The goal of the ACLU of Maryland is to dismantle white supremacy and its systems that intentionally marginalize the needs and vision of people most impacted by injustice. We work to empower Marylanders to exercise their rights so the law values and uplifts their humanity. To achieve lasting change, we must be accountable to the individuals and communities that have experienced the most harm and trauma from Maryland’s oppressive systems. Our goal can make powerful individuals uncomfortable – particularly those who operate within America’s systems of oppression, whether they agree with them or not.
Senator Will Smith is one of those powerful leaders who appears to be uncomfortable with our approach. We have learned from organizational partners that Sen. Smith has said he will no longer interact with the ACLU of Maryland nor, specifically, with its executive director. And we have learned he has established a “No ACLU Rule,” requesting that our interim policy director be excluded from meetings with him during the 2022 Maryland General Assembly.
This is a big deal. Sen. Smith is chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where the majority of bills that the ACLU advocates for and against are considered. The ACLU of Maryland contacted Sen. Smith’s office on February 1 to request a meeting to discuss our legislative priorities and find ways to work together to advance freedom and accountability. Committee hearings have convened and deliberations continue, but we have received no response.
The last four years have been an evolving crisis point for Maryland and the country. It has also been a time when a Black woman has taken the helm of the ACLU of Maryland -- for the first time in our 90-year history – and when two Black women have led our policy work in Annapolis. Following the police murder of George Floyd, the ACLU of Maryland helped re-energize and support a massive, now-100+ member coalition working to realize police accountability, led by Black Marylanders directly impacted by police violence.
In fall 2020, Sen. Smith did reach out to the ACLU of Maryland as he and House leaders were preparing legislation to repeal Maryland’s extreme Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. During the height of the 2021 legislative session several dozen constituents of both Sen. Smith and Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, Judicial Proceedings Committee Vice Chair, held a car rally where people drove by the senators’ homes with signs urging them to heed the calls of Black Marylanders most impacted by police violence to create real community oversight of police misconduct.
We supported the constituent-led effort and provided information to the organizers on their First Amendment right to protest and to advocate for a stronger bill. While the senators have may have felt uncomfortable, the actions of Montgomery County constituents that day helped lead to greater community involvement components in the legislation.
Why has Sen. Smith apparently singled out the ACLU of Maryland as the one statewide advocacy group with which he refuses to meet, and cautioned his colleagues against engaging with us as well? The ACLU of Maryland, a large professional advocacy organization with both a Black woman executive director and a Black woman leading our work in Annapolis?
Dangerous and racist stereotypes often marginalize the leadership and voices of Black women as being too angry and too aggressive. We cannot allow the innovative community-centered race equity approach of the ACLU of Maryland to be dismissed by elected leaders who are uncomfortable with our leaders’ effective advocacy and our commitment to centering the expertise and demands of grassroots, community-based leaders.
We are intentional, strategic, and bold, and determined to advance race equity and dismantle white supremacy, both within our own organization and wherever it exists – including in Annapolis and in all branches of government. We work together with our 40,000+ member-donors as well as community groups in all 24 jurisdictions. This is what our many supporters expect of us.
We are here to work collaboratively whenever we can, but we are not here to make elected officials feel good about themselves. After 90 years of the ACLU of Maryland’s advocacy for racial justice and the rights of people experiencing the most insidious oppression, it is clear white supremacy is the foul soup we all swim in. We know creating lasting, equitable change is possible, and the time for business as usual has passed.