12:20:23

    GARYSo I would hope that Arlington Police are trained not to violate the First Amendment. And whether in the military or the police is someone gives you an order that violates someone's constitutional right the appropriate response is I'm sorry, sir. I can't do that. So I hope that there's an investigation at the command structure at play, and why those actions happened.

  • 12:20:49

    DORSEYAnd Gary I can assure you that the investigation is in fact underway and we are going to have a community conversation about everything that is discovered from the investigation and really how we're going to do this moving forward, because I think you raise an important point. Whenever it comes to a mutual aid obligation or any request from any neighboring jurisdiction for any other to help, it's got to be very very clear under which authority that is to operate and what is going to happen in the event that something -- some order or directive is given that runs contrary to absolutely constitutional laws, but also the principles and values of the participating agency.

  • 12:21:31

    NNAMDITom Sherwood.

  • 12:21:33

    SHERWOODThank you very much. I know that Virginia legislature House Speaker, Eileen Filler-Corn has said the legislation will take up police issues in September or whenever they meet. But I got to move on to politics before we run out of time, home politics, your politics. Mr. Dorsey, everyone knows the difficult you've had politically in the last year. You were taken off of the Metro Board, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, because of your failure to fully report a $10,000 union donation to your campaign last year. You said back in February that you would work very hard to regain the trust of the Board. Where do we stand with that now? Most people I talk to like you, but they were very distressed at what happened with you. How are you doing in rebuilding the trust that you talked about in February?

  • 12:22:28

    NNAMDIAnd we only have about a minute to the next break, but go ahead.

  • 12:22:32

    DORSEYI appreciate your asking, Tom. And the only thing that I can do is to continue and try and serve the public with everything that I have and all the skills that I've developed. I did have an unfortunate incredible lapse of judgment and sloppiness last year. I can't undo that. The only thing that I can do moving forward is to serve people as best I can and I'm always open to hearing from people as to how I'm doing with that. Thanks.

  • 12:22:59

    NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Alex who said, "Maybe if the County Board wasn't quick to give every developer and company interested in relocating to Arlington huge tax breaks there would be money for body cameras among other necessities." You only have about 30 seconds to respond to that one question.

  • 12:23:14

    DORSEYWell, stay tuned. We're going to have a proposal from our manager next week for implementing body worn cameras to supplement the in-vehicle cameras that we have. So it's not an issue of not having money. We prioritize other community policing and other training initiatives over the last couple of years, but we think body worn cameras are likely going to be coming sooner rather than later.

  • 12:23:38

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Christian Dorsey. And be joined shortly after that by Will Jawando. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:24:00

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Christian Dorsey. He's a member of the Arlington County Board. Here's Bob in Alexandria, Virginia. Bob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:24:09

    BOBYeah, so I've got this great plan, and what it is, is that everybody gets everything they want. And I'm just going to say this about D.C., but it's about all of the major cities, and so forth. So, in...

  • 12:24:21

    NNAMDI(overlapping) Well, does it have to do with Arlington County? Does it have to do with Arlington County? If it doesn't...

  • 12:24:26

    BOBWell, it could be Arlington County, too. I know, but let me...

  • 12:24:29

    NNAMDINo. Well, I can't go for that. No, you've got a national plan, Bob. You're going to have to discuss that in another show. Here is Mayda, in Virginia. Mayda, your turn.

  • 12:24:39

    MAYDAHello, Kojo, and thank you, Mr. Dorsey. I'm a health care worker, and COVID is waring heavy on my mind. And as the county greenlights states reopening businesses, I am wondering what sort of legal guidance you're providing in conjunction to us, especially as it pertains to COVID-related lawsuits from workers or patrons.

  • 12:25:04

    NNAMDIWere you able to hear that, Christian Dorsey?

  • 12:25:05

    DORSEYI think I heard from Mayda any guidance that we're able to provide on any lawsuits related to, I guess, people who were -- who become infected as a result of reopening. I think that's what I heard.

  • 12:25:21


  • 12:25:22

    DORSEYWell, you know, I can't really speak to the law. I'm not an attorney. I'll be sure to take that question back to our attorney. But the larger point here is, in addition to reopening, I should have mentioned earlier that a big part of making this work is that we have enhanced ability for people to get tested, regardless of whether they are asymptomatic -- I'm sorry, whether they're symptomatic or whether they have a prescription from a doctor.

  • 12:25:47

    DORSEYAnd we, a couple of weeks ago, had an event where we tested 1,100 people in one day, and that was available to anyone, regardless of whether or not they had a prescription or insurance. And we're going to do the same thing coming up on June 19th, another 1,000. And we're going to try to do that throughout this phased reopening, so that we're actually allowing people to understand their own health implications and to hopefully take appropriate precautions.

  • 12:26:19

    NNAMDITom Sherwood.

  • 12:26:21

    SHERWOODYou, among other jurisdictions, are doing Zoom meetings of the board. Despite best efforts, that limits the public's participation. When do you think your board will move back to public hearings, so people can appear in person?

  • 12:26:37

    DORSEYWell, you know, I'm not chair this year, Tom, but I'll speak only for myself. I'm hoping that after we conclude our June meeting, which will also be virtual, and after that happens, which is this Saturday and next Tuesday, I'm hoping that all subsequent board meetings with the county board will be in person, with appropriate social distancing in place.

  • 12:27:00

    NNAMDIHere now is Chuck, who is in New York. He wants to talk about Arlington. Chuck, your turn.

  • 12:27:06

    CHUCKHi, Mr. (word?), thanks so much for being on Kojo. I have a question. So, I'm doing a film shoot in Arlington, and my character is a nurse in a hospital. So, I'm curious that if anyone on my set contacts COVID, and I do have production insurance, the same question with the legalities of that lawsuit, am I really liable for everyone on that set, or are you giving out permits for me to actually (unintelligible) more of my production in July?

  • 12:27:35

    DORSEYSo, we have actually suspended (unintelligible) now for the types of thing that you're speaking to, Chuck. So, I don't know where you stand in terms of the submission of your local permit for whatever you have in place. But, of course, if you're able to get a permit, it will be subject to all of the executive restrictions that the governor has put in place with gatherings as such, as well as what will be highly publicized guidelines that we would expect you to follow. And then I just can't speak to what would be the legal liability that you would have for engaging in that activity.

  • 12:28:13

    NNAMDIChuck, thank you for your call. There have been calls to defund the police across the country. In Arlington's fiscal year 2021 budget, the county's allocating $74.7 million to the police department. That's a 5.3 percent of the general fund. Is the vesting in the police department something you'd consider, and how?

  • 12:28:34

    DORSEYWell, you know, thanks, Kojo. We're getting a lot of letters from people with the defund the police calls. And I will just note that the budget for the police department over the last eight, nine years has risen only slightly higher than the rate of inflation. And, you know, of the 74 million, most of it, all but about 7.5 million, is tied to personnel (unintelligible). A substantial amount of that is devoted to community policing efforts.

  • 12:29:04

    DORSEYSo, when it comes to what you defund, I think you first look at any tactical weapons and gear that are not necessary to meet your police obligations, and we don't have a lot of that in Arlington. We have very much looked on an annual basis to make sure we're not prioritizing the spending on weapons and toys and things like that that create militarized police forces.

  • 12:29:28

    DORSEYThat said, you know, we look, every year, at the budget. And when we can make priorities, investments and things that help people, we tend to do that in Arlington County. And that's exhibited by our annual budget and our response to COVID-19.

  • 12:29:45

    NNAMDITom Sherwood.

  • 12:29:47

    SHERWOODSome people are saying that defund police is a nice, catchy slogan, but it hands the Republicans, in particular, a wedge issue for this fall, because many people are saying it's just taking all money away from the police department. Some even want to restructure police departments from the ground up. But do you agree that, at least to defund police, is too vague of a chant that could cause political problems for the Democrats in the fall?

  • 12:30:14

    DORSEYWithout question, it can and will be weaponized by people, because I know that there are a lot of thoughtful people who are talking about exactly what you mentioned, Tom. Let's rethink policing, let's restructure it and let's take any savings and reinvest it in people. That, unfortunately, is a little bit longer than defund the police.

  • 12:30:33

    DORSEYSo, we've got this catchall slogan which will be weaponized by other folks. And I think that's something that people need to be very wary about as they go about, you know, talking about what may be thoughtful ideas about police reform and having it become a weapon by people who are just simply trying to prey upon fear and use it to, you know, win elections.

  • 12:30:57

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Christian Dorsey, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:31:01

    DORSEYThank you. Good afternoon to you all, as well.

  • 12:31:03

    NNAMDIChristian Dorsey's a member of the Arlington County Board. And joining us now is Will Jawando, an at-large member of the Montgomery County Council. If you have questions or comments for Will Jawando, now is the time to call, 800-433-8850. If you have questions for Christian Dorsey, please hang up. (laugh) You can also send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to kojo@wamu.org. Will Jawando, thank you very much for joining us.

  • 12:31:31

    WILL JAWANDOGood to be back with you, Kojo and Tom.

  • 12:31:33

    NNAMDIThis week, you introduced a resolution that would make racism a public health emergency in Montgomery County. Exactly what do you mean by that? What would this resolution do?

  • 12:31:44

    JAWANDOWell, it would do several things. Most importantly and first, it would draw a direct connection to systemic and institutional racism to the disproportionate life outcomes and deaths that we see in the black community and communities of color. Certainly, COVID has laid this bare. You know, the infection rates being two times as high for the black community. In Montgomery County, one in four of our deaths due to COVID are African-Americans, even though we're only about 19 percent of the population.

  • 12:32:18

    JAWANDOIf you look at maternal health, black women three times more likely to die in childbirth, despite having higher earnings or level of education. You look at who gets hit by cars, trucks and buses on our roadways. Due to redlining, we've been forced to live in environmentally unsustainable and infrastructure-poor communities where there aren't sidewalks, so we get hit by cars and truck higher than any ratio of people.

  • 12:32:43

    JAWANDOAnd so all those things are systemically related. And, literally, racism is killing black and brown people in a lot of ways, and it's certainly the most pernicious. An abhorrent form of this racism is in police violence where we are seeing across the country, whether it's George Floyd or Breonna Taylor or Freddie Gray here, or Finan Berhe or Robert White in Silver Spring, we see police taking the lives of black and brown men and women at the highest rate of any segment of our population. So, it's to connect that. It's not just an individual thing. It's a systemic thing, and you need to have a systemic solution to solve a systemic problem.

  • 12:33:22

    NNAMDIThat's what I'm asking, what is the systemic solution? You decaled a public health emergency. Does that unlock any resources that would otherwise not be available?

  • 12:33:33

    JAWANDOWell, it's a good question. So, I stress that connection because it's important, but it does direct us to do several things. There are many actions in this resolution. One is to train all of our staff on racial equity, so they understand the history of these disparities. So, when our staff makes recommendations on policing and procedure, they know this history.

  • 12:33:55

    JAWANDOStarting on August 1, because of the great work we did with Councilmember Navarro and all of our colleagues, we have a Racial Equity Bill. And we're going to have every bill that we put forward. Starting August 1 we'll have a racial equity and impact statement on it, that we're going to have to look at how it impacts our communities. But we must act on that information.

  • 12:34:12

    JAWANDOIt also calls for us to put a plan together in each of those areas I mentioned, transportation, education, criminal justice, health care, to address and attack these disparities in an urgent way. It's not something that would be nice to do. We maybe should do it, because it's the right thing. No, we must do it because our communities are dying at higher rates.

  • 12:34:30

    JAWANDOSo it lays out a plan of action, directs certain trainings. There are not specific resources in this resolution, but certainly, we're going to have to -- if you have policy change, you're going to have to allocate resources and have policy and law changes to supplement this work.

  • 12:34:45

    NNAMDIHere's Tom Sherwood.

  • 12:34:46

    SHERWOODThank you. It does seem like the public health emergency is just kind of an addition to the racial equity bill, the law that will be going into effect in August. But let me ask about a specific thing. The Montgomery County School Board has directed the school superintendent Jack Smith to review school resource officers in the county. Take three years of data to see how they're being used. School resource officers, for people who don't know, are police officers assigned to schools. And then maybe decide whether they should be there or not, reassign them all, change their function.

  • 12:35:23

    SHERWOODThe superintendent said they like them because they are good people for young students to get to know. They can ease some tensions. What is your position on school resource officers in Montgomery County Public Schools?

  • 12:35:39

    JAWANDOThanks for the question, Tom. I think the action that the school board took with the leadership of our outgoing student board member Nate Tinbite and Brenda Wolff, another school board member, and the whole school board was a really good action. We need to look at the data and see if it's consistent with what we know nationally.

  • 12:35:56

    JAWANDOLook, I worked as a civil rights lawyer on these issues a lot. We know that when police are in schools, that leads to higher interactions with students, particularly our black and brown young men and women. And that leads to the school-to-prison pipeline, and that's something we need to disrupt and not have. The question is...

  • 12:36:13

    SHERWOOD(overlapping) Do want to -- do you want to -- excuse me. Excuse me. Let me just -- we don't have a lot of time -- other issues for you to talk about. Do you want to clarify the role of any police resource officer in schools, or do you want to get rid of them?

  • 12:36:28

    JAWANDOI think there are better uses for those police officers, many of whom are great people, in the community that they serve. And I think we need nurses and counselors in our schools, and we have a deficit. We have one of the worst nurse-to-student ratios in the region, and so I think we need to be spending money on that, and not on having police in schools.

  • 12:36:47

    JAWANDOAnd those police are great people, I know many of them, but they could be better used in the community helping rebuild trust, which is also a huge issue. In a bill I'm going to be introducing next week relating to use of force, I think they can be helping in that area as we reframe and re-imagine what police accountability and what policing looks like.

  • 12:37:07

    NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Will Jawando, call us at 800-433-8850. Here is Delores in Silver Spring. Delores, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:37:16

    DELORESHi. Thank you. Will, I'm interested in understanding what conversations are having on the council about the fraternal order of police contract that is up for renewal on June 30th. Is it being re-reviewed in light of recent events?

  • 12:37:35

    JAWANDOThank you for the question. As you know -- or you may know, the county executive's responsibility is to negotiate with the unions on their contract. We decide whether to fund the elements of the contract. And so I am not aware of any renegotiation of the contract that was already ratified. I do think that that is a good question, and that there are -- potentially that should be looked at.

  • 12:38:03

    JAWANDOI know at the state level, we're talking to several state legislators about the law enforcement officers' bill of rights, which gets in the way of transparency and accountability, as far as disciplinary records and the like. And that is something that I know we need to take action on at the state level, so that there can be more trust and accountability.

  • 12:38:20

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Will Jawando, you introduced the Law Enforcement Trust and Transparency Act in 2019, which requires investigations by outside law enforcement officers, that is outside of Montgomery County investigations into police-involved deaths in the county. Some don't think that is enough. What conversations are you and the council having about that right now, about police reform?

  • 12:38:46

    JAWANDOThat's a great question. Yeah, that was the first bill I introduced after getting elected. It went into effect January 1 of this year. It requires those independent investigations with a partner. We have not yet found a partner, is my understanding from the chief. The best solution would be a statewide body that could -- like they created in New Jersey, like the one that brought charges against Ahmaud Arbery's killers in Georgia, so that this could be done for the whole state.

  • 12:39:10

    JAWANDOThat's what we need under the AG's office, and that's what I've been writing the governor and pushing for. But equally important, we've had two deaths by police this year. There will be a report that comes out to the public, so they can learn from that.

  • 12:39:23

    JAWANDOSecondly, next week, along with council members Albornoz, Rice and Navarro, the members of color on the council, and all my colleagues as co-sponsors, we'll be introducing a landmark use of force piece of legislation that will do four things. It will require a duty to intervene when an officer -- of an officer when they see their colleague breaking the law or using excessive force. It will ban chokeholds and hitting people while in restraints. And, most importantly, it will change the use of deadly force standard from one that's reasonable to necessary to prevent serious harm or use of life.

  • 12:39:57

    JAWANDOAnd we're going to have a big fight on our hands on that, but it's an important thing to do. Changing use-of-force standards is the number one thing that we see from data that helps the deaths of black and brown people go down in our community. So, that'll be a first step under this resolution of racism as a public health emergency. But we're going to need to do many more things but I think that's directly responsive to what we're hearing from some of our community members.

  • 12:40:20

    NNAMDIWell, Tom Sherwood just had a conversation with Christian Dorsey of Arlington County about the term, “defund the police.” There have been calls for it around the country. What does it mean to you, and do you agree with the statement?

  • 12:40:35

    JAWANDOWell, you know, the semantics, as progressives and Democrats, we tend to lose the semantics game. But what it means to me is that we need to reframe and re-imagine what public safety looks like in this country. We need to move away from the statistics-driven policing that has been perpetrated from the federal level down to the local level.

  • 12:40:56

    JAWANDOWhen I worked on The Hill, the (unintelligible) grants gave you more money if you arrested more people. When you had the drug laws and the drug wars and the war on drugs, you arrested more people. You put people away that really need treatment. And the same thing with mental health. And so we need warriors, not guardians. We need people that are focused and rewarded for helping citizens, for deescalating situations, for attending community events. Those should be just as important markers as arrests or tickets or stops.

  • 12:41:27

    JAWANDOThen we need accountability on the backend. So, all the bills that I just talked about that we're going to introduce next week, that's important, too. The state level, we need to know what officers have done in the past. That needs to be transparent. We need the right people in law enforcement who are coming in to protect and serve and to deescalate. What are their communication skills? What's their mental health background? We don't need people that are looking to just bust chops.

  • 12:41:49

    JAWANDOAnd we have many officers that are doing the right thing, but the training is not focused that way. So, we need to totally flip the paradigm. And, for me, that's what I mean when I hear defund the police. How do we invest in other areas to take the burden off our officers in the areas of mental health and homelessness? They shouldn't be dealing with that. They shouldn't be deployed to deal with a homeless person. That should be Social Services.

  • 12:42:12

    JAWANDOSo we need to change -- and that's where some funding reallocation might need to happen. If we can take that burden off them and get the right people there, that's where you can see the type of funding reallocation that you're talking about in the defund-the-police movement.

  • 12:42:25

    NNAMDITom Sherwood?

  • 12:42:27

    SHERWOODThis week the county executive Marc Elrich and the county council got a three-page letter from the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division pointing out that the county has prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people, but the county has allowed protests of hundreds of people to gather. And the letter from the Justice Department says you are denying churches and other houses of worship the opportunity to gather more than 10. You are in danger, the county is, of discriminating against people who want to worship. What is your response -- your personal response to that letter? I assume you've read it.

  • 12:43:06

    JAWANDOI have. And, you know, as the lawyer on the council, you know, I often get to these things first, but we have great lawyers on staff, too. You know, I'd say this. I think this is political interference. Every decision that we've made, the county executive or health officer, and that we've been supporting on the council, has been to keep people safe.

  • 12:43:26

    JAWANDONow, certainly the First Amendment is sacrosanct. It's important. There are gatherings allowed, in-car gatherings. I know that church services have happened. People can stay in their car. You can have gatherings of 10 outside. We are looking to move to phase two, which would change some of those requirements. But, as you know, we've had some of the highest cases in the state. And church gatherings, in particular, have been the result of many of the many outbreaks that you've seen across the country. Because when I go to church, I huge people. You're close -- you're next to each other, you're close, you're happy, you're singing.

  • 12:44:02

    SHERWOOD(overlapping) Excuse me. Protestors do the same thing. Why is that protestors have a First Amendment right to demonstrate, but the First Amendment also respects the establishment and activities of religion. Why is it that you can...

  • 12:44:16

    JAWANDO(overlapping) Oh no, both are protected. No, both are protected. What I'm saying is that church services are allowed with those certain restrictions. And we are looking at how to move that forward and to loosen those in phase two, which will probably be happening next week or so. But what I'm saying, I'm just saying...

  • 12:44:30

    SHERWOOD(overlapping) Well, actually not because -- excuse me, excuse me. Actually County Executive Elrich, just today, I think it was, in a letter said he does not know when phase two will begin.

  • 12:44:41

    JAWANDOYeah, and I said probably in the next week, so I qualified. But I think...

  • 12:44:44

    NNAMDI(overlapping) He said...

  • 12:44:44

    JAWANDO...I talked to him this morning, too.

  • 12:44:47

    NNAMDI...he said may enter the next week. Is the fact that church services are held indoors, as opposed to protests outdoors, a factor?

  • 12:44:55

    JAWANDOThat's a huge factor. And before Tom kind of jumped in there, I was going to say that. The nature of church services indoors, close, contained space, we know that that is a big factor for COVID transmission when you're indoor verses outdoor. But that being said, again, both are very important. But I think if you look at this letter, the fact that the assistance attorney general would pick out this to send us a note, I think it's politically motivated. And those are not the decisions we're making. We're making them based on health.

  • 12:45:24

    NNAMDIHere's Becca in Silver Spring, Maryland. Becca, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:45:31

    BECCAHi, Kojo, how are you?

  • 12:45:33

    NNAMDII am well, Becca. We don't have a lot of time left so make your question as brief as possible.

  • 12:45:36

    BECCAAll right. Will Jawando, thank you for being on here. My question is, in addition to looking at school resource officers, who is looking at the allocation of the budget when it comes to Montgomery County Public School security staff, as well as the equitable application of physical security? So, card readers, cameras, locking hardware in the public school high schools?

  • 12:46:04

    NNAMDIWill Jawando?

  • 12:46:05

    JAWANDOGreat question. Yeah, and thanks for calling in. That's something that needs to be addressed, as well, because if you're going to augment the SRO program, we do need to look at equitable distribution of the security officers. And I know many of them, as well. We have been appropriating money in this last year for physical security in buildings to make sure that there are more vestibules, that access can be controlled in a better way that's safer for students and teachers. And so that is something -- that's an ongoing conversation, but I certainly will take that back, as a member of the Education Committee, and speak with the School Board about that issue.

  • 12:46:40

    NNAMDIAnd, Tom Sherwood, we only have about 40 seconds left.

  • 12:46:43

    SHERWOODEasy. Ben Jealous, the Democratic candidate for governor the last time around, has been named the head of the People for the American Way. Do you think that takes him out of the next governor's race, or do you think this is a weigh station for him?

  • 12:46:57

    JAWANDOI think that's a great organization. My wife started her career there, and they need him there to fulfill their mission to protect the rights and liberties -- and voting rights, in particular -- of our residents. We've seen what's happened in Georgia. That's going to be a big issue, so I'm sure Ben's going to be very busy with that and focused on that. And I'll be helping him.

  • 12:47:14

    NNAMDIWell, I just got an extra minute, so I'd like to ask you about a little extracurricular project you're doing to keep kids entertained during the pandemic. Tell us about virtual story time.

  • 12:47:26

    JAWANDOOh, thank you. This was day 55 today, believe it or not. I started this Lead for Libraries for the council, which is basically our version of subcommittees. And story time is a huge part of our early childhood and education programs. And right now when physical libraries are closed, thousands of students and families haven't had access. So, I started this almost three months ago now, doing a virtual story time on my Facebook and YouTube pages where I read a couple of books. I'm singing. I have Mr. Mortimer the Monkey with me. And we do a lot.

  • 12:47:57

    JAWANDOWe have guests. We've had the Kid Museum partner with us on makerspace and arts and crafts. And we do a whole bunch of things. So we actually have Katie Ledecky coming on, the Olympian swimmer, as a special guest on Wednesday. So, it's been fun, and it's a way to give parents a 30-minute break, and hopefully help with learning and reading loss.

  • 12:48:19

    NNAMDIWill Jawando's an At-Large member of the Montgomery County Council. Thank you for joining us.

  • 12:48:24

    JAWANDOThank you and good to talk to both of you.

  • 12:48:26

    NNAMDIPolitics Hour was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, digital learning has certainly challenged teachers and students. But what about the adult learners, the thousands currently working toward their high school diplomas? How have the fared during the pandemic and who's looking out for them? Plus, Judith Viorst, author of "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day." stops by for the latest Kojo for Kids. That all starts Monday at noon. Tom Sherwood, have you read "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day"?

  • 12:49:00

    SHERWOODNo, but you've inspired me.

  • 12:49:02

    NNAMDI(laugh) I think you'll be reading it over the weekend. Tom Sherwood, you have a great weekend. All of you, thank you for listening. Have a safe weekend. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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