Local officials don’t feel threatened after congressional shooting

Derwin Montgomery

Local officials don’t feel threatened after congressional shooting
June 22
05:00 2017

Local elected officials say they don’t have the same security concerns as those on Capitol Hill.

Security for members of Congress has become a concern since a shooting last week in Alexandria, Virginia.

On June 14, a shooter opened fire at a practice for a congressional charity baseball game. GOP House Whip Steve Scalise was critically injured, as was lobbyist Matt Mika. Two Capitol Police officers and a House GOP aide were also shot. The shooter, who was shot dead by police officers, asked if Republicans or Democrats were practicing before he started the attack. Those practicing were all Republicans.

This is the first shooting of a member of Congress since U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, a Democrat, was shot at a public event in 2011 in an attack that killed a federal judge and five other people.

Security threats on a national level aren’t felt as much among local politicians. Democratic City Council Member Derwin Montgomery, who is one of the Chronicle’s owners, said that though he’s met passionate people as an elected official, he’s never felt “tremendously unsafe” even though there is rarely police presence at events he attends outside of town halls and council meetings.

“As an elected official you’re going to serve people, so you’re going to be engaging with people, but there is a requirement for people to stay vigilant in that process,” said Montgomery.

He said that some council members have gotten a few threats over the years and had an officer walk them out after the council meeting or requested additional security for a council meeting.

Montgomery said in the past there has been discussion about additional security measures at City Hall like photo ID visitor badges and a metal detector. He said the council decided not to do that in order to try to keep City Hall a welcoming space for the people.

“That’s a fear I have, that we’ll become too afraid to really engage in the way we need to,” he said.

Robert Clark, the City Council’s sole Republican, said that the shooting concerns him because elected officials are “very exposed,” though the danger on the local level is nowhere near that of state and local officials who deal with more heated debates. He said he didn’t believe the danger was greater for a particular political party since “there are crazy people on both side of the aisle.” He said he’s never been threatened and has always been treated civilly by his Democratic colleagues and the people he’s interacted with as a council member.

“We all get along well, we don’t have the animosity you see in Raleigh and Washington, but we are very vulnerable, I won’t deny that,” said Clark.

County Commissioner Chair Dave Plyler, a Republican, said he had “no worries” about the security of county commissioners, which is majority Republican.

“On the local level, absolutely, we don’t have a problem,” said Plyler.

Like the City Council, the commissioners have security at their meetings, but not at most community events they appear at.

Plyler said the only threat that he recalls a commissioner getting was during a much publicized debate on prayer before commissioner meetings when Walter Marshall got a phone call asking him if he knew what it was like to swing from a rope on a tree. The commissioners had extra security there on the night of the vote. (Walter Marshall passed away earlier this year.)

Plyler also said he believed threats of violence were a problem for both political parties.

County Commissioner Fleming El-Amin, a Democrat, has regularly attended community events since he was appointed to his position less than three months ago. He said he feels safe and has never felt threatened during his short time as a commissioner or his tenure on the local board of elections.

Fleming, who is also a former local party chair, said the only threat he recalled getting was a call during his bid for school board. After authorities traced the call, it turned out to be someone he knew who was trying to discourage him from running and not a serious threat.

All the elected officials who responded to The Chronicle said they hoped those injured in last week’s attack recover quickly and condemned the shooting.

“That’s just the opposite of what this county is about. We should be able to come to a disagreement and agree to disagree without injuring each other,” said El-Amin.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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