Political Action Committee Focuses On Youth Issues

October 10, 1990|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff writer

A group of Columbia residents has formed a political action committee called the "Friends of Jon Bowie" in hope of bringing a fresh outlook to the county political scene.

The group, composed of about 25 members, has circulated approximately 2,000 pamphlets that endorse four political candidates as people with "courage, integrity, and sensitivity to youth-related issues."

Bowie was found hanged to death May 4 at a backstop on an Oakland Mills High School athletic field. His death sparked an outpouring of concern from his family and friends, who felt the 19-year-old Columbia resident was not the type to commit suicide.

"An outgrowth of the Jon Bowie case was the concern for how the young people of Howard County were being treated," said David Parrish, one of the group's members. "There is a general lack of respect from politicians, and police are accustomed to dealing with them in a heavy-handed way."

Endorsed in the pamphlet, titled "Jon Bowie Still Votes," are Richard J.

Kinlein, GOP candidate for state's attorney; JoAnn Branche, a write-in candidate for a circuit court judgeship (she lost to incumbent Judge James Dudley in September); incumbent county councilman Vernon Gray, D-3rd, and incumbent state delegate Virginia Thomas, D-13A.

The four were chosen because the organization, said the group has conducted small neighborhood meetings in an effort to inform county residents and their children about the perceived problem of "youth versus police."

"We feel that if there's going to be some change, it needs to be addressed politically," said Stewart, a Columbia resident. "Our committee is born out of the frustration of trying to navigate through channels that have not been effective."

The group is also selling T-shirts and plans to hold a Nov.3 masquerade dance. Those proceeds will go toward paying for an independent investigation into Bowie's death, Stewart said.

Attorneys representing the family of Jon Bowie announced in August that they planned to hire a forensic expert to analyze evidence found at the site of Bowie's death. So far approximately $1,000 has been raised.

Kinlein, who is running against of the interest they showed in the Bowie case and their apparent commitment to helping county youths, said Parrish, a friend of the Bowie family.

Although investigations by county police, a Howard County grand jury and state police found no suspicion of foul play in the death, "the politically tainted investigations never seriously sought to determine how Jon died," the pamphlet says.

"The investigators characterized Jon as a delinquent, a drug user, and an alcoholic," the pamphlet says. "Even if these things were true -- and they are not -- Jon, his family, and the community deserve factual answers resulting from a factual investigation."

In January of this year, Bowie and his brother Mickey charged that they were beaten and kicked by three county police officers who were breaking up a party at a Jessup motel.

The Friends of Jon Bowie, which is registered with both the state and county Board of Elections, contends that the January incident highlights the friction between youth and county police.

Barbara Stewart, a treasurer of the organization, said the group has conducted small neighborhood meetings in an effort to inform county residents and their children about the perceived problem of "youth versus police."

"We feel that if there's going to be some change, it needs to be addressed politically," said Stewart, a Columbia resident. "Our committee is born out of the frustration of trying to navigate through channels that have not been effective."

The group is also selling T-shirts and plans to hold a Nov. 3 masquerade dance. Those proceeds will go toward paying for an independent investigation into Bowie's death, Stewart said.

Attorneys representing the family of Jon Bowie announced in August that they planned to hire a forensic expert to analyze evidence found at the site of Bowie's death. So far approximately $1,000 has been raised.

Kinlein, who is running against longtime incumbent William R. Hymes for state's attorney, said county police and Hymes have shown "a demonstrated lack of sensitivity" for young people, as evidenced by the Bowie controversy.

Kinlein said he believes police brutality against youth is a definite problem in Howard County and states that he's "been made aware of complaints almost weekly." Most of the incidents, he said, are not reported or taken seriously.

A citizens' review board should be instituted to investigate brutality complaints, said Kinlein, who is the only Republican endorsed by the Friends of Jon Bowie.

"We're in an age of television-trained police, and Howard County is no exception," Kinlein said. "These guys think they can play 'Cop Rock' and go out and point guns at people's heads. We need to change that."

But Hymes, who has served as chief state's attorney since 1978, said he doesn't perceive a police problem and accused the Friends of Jon Bowie of unjustly making a political issue out of a young man's death.

"These people are just unwilling to accept the facts as they exist," Hymes said. "The state police investigation into Jon Bowie's death was one of the most thorough investigations I've seen in my life."

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