A group of about 30 protesters called for the Prince William Board of County Supervisors to reverse their decision to hire D.C.’s police chief Peter Newsham as the county’s next top cop.
With signs like “Fire Police Chief Newsham!” and “Newsham must go,” the protesters said they were dismayed at Newsham’s hiring, talking up his controversial tenure as D.C.’s chief of police and allegations of abuse made by his ex-wife nearly 20 years ago, when she requested and received a restraining order against him in 2002. In sworn testimony from the time, Newsham said he never initiated a violent confrontation with his wife, but that there had been occasions when confrontations became physical.
Newsham was announced as the county’s incoming police chief just before Thanksgiving after a 7-1 vote by the board. Woodbridge Supervisor Margaret Franklin was the only dissenting vote. Newsham is expected to start his new job on Feb. 1. In D.C., he was often at odds with an increasingly progressive city council on issues of transparency.
“We know based on our friends, community members out in D.C., that they’ve been trying to get him out for years,” said Aida Campos, the organizer of the protest. “We know how horribly he handled this year, and we frankly don’t want that in our community. He has a huge history, a long list of allegations of abuse in his personal life, and in his job. So we’re not interested in bringing that kind of violence here.”
The board has highlighted Newsham’s work in making the Metropolitan Police Department more diverse and more accurately representative of the city itself, save for the representation of women in the department, something Newsham told InsideNoVa is a challenge for nearly every police department. According to MPD data, Black officers made up a plurality of the department’s roughly 4,000 sworn officers. In Prince William County, on the other hand, Black residents make up about 22% of the county’s population but just 10% of the county’s police officers are Black. About 25% of the county’s residents are Hispanic, but just 11% of its cops are.
Board Chair Ann Wheeler said that was the biggest selling point for Newsham in the search process. In January, the county even hired an outside consultant to investigate the problem with representation on the police force.
But Campos, who said Tuesday’s protest came about when a number of people met voicing opposition during public comment at the Board’s last meeting, said she wasn’t moved by Newsham’s work in diversifying the force in the capital.
“It doesn’t matter what they look like, their force hasn’t changed,” Campos said. “It doesn’t matter what color their skin is, and we have D.C. organizers, researchers, folks at Howard University saying the same thing.”
Nancy Lyall, standing with a sign on Prince William Parkway, said she supported Democrats in the last county election, but was disappointed in their choice for police chief.
“We heard about the news and we were just outraged. … The people of D.C. are trying to get rid of him because he violates people’s civil rights, because he uses stop and frisk, because of all the things he’s doing.”
Eventually, some of the protestors used Tuesday’s public comment period to address the Board directly.
Salima Driss, a Woodbridge district resident, delivered a petition that she said had over 2,300 signatures from community members opposing the selection.
“We’ve heard countless times that you got community input on this decision, I’d like to ask you what community that was exactly,” Driss said. “We will not stop showing up … until the board terminates its contract with Peter Newsham.”