Pocomoke City, Md., has been torn asunder after its first black police chief, retired Baltimore cop Kelvin Sewell, was fired in June without explanation by a white mayor and majority white City Council that voted along racial lines, reports the New York Times. The drama has wrecked old friendships and exposed a deep racial rift in the Eastern Shore community of 4,100, split evenly between black and white. Sewell, 53, says his firing was racially motivated punishment for standing up for two black officers who experienced harassment. He had also filed a federal complaint alleging he was paid less than his white predecessor.
Black residents have demanded the chief's reinstatement and the resignation of Mayor Bruce Morrison. Morrison, who denies any racial motivation in the firing, says the chief's dismissal is a personnel matter that he cannot discuss. Sewell's troubles began when a black detective, Franklin Savage, complained of racial harassment while assigned to a regional drug task force. The firing has stirred a new spirit of African-American activism, and whites are organizing, as well. Many are bracing for a confrontation at a City Council meeting Monday night.