By Gabriel Pietrorazio, Masters Degree Candidate at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.
On Sunday mornings, the Greenbelt’s Municipal parking lot usually is a bustling epicenter filled with customers, but not this weekend.
The weekly Greenbelt Farmers Market had been cancelled because of the Labor Day holiday. Greenbelt’s famous Labor Day Festival had been cancelled, too, so it was a quiet Sunday in Old Greenbelt.
In the absence of local farmers setting up shop and consumers clamoring to purchase their fresh produce, there were some troublemakers standing in front of the town’s Municipal Building on the grassy patches along Crescent Road this sunny Sunday morning.
They call themselves Tony’s Troublemakers, a fairly new advocacy group in the area.
The name came naturally to them by drawing inspiration from Saint Anthony, the patron saint of lost causes, and the recent death of Tony McDade, a Black trans man who was killed this summer by police, like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor as well.
Even though McDade was suspected of participating in a stabbing in Tallahassee, Florida, Pallas Bane, co-founder of the organization, firmly believes that he “should not be met with lethal force.”
Bane may not actually live within the geographical boundaries of Greenbelt but considers this community her home and a place she deeply cares about.
The group has been standing on that same corner where Crescent and Southway intersect since the second week of June and even on Sundays, specifically to catch people on their way to the farmers market, according to Bane.
“We are here on Sundays for that reason. The rest of the time we’re here at 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. I did the math. We are coming up on 100 days. We’re not quite there yet,” she admitted.
Frederick Kamara (left), Bob Bane (center) and Pallas Bane (right) picket with signs just outside of the Municipal Building in Greenbelt on Sunday, September 6. Photo by the author.
Since the start of summer, the group’s protests have primarily focused on advocating for police reform and exposing racial inequities in Greenbelt, some that even extend beyond the scope of policing reform. But Bane wishes to see the passage of Maryland House Bill 1090, which is better known as Anton’s Law. Named after Anton Black, a 19-year-old Black man who had been killed while in the custody of local law enforcement in Greensboro, Maryland back in 2018.
“So, Anton’s Law gives access to complaints against police officers…Even claims that were never fully substantiated because the current system says that the people who investigate whether a claim of police misconduct is valid or not, are in fact the police,” Bane elaborated.
Bane’s father Bob chimed in while standing a little further down the road from her, saying, “They are the interface to our civil rights.”
Tony’s Troublemakers also support Mayor Colin Byrd’s Greenbelt Fair and Just Policing Act of 2020.
“Most of it is taking things that the Greenbelt Police already do and making it into city laws, as opposed to just police policies, because the idea is that if it’s a police officer, that should be an offence, not just a rules violation,” Bane explained.
Tony’s Troublemakers co-founder Pallas Bane stands in front of the Greenbelt Municipal Building with a sign that reads, “Black Labor Built Greenbelt” on the Sunday before Labor Day. Photo by the author.
Greenbelt’s History of Segregation
Greenbelt had been created in contradiction to its own espoused values, according to Bane. “In fact, both Black and white people built the City of Greenbelt in the ‘30s during the New Deal.” However, there was a catch: “Only white families would be accepted to move into the experimental town.” That’s despite Blacks having labored to pour the concrete for this new community, which would “remain an all-white community for several decades,” according to the Greenbelt Museum’s website.
Greenbelt was a sundown town – meaning that it was legal for Black people to work here, but not legal for them to live here or be present here after dark. That remained the case until 1961 when that law was repealed, but the first Black family did not move here until the late ‘60s,” Bane explained.
With her mind reflecting on this complicated history, Bane believes that the people of Greenbelt can no longer ignore the past, especially this holiday weekend.
“If we pretend that there’s nothing wrong, we can’t fix it. So, we are specifically out this weekend, especially making the point that this neighborhood was built by everyone and with the stated intention that it is for the people, of the people and by the people. There is a pro-union, pro-labor, pseudo communist vibe of old Greenbelt – except that we only started letting Black people in halfway through our history,” she explained.
Just next to her, Frederick Kamara sat silently and patiently in a white foldable chair nearby the curb, and yet the square white sign attached to his cane speaks louder than his own voice.
In a bold black font the sign reads: “DEMILITARIZE THE POLICE.”
Kamara is legally blind, and he came to this country from Sierra Leone and became a U.S. naturalized citizen.
He now lives with Pallas’s father in Bowie and even though his sight is impaired, he can still clearly see the same injustices that he’s protesting without any hesitation.
Kamara decided to support Tony’s Troublemakers from the start and says he’s “been coming here almost every day.”
The movement matters to him now more than ever as a Black man living in America.
“One thing above all else is the fact that the Black Lives Matter movement is something that appeals to me. It means a lot to me because I have been seeing things that show blatant discrimination against Black people in this country, and I believe that America should live by what the founders of this nation put in the Constitution. People are born with inalienable rights to life and property, to live as equals in this country, but especially under the present administration, that is being very rapidly eroded. White supremacy is taking firmer route than ever before,” Kamara claimed.
Frederick Kamara, a supporter of Tony’s Troublemakers, is legally blind and a U.S. naturalized citizen from Sierra Leone. Photo by the author.
Although Kamara has never actually seen footage of George Floyd being murdered in Minneapolis or the shooting of Jason Blake in Kenosha, he says he doesn’t have to see them in real time to believe that racial injustices exist
“The physical eye is one thing, but your mental and psychological eye is even greater than your physical. You can see something physically, but your perception of that thing may be different. So because of that, and even your interpretation of whatever, people see something, one thing and they interpret it in another way. You know, our man in the White House is an example,” he insisted.
Despite his own disability, he still stays well informed about current events, just like anybody else. “I have the same intelligence as anybody else. I’m highly educated, and I follow the news. I read and I go on the internet, and all of that. So, I am well informed.”
CARES Act, Too
For advocates, addressing issues of racial inequities is far from over, with the Greenbelt Racial Equity Alliance reportedly reviewing how CARES Act funding is being allocated right here in Greenbelt – especially on the food front. As Bane explains, “I know that they are having a subsection of the organization looking into specifically CARES funding for housing and food and how we can look through a proactively racial lens to ensure that its being fairly distributed.” Speaking for herself, she sees “serious inequalities” throughout Greenbelt, most visibly within public housing and the food sectors.
Even though the farmers market was closed, Tony’s Troublemakers were still receiving reactions from the community, showing that there are some who actually care about their cause. Some drivers honked their car horns while passing by along Crescent Road in both directions.
For a class in Public Affairs Reporting, Gabriel Pietrorazio is covering food insecurity in Prince George’s County. He came to Greenbelt on Sunday to talk to people at the Greenbelt Farmers Market. Stay tuned for his food insecurity story here on Greenbelt Online.