An African American life stolen in DC: We demand accountability

BY: | June 1, 2020
An African American life stolen in DC: We demand accountability


On the afternoon of May 7, 2020, Montgomery County Police Sgt. David Cohen murdered Mr. Finan Berhe, a beloved 30-year-old White Oak resident, who was in distress in front of his home when police arrived on the scene.

Sgt. Cohen has been placed on paid administrative leave by the Montgomery Country Police Deparment (MCPD) following the killing. The full press release from the MCPD along with the body camera footage it provided can be seen here. (Please be advised that the body camera footage is traumatic, please do not watch if it may disturb you and seek support if needed).

The footage depicts Sgt. Cohen drawing his gun instantly upon exiting his vehicle, and shooting to kill Finan Berhe within two minutes of his arrival. In the video, we see Cohen aggressively advancing forward with a gun pointed at Mr. Berhe, who is backing away into a corner of the parking lot where Cohen enters the scene. The officer yells several warnings in Mr. Berhe’s direction and orders him to “drop the knife,” but the video clearly shows that Mr. Berhe is in an agitated state and possibly suffering from a mental health crisis at the time of the event. From the outset of the encounter, all signs pointed to a resident in distress. Most notable of these signals were 1) a neighbor had called MCPD at Mr. Berhe’s request, and 2) there were no other residents in the immediate vicinity. The video shows that the officer’s escalation of the situation was the impetus of the conflict that resulted in the loss of an innocent man’s life.

The Montgomery County Police Department has a history of racist behavior toward black men. In 2018, Robert Lawrence White, a 41-year-old unarmed black man, was fatally shot in Silver Spring. Last July, then-acting Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones delivered a non-apology after bodycam footage showed his officers calling two black men racial slurs. Most importantly, this killing is not the first time a black man has been murdered unjustly by the MCPD, and the lack of meaningful responses to these previous injustices by the department shows a complete absence of accountability.

The District of Columbia club of the Communist Party USA condemns the unnecessary aggression of Sgt. David Cohen that resulted in the killing of Finan Berhe. Finan’s life mattered, and we are outraged by the unacceptable police response to this situation and his avoidable death. We demand the following:

  • Fire Sgt. David Cohen immediately and indict him for the murder of Finan Berhe.
  • Release the May 7th 911 call by Finan Berhe’s neighbor leading up to the incident.
  • Release May 7th communications between MCPD dispatch and Sgt. Cohen.
  • Call for District Commander Francke and Chief Jones to resign immediately.
    • They have failed to provide guidance and oversight of the officers under their respective commands to ensure residents in distress do not die because of police incompetence. They have not implemented de-escalation recommended by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and Police Executive Research Forum and are therefore responsible for Finan Berhe’s death.
  • Condemnation of the killing by the MCPD and acknowledgment of the loss of life to the family of Finan Berhe due to the reckless negligence of Sgt. Cohen.
  • Fully defund offices in the 3rd District Patrol Services and Field Service Bureaus, with urgent focus on the following divisions: Special Assignment Team (SAT), District Community Action Team (DCAT), School Resource Officers (SROs), Special Operations Division (SOD), and Security Services Division (SSD).
  • Direct all funds previously reserved for 3rd district offices into community-enriching programs immediately related to the accessibility of healthcare, educational services, affordable food services, drug rehabilitation centers, and low-income housing developments in the area.
  • Commit to never again vote to increase funding to the 3rd district police offices.
  • Implement and report to the public on progress setting up an agreement with a non-MCPD outside agency for investigation of police shootings, as required by the LETT Act. (This report to the county council was due April 30 and is already over one month late.)
  • Require MCPD officials to organize a committee hosting regular meetings between members of the Silver Spring community and the MCPD about progress of defunding efforts and de-escalation training programs in order to ensure future accountability and transparency between the MCPD and the general public.
  • Appoint civilians (with explicit preference for those who experience disproportionate harm from police: black residents, latinx residents, indigenous residents, LGBTQ+ residents, youth, people with disabilities, and residents experiencing homelessness) to the Policing Advisory Committee.

Though these actions will not bring back Finan, it is absolutely necessary to take actions that attempt to repair the harm that this killing created and prevent the further loss of black lives at the hands of MCPD officers. For this reason, we demand the defunding of the MCPD and investment in alternatives to policing that empower the community.

Jamal Rich, Chairperson, DC CPUSA
Sean Sullivan
May 29, 2020

Image:  hwhoo-hwhare, Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA 2.0).


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