On June 11, 2018, a Montgomery County police officer fatally shot Robert White, an unarmed Black man who was walking in his own neighborhood. So far, no one has been held accountable for his death. Shamefully, this is not surprising. An ACLU report found that between 2010-2015, at least 130 people across Maryland died in police encounters. Eleven of those individuals were in Montgomery County. There was no accountability: Police were criminally charged in less than 2% of those cases.
The ACLU documented these statistics in reports in 2015 and 2016, following Freddie Gray’s death following an encounter with Baltimore Police officers, and many other police-involved deaths across the country. “Disturbingly, our report showed that Black Marylanders were killed in these police encounters at 5 times the rate of whites,” said Dana Vickers Shelley, the executive director of the ACLU of Maryland. “And the number of unarmed Black Marylanders who were killed at the hands of police was more than the total number of whites killed, whether or not they were armed.”
Black Marylanders make up only 30% of the population. Yet, nearly 70% of people that died in deadly police encounters between 2010-2014 were Black. A follow up report in 2015 found that number actually increased – to 81%, and 100% of those Black Marylanders who died were unarmed.
These statistics point to institutional racism and bias, and communities are calling for more transparency and accountability for law enforcement agencies to those Black and Brown communities most heavily policed. That’s why the ACLU strongly supports reforms like the proposed Law Enforcement Transparency and Trust Act in Montgomery County, which would require independent investigations of officer involved deaths. This proposal would not prohibit internal administrative review, but it would add an extra measure of independent investigation into these officer-involved deaths. If no criminal charges are filed against officers, the report must be released to the public.
Important reforms like the LETT Act would promote public confidence in Montgomery County’s Police Department and reduce the opportunity for conflicts of interest. Checks and balances are vital to our democratic government. “These officers are armed authority figures in the community who are entrusted with the task of protecting all residents,” said Shelley. “Why don’t we already have checks and balances for the actions of police, who have been granted the authority to actually use lethal force?”
Reports of police investigations into lethal use of force should also be open to the public. Transparency would uncover systematic racism and biases that permeate policing. This information would demonstrate the dire need for reforms across all aspects of policing.
Together, we must move forward and demand more for our communities.
You can show your support for independent investigations of officer involved deaths by contacting your Montgomery County councilmember and calling on them to vote YES the LETT Act.