ANNAPOLIS, MD – Members of the Maryland Coalition for Justice & Police Accountability (MJCPA), advocates and individuals impacted by police brutality, celebrate the successful organizing that has advanced police transparency and accountability, but say Maryland’s historic police reform package still does not meet the moment.
Early last summer, MCJPA announced five legislative priorities identified as crucial for meaningful police reform in Maryland: 1) Repeal of LEOBR with real civilian oversight, 2) Control of the Baltimore City Police Department to Baltimore City residents, 3) Transparency into police misconduct investigations, 4) Limiting the use of force by law enforcement, and 5) Removing police from our children’s schools. More about the coalition’s priorities here.
“Since last summer, the coalition has grown to over 95 organizations representing communities all across Maryland,” said Yanet Amanuel, Public Policy Advocate at ACLU of Maryland. “Members remain committed to achieving racial justice in our state, and will monitor implementation closely and continue to advocate for many of the unmet demands of this session.”
“Hundreds of us testified before the legislature that we would not be satisfied until the community, external to the police department, had the power to investigate, adjudicate, and impose discipline onto police officers,” said Dawn Dalton, Co-Founder of JustUs & core member of Community Justice in Prince George’s County. “The legislature failed to do this. As a directly impacted mother of police violence, community control over police discipline is critical to me.”
Last summer, the Maryland Coalition for Justice Police Accountability reorganized and put survivors of police abuse at the helm of the campaign to transform policing in Maryland. These families demanded transformative change and a shift in the balance of power between police and the communities they are sworn to protect and serve. While several bills came up short, some progress was made and that progress is attributable to the relentlessness of these families and their refusal to settle for symbolic measures.
This session, the new leadership of the General Assembly sent a clear message: A better way forward is possible. Never before had our communities heard the Speaker of the House stand with them against police brutality. This rhetoric must be met with decisive and meaningful action to empower our communities and this session we worked with the General Assembly to take a step in that direction.
Passage of Anton’s Law, amending the Maryland Public Information Act to allow public disclosure of records of police misconduct investigations, will be transformative. Named for 19-year-old Anton Black who was killed by police in Greensboro, Maryland, Anton’s Law will allow communities to know whether their police departments are appropriately handling complaints of police abuse and punishing misconduct.
After 160 years as a state agency, legislation was passed that sets a path to return the Baltimore City Police Department to being an agency of the City of Baltimore. While advocates would have liked to see this happen more swiftly and directly, MCJPA and our Baltimore City partners in the Campaign for Justice Safety & Jobs (CJSJ) are pleased to embark on this first critical step to bring about this long-overdue change. The legislation calls for the formation of an advisory board to provide direction for the implementation of local control, requires a ballot initiative to pass in 2022 or 2024, and will likely require further action from the General Assembly to actually enact local control.
The use of force statute raises the legal standard to authorize force when it is necessary and proportional, based on the totality of the circumstances, to prevent an imminent threat of physical injury or effectuate a legitimate law enforcement objective. “We will have to stay vigilant to evaluate how the courts will interpret this standard to see whether more restrictions will need to be implemented to protect Maryland residents,” said Jossette Blocker, member of the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability. "I am an impacted family member who is traumatized by the effects of police brutality daily. My nephew is paralyzed because of the uUse of force of a Prince George’s County Police officer. That is why having a strong use of force bill to fully protect the people of Maryland matters so much, and why impacted family members testified until 1 AM pleading for reform and to come out of session with significant change. I am thankful for the legislators that took a stand to right the systemic racism that plagues my county.”
However, other aspects of the policing package miss the mark.
While the General Assembly repealed the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR), it failed to implement the most important element of police accountability – community oversight. Community oversight means that there is a community-controlled and operated entity that is external to the police department or state-imposed processes that has power to investigate, adjudicate, and impose discipline. While HB 670 has aspects of civilian participation in the disciplinary process, this is not the same as community oversight. Further, the General Assembly restored one of the most problematic aspects of LEOBR – trial boards – which have the final say on police discipline. Police chiefs still cannot be held accountable for officers going unpunished for their egregious behavior.
Two bills that were introduced this session to remove School Resource Officers from schools and reallocate funding to other critical school resources did not advance at all. “Weeks before the session ended, we all watched the horrifying video of Montgomery County school police terrorizing a 5-year-old boy,.” said Zakiya Sankara Jabar, Co-founder of Racial Justice NOW DMV. “Yet, legislators still decided not to act to remove police from our schools.”
The coalition is grateful for the progress that was made. We know that the work is not done and this session, more than ever, we were reminded of the power of the people to demand what is right. We will continue to fight in and with communities to shift power into the hands of those who are over-policed and abusively-policed.
Learn more at the MCJPA coalition website.