Spooky season is here and what is just around the corner is the 2022 General Assembly session, a time when we challenge evil legislative proposals and advocate for good ones that benefit all Marylanders. What scares us most this season is not just spooky spiders and ghastly ghouls, but wicked violations to our rights.
Thankfully, there are many ways you can get involved and take action to make a difference. Read about what scares us, and how you can help prevent a frightful future for Maryland and build a better community.
Yanet Amanuel, public policy advocate with the ACLU of Maryland, said: “What scares me most is our jails and prisons are continuing to be filled with people who are in there for marijuana related charges and marijuana will continue to be used as a tool by police to unfairly criminalize and over-police Black communities. We cannot stand by while marijuana is being legalized in other parts of the country, white people continue to profit from it, and Black people continue to be subjected to unnecessary police interactions, improper search and seizures, and be put in jail for doing the same things. It is racist and the harmful consequences of this includes not only arrests, incarceration, and lifelong criminal convictions, but also the loss of jobs, housing, financial aid eligibility, child custody, and immigration status.”
The failed War on Drugs has harmed Black communities for far too long. The devasting impacts are still seen today. In fact, in 2018, Black people were more than 2.1 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people in Maryland. This is a gross disparity.
That is why this legislative session, the ACLU is advocating for bills to curb overpolicing of Black people and offer redress for the harm caused by racially biased enforcement and criminalization. We will be supporting legislation to fully legalize recreational use of marijuana, to allocate 60% of the tax revenue from marijuana sales directly to communities in Maryland directly impacted by the war on drugs, and to prohibit the odor of marijuana alone from being used as probable cause to search a person or their vehicle. The bill also would implement automatic vacatur for previous marijuana related convictions and resentencing and vacatur for Marylanders currently serving a sentence for marijuana related convictions that arose from an incident where the odor of marijuana was the basis for probable cause to conduct the search.
The frightening racist history of drug laws in the U.S. is why legislation to legalize marijuana must be evaluated through a racial justice lens. We must ensure that the communities most impacted, and people previously convicted and currently serving prison sentences for marijuana violations, benefit retroactively from marijuana’s legal status. If you'd like to learn more about this issue, be sure to read our blog from last legislative session here.
Jay, Jimenez, legal program associate with the ACLU of Maryland, said, “What scares me most are cops.”
Police reform is one of the biggest issues we are tackling this upcoming legislative session. What we want is more police accountability and to protect and save the lives of Black people who are disproportionately killed by police at higher rates than any other race in Maryland. This session, we are advocating to expand the requirement for officers to wear body worn cameras to plainclothes officers as well and to remove cops from our children’s schools. All police should wear body worn cameras because it increases transparency and accountability to the communities being policed. Removing cops from schools would also protect Black, Indigenous, Children of Color, and children with disabilities who are disproportionately targeted by harsh discipline that would be more productively and humanely handled with restorative approaches. We believe these two issues will make a huge impact on our police reform work. Read more here on how you can call on legislators to pass these laws.
Amy Cruice, legal program manager and Know Your Rights director for the ACLU of Maryland, said: “What’s spooky to me about protecting the rights of all people in Maryland is the lack of practical information about our rights, how to exercise them, and the tools we have to advocate for ourselves and our communities. Police power and abuse thrives in a frightening fog of confusion, secrecy, and misinformation. That’s why the ACLU of Maryland is preparing to resurrect our Know Your Rights training program, and unleash our new Self-Advocacy Toolkit. Too often, the information people need to advocate for themselves and their communities is kept scarily secret. As an organization, we can choose to be a part of that system of secrecy or not. That’s why it’s our goal to compile and share all of the information, tips, and resources we can with people and communities directly impacted by police abuse. Through litigation and policy reform, we are working for systemic change. But it’s equally important to do our part to share information, tips and tools that can be used by individuals and communities in their advocacy for justice and accountability right now.”
The ACLU of Maryland’s Self-Advocacy Toolkit will feature everything you need to know about your options for seeking accountability after an incident of police misconduct, including police violence. The Know Your Rights program combines legal information about your rights during encounters with law enforcement with critically important tips for how to exercise your rights during the incident. The toolkit and Know Your Rights program are coming soon in 2022.
Deborah Jeon, legal director for the ACLU of Maryland, said: “What scares me most this year is what’s going on in some of our schools. Recently, a Black superintendent from Maryland’s Eastern Shore came under fire for supporting Black Lives Matter and had to fight a public battle just for telling Black children that she cared about them. Ultimately, a few vocal white parents drove her out, while waging a campaign to take over the local school board. Teachers and educators should not be faulted for teaching truths about Black history in America, nor for affirming the lives and identities of Black, Indigenous, and Students of Color through lessons in anti-racism. It horrifies me to see white people exerting power in this manner and getting away with it.”
We cannot stress just how important it is to talk to children about race and to be race-conscious and antiracist in schools. Cultural relevancy and race equity do belong in the classroom and only work to benefit children. If you’d like to learn more about this topic and why children benefit from an antiracist education, read “Talk to Kids About Race in Schools? Yes, We Should.”
Nicole McCann, communications and engagement strategist for the ACLU of Maryland, said: “It's scary how politicians across the U.S. are working overtime to force people to continue pregnancies against their will. It’s dangerous, cruel, and horrifying. It makes me want to scream.”
Abortion care is essential healthcare. Not only do abortions save lives, but every person has the right to decide if they would like to carry a pregnancy to term or not. We will never stop advocating for people’s right to choose. If you’d like to learn more about our work on this, read our blogs, “Abortion Rights Are On The Line” and "What does Mississippi have to do with abortion rights in Maryland?"
As you can see, there are many frightening laws and gruesome civil rights violations out there in the world – even when its not October – but we won’t ever stop advocating for your rights year round.
So before you journey on your trick or treating adventures, visit tombstones and pumpkin patches, or travel through a haunted house, don’t forget to get involved, take action, and prevent an eerie future for all Marylanders.
Images designed by Nicole McCann.