Activists Leigh Crenshaw, Jonathan Hutto, Elsa Lakew (MCCRC / Progressive Maryland), and Mekdes Sisay at the rally.
About two hundred activists braved a bitterly cold evening on Martin Luther King Day in Annapolis’s Lawyers Mall — directly in front of the Maryland State House — to send the message to the Maryland legislature that police accountability reform would remain a key issue in 2016.
The rally, organized by the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability (MCJPA), was led by Larry Stafford (executive director of Progressive Maryland), who began by noting that he was determined and proud to be there despite the death, the day before, of a good friend and mentor. He went on to introduce speakers including Rev. Janelle Bruce (St. Johns Baptist Church), Delegate Diana Fennell*, Marion Gray-Hopkins and Darlene Cain (mothers of police victims), Lawrence Grandpre (Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle-Baltimore), Sara Love (ACLU-MD), Elsa Lakew (Progressive Maryland, also MCCRC), and youth leaders from CASA and City Bloc. Spoken word artist Lady Brion and singers Jordan, Ariana, and Caciana Garvin from the Restoration New Life Church performed as well.
Rallygoers and signs
Several speakers noted satisfaction at some of the progress shown by the recommendations of the Public Safety working group — but disappointment at the shortcomings of those recommendations, particularly the late breaking one that would actually increase FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) influence on use-of-force hearing boards.
Among the remarks:
- Larry Stafford (Progressive Maryland): “…as Dr. Martin Luther King has so often said, our duty is to struggle… Last year, as many of you know, there were many reforms brought before the General Assembly that did not pass… Then after the legislative session came the death of Freddie Gray, and the unrest and the uprising that we saw in Baltimore City. Only after that did the leadership begin to recognize that this is something we can actually make a difference on here in Maryland.”
- Rev. Janelle Bruce (St. Johns Baptist Church): “we’re here today because we’re tired of unchecked abuse of police power, God, we’re tired of seeing our children, our sisters, our brothers, God, die by a system of injustice…right now we pray for the heart of every single lawmaker that walks through these doors and sits as a public servant… when our legislators sit in their seats, God, let them remember Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland and Michael Brown and Tanisha Anderson…”
- Delegate Diana Fennell*: “…we will be sure to hold police accountable for their actions… We support you and thank you so very, very much.”
- Marion Gray-Hopkins: “Justice will not come unless we fight for it. Justice will not come until we fix this broken system. … We’re not going to win this battle as individuals. It’s going to require us to work collectively, by organizing in our churches, civil organizations, and our homes.”
- Elsa Lakew (Progressive Maryland, MCCRC): “I just want to say to some of these legislators even though they’re not here with us… that black folks do not need your remorse, black people do not need any more of your tears, what we need you to do is pray, yes, but pray on your feet… by going into your offices, advocating for accountability legislation to finally be passed.” (Ms. Lakew’s prepared remarks can be read here.)
- Sara Love (ACLU-MD): “A lot of the recommendations that the work group put out are good — they don’t go far enough, and we need to push them to be stronger — but one of them is downright horrible. At the last minute the FOP added a recommendation that would give them control over discipline! It could mandate that the… internal hearing boards that are convened to decide whether an officer [has] engaged in misconduct would be dominated by the FOP. Now let’s remember that the FOP are the people who think the officers in the Freddie Gray case did nothing wrong… I want each and every one of you to call your legislators and tell them that recommendation cannot pass.”
- Lawrence Grandpre (LBS): “…under the recommendation given out by the work group, they want to make it so that you have to divulge your full name and identity to the police when you pose a complaint. These are the same people who have harassed you and abused you, and now they know who you are, and if they wanted to retaliate, now they can. […] I want you to remember a few things about these so-called reforms. Even… if everything they proposed passed, Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBOR) would be roughly the same as Arizona’s and Louisiana’s — even after reform! On top of that, the provision Sara is talking about, they took that straight out of Rhode Island, they took the worst provision from Rhode Island and brought it on down south here to Maryland. …That’s the way that they play the game here in Maryland for years: tell you that they’re going to reform, put the knife 7 inches in your back, pull it out 3 inches and call that progress.”
Here is a video playlist of the evening’s speakers.
Groundlevel snapshot, die-in. (My fingers were too numb to focus the picture.)
The highlight of the event was a moving die-in. As the first names, counties, and races of dozens of Maryland police-involved fatalities were read out, participants, one by one, took a sheet of paper for each victim and lay down in front of the “Equal Justice” monument to Thurgood Marshall with a small electric candle. (Mine was Jason, white, in Baltimore County.)
Regardless of the circumstances for any individual case, we must wonder how many of them could and should have been handled without loss of life — and we must insist on public accountability for all of them, and for real reform, not progress in some areas undermined by defeat in others. As Lawrence Grandpre concluded his remarks,
“Right now, we’re mainly willing to hear the process. If they continue to not hear our demands, we are going to disrupt the process. And if they continue not to heed the community, we will be left with no choice but to try to end the process.”
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* EDIT, 1/26: The delegate on hand was Del. Diana Fennell, not Barbara Robinson. We regret our error.