Pocomoke Residents Back New Candidate to Heal Wounds Since Firing of First Black Police Chief

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Community leaders are hoping Pocomoke resident Monna Van Ess can challenge city leadership whom they say has been indifferent to their concerns since Kelvin Sewell was fired amid allegations of racism – Story by Taya Graham and Stephen Janis

Story Transcript

TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham reporting for The Real News Network in Pocomoke City, Maryland.

I’m standing outside the House of Love Outreach Ministries, where we’re finally seeing signs the city of Pocomoke is beginning to heal.

It’s been nearly two years since the small town of Pocomoke, on Maryland’s lower eastern shore fired its first black police chief, Kelvin Sewell, amid allegations of racism. Sewell has since filed a lawsuit claiming he was let go for refusing to fire two black officers who filed discrimination complaints against the Worcester County Drug Task Force.

The Justice Department has joined the case. But later, Sewell was convicted for failing to investigate a 2014 accident involving two parked cars. But beyond all the controversy, residents say the town has changed since Sewell’s departure.

WOMAN: He made a difference in this town, and the crime is on the rise again since he’s been gone. It’s on the rise again. So, we miss him. We really, really wish he could have stayed. But, you know, things happen; so we have to leave things… sometimes we have to leave things alone.

TAYA GRAHAM: And nowhere is that more apparent than here, the Back Burn, the city’s predominantly African-American community. Vacant houses still abound. Trash litters the streets. A sense of despair, they say, has gotten worse since Sewell stopped walking the streets.

WOMAN: He cares. Not only for the black community, he cared for the town … as a whole. He cared for the whole town. Not so much because he was black and everything, you know, what went on in the black neighborhood, but he cared for everybody. He showed everybody the same respect, and we showed him respect.

TAYA GRAHAM: This neighborhood is also the focus of the same Worcester County Drug Task Force. Here, they would regularly conduct drug raids, targeting the city’s black community.

But amid the angst are also signs of hope here. At Pastor Moneywhite’s(?) Love Ministries Outreach… (background singing)

…residents turn to each other and God for spiritual comfort and unity, and that same community has come together around a new candidate for council they hope will give them a say in how they’re governed.

Monna VanEss is white, and has the support of the pastor, and the Citizens for a Better Pocomoke.

STEPHEN JANIS: Pastor, are the Citizens for a Better Pocomoke supporting Monna’s campaign, and what are they doing?

PASTOR: Yes, we are, and we’re supporting Monna’s campaign. We believe that this is going to be a big change for Pocomoke City. We’ve been out, going to door to door, trying to ravel… get the citizens and District 3 to come out and vote for Monna, and we believe it’s going to be a positive change.

TAYA GRAHAM: VanEss says her impetus for running is simple: to give citizens a voice on the council that has at times appeared to be out of touch.

STEPHEN JANIS: What finally made up your mind that you were going to go ahead and do this?

MONNA VANESS: Well, a couple of times, like, I did not get answers to questions. I felt like we were left out of the loop with city things that went on, and it was just… it just got very frustrating. There was no one particular thing, but it was just a build up of several things.

TAYA GRAHAM: And also to address the decay of neighborhoods like the Back Burn.

STEPHEN JANIS: What about Chief Sewell? Did that have anything to do with it?

MONNA VANESS: Um… (laughs) That kind of maybe was the launching point for all this, because I became more and more involved with this city, attending more city council meetings on a regular… more regular basis. And it just opened my eyes a little more to just how much things need to be changed.

TAYA GRAHAM: We asked her opponent, Councilman Dale Trotter, if he would like to talk with us. We have not heard back.

Meanwhile, in the Back Burn, the community spirit seemed high. Perhaps a hopeful voice based upon faith that change is finally coming to a small town on Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore.

WOMAN: (singing)

TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for The Real News Network in Pocomoke City, Maryland.

WOMAN: (singing)

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