SB0566 and LEOBOR reform in Maryland — what is it, why is it needed?

Maryland flagThe centerpiece of coalition police reform efforts in Maryland this year is overhauling the so-called “Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights” (acronym LEOBOR or LEOBR), codified in Section 3 of the Public Safety article of the Maryland Code.  The main vehicle for doing so is SB0566 (“Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights – Alterations”), displayed in its current form at the end of this post, and the corresponding house bill HB0698.

As ACLU Maryland’s executive director Susan Goering wrote for the Baltimore Sun in mid January,

Enacted in 1974, Maryland’s LEOBR is one of the most extreme such laws in the country. It covers two components of the disciplinary process: the internal investigations that may lead to a recommendation of disciplinary action against a police officer and procedures that must be followed once an investigation results in a recommendation of discipline.

As currently structured, LEOBR grants police officers special rights when they are investigated for misconduct, imposes significant impediments to conducting an adequate investigation and takes responsibility for discipline away from police chiefs.

In particular, an ACLU-MD briefing paper notes that an officer can not be questioned by superiors for 10 days following an incident, and excessive force complaints must be brought within 90 days of the incident. Moreover, currently a hearing board happens first, the police chief’s action second — the reverse of what happens for other state and local employees.

Reform should also mean enabling strong civilian review boards, rather than just internal reviews by unconsciously or consciously biased colleagues.  Goering:

Self-review by public institutions is rarely the best form of ensuring a thorough, transparent and effective evaluation. Yet currently LEOBR precludes meaningful civilian review by mandating that only police can investigate or discipline other police. Reforms will preserve the ability of localities to construct meaningful civilian review boards.  (link added)

As ACLU’s Toni Holness put it for Afro.com, “It’s the issue of who is policing the police. … They cannot police themselves. The conflict of interest in cases of police misconduct and brutality is very clear.”

A look at SB0566 reveals the key passages where additions (in ALL CAPS) or deletions [bracketed out] begin to reform Maryland’s outdated LEOBR:

  • p.2, lines 1-8:  revisions cause internal hearings to come after discipline, not before.
  • p.2, lines 27-29: the deletion of this language ends the 90 day window for complaints.
  • p.3, lines 16-20: ends officer access to investigative results before he or she is questioned.
  • p. 4, lines 12-15: ends the initial 10 day ‘obtaining counsel’ period’ during which the officer may not be interrogated (without, of course, denying the right to counsel when interrogated).
  • p.6, lines 20-21: extends window of investigation to any time within one year of a successful civil claim by the plaintiff
  • p.7, lines 17-19: adds that residents of the jurisdiction may be appointed to appeals hearing boards

On the other hand, SB0566 does not specifically authorize strong, independent civilian review boards; in particular, it does not revise any element of Section 3 part 102, specifying that the section supersedes any other law of the State, county, or municipal corporation., and it appears to leave civilian appointments to the appeals hearing process at the discretion of the police chief.

That said, the reforms in SB0566 are extensive and worthwhile — and it will take work to get this law passed.  Our information is that…

  • State Senator Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore City), chair of Judicial Proceedings Committee

    As chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, Senator Bobby Zirkin (D11) is the key to SB0566 passage out of committee, and will be the key person that will make the case to the Senate President and the entire chamber on what happens with the legislation. Coalition advocates tell us “he is the number one Senate target.”

    Phone: 410-841-3131 | 301-858-3131| Toll-free: 1-800-492-7122 ext. 3131
    Email: bobby.zirkin@senate.state.md.us
    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bobbyzirkin
    Web: http://www.bobbyzirkin.com/

    Tell him you support LEOBR reform and SB0566, and hope that he will support its vote out of committee and on the floor.

  • The corresponding House committee chairman for HB0698 is Joe Vallario (D23b)
    Phone: 410-841-3488 | 301-858-3488 | Toll-free: 1-800-492-7122 ext. 3488
    Email: joseph.vallario@house.state.md.us
    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DelegateJoeVallario
  • Two area Democratic delegates are also targets on the House committee side.  Both reportedly have police officer relatives and may not support the bill.
    1. Kathleen Dumais (D15: Montgomery County – Poolesville/Barnesville)
      Phone: 410-841-3052 | 301-858-3052 | Toll-free: 1-800-492-7122 ext. 3052
      Email: kathleen.dumais@house.state.md.us
    2. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D23a: Prince Georges County – Bowie)
      Phone: 410-841-3101 | 301-858-3101 | Toll-free: 1-800-492-7122 ext. 3101
      Email: geraldine.valentino.smith@house.state.md.us
      Ms. Valentino-Smith is reported to believe police abuse is not a problem in Maryland.  She is also Deputy Majority Whip, so her commitment to the bill would be important if it passes to the floor.
  • Consider thanking area Delegates Alfred Carr ( 1-800-492-7122 ext. 3638) and Ana Sol Gutierrez (1-800-492-7122 ext. 3181) for co-sponsoring HB0698.

Continue reading

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Speakers at this Friday’s town hall

We’re honored to have a wonderful group of speakers for this Friday’s event, “Police Abuses in Maryland: hear the stories, act for reform.” First, details about the event:

WHERE: Takoma Park Community Center, 7500 Maple Avenue, Takoma Park, MD (map), Azalea Room
WHEN: Friday, February 27th, 7-9 pm
(click here to RSVP at the Facebook event page)

Our speakers include:

Marion Gray-Hopkins (mother of police shooting victim Gary Hopkins)

Marion Gray-Hopkins is a mother of 3 adult children, grandmother of 6 and great grandmother of 2. She is currently retired after nearly 40 years in the banking industry. Her son Gary A Hopkins, Jr. was killed by police in 1999. She has participated in numerous marches and rallies to support reform against police brutality. Most recently she was engaged with the CODE PINK Organization to hear the stories first hand from mothers across the country who have lost their sons at the hands of  the police violence. She is a member of the PG County Peoples Coalition for Justice, and is actively involved in working towards reform of laws to stop the unjust killings of people of color.

Sara Love, ACLU-MD

Sara Love (policy director, ACLU Maryland)

Native Chicagoan Sara Love became the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland’s Public Policy Director in 2012 after serving as Board President for four years.  Love attended Princeton University and Northwestern University School of Law.  Previously, Love was the General Counsel and Legal Director at NARAL Pro-Choice America. Prior to that, she was Legal Director for the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Clinic Access Project and General Counsel to the National Women’s Health Foundation.

Oludipe Comfort Olubunmi at “Justice Monday” vigil, 1/26/2015

Oludipe Comfort Olubunmi (mother of police shooting victim Emmanuel Okutuga)

Emmanuel Okutuga, age 26, was shot and killed by MCPD police officer Christopher Jordan in Silver Spring on February 19, 2011.  Ever since, Ms. Olubunmi, known as “Mama Emmanuel,” has been active in calling for police accountability, establishing the “JusticeForEmmanuel” web site and joining numerous demonstrations in the DC area calling for an end to police-involved shootings like Okutuga’s.

Rion Dennis (executive director, Majority Minority Foundation)*

Rion Dennis has over a decade of experience as an organizer and activist in Maryland having served as Executive Director of Progressive Maryland and Regional Director of the NAACP. Mr. Dennis now heads up a new non-profit called the Majority Minority Foundation with a mission to prepare communities of color for our nation’s demographic shift to a majority minority populace.

Darlene Cain (mother of police shooting victim Dale Graham)

Darlene Cain is a mother from from Baltimore, Maryland. On October 28, 2008, her 29-year-old son Dale Graham was killed by a Baltimore City police officer. Since then she has been dedicated to lifting the voices of those who have had a family member killed by the police fbut were never given true justice and closure. She is is President and founder of MOTHERS ON THE MOVE.

Howard University: “Hands Up Don’t Shoot”

Leighton Watson (Howard University Student Assoc. president)

A 22-year-old Grand Rapids, Mich., native, Mr. Watson helped stage a viral photo at Howard University in August after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Since the photo, Mr. Watson has continued to speak out about injustices against young African Americans, including a speech at the Justice for All March in Washington, D.C.  He is president of Howard University’s student association and an ambassador for BET’s What’s at Stake initiative.  Mr. Watson is set to graduate in May, and hopes to get a Juris Doctor/Master of Business Administration joint degree and eventually practice law, start a successful practice — and go back into public service.

Tomas Alejo (“Identity” youth center director) (or designated alternate)

Mr. Alejo has worked for “Identity”, a Hispanic youth and family services agency, since 2013. He holds a Masters degree in Social Work from San Jose State University and a Bachelors Degree in Sociology from the University of California at Santa Cruz. Tomas is originally from Northern California where he gained experience working with formerly incarcerated, homeless, and gang-impacted populations with a focus on substance abuse. He has worked and interned at various social service agencies providing case management, advocacy, and therapy, and has served on the steering committees of the Santa Cruz Resource Center for Nonviolence, and the Santa Cruz Community Coalition to Overcome Racism.

Elsa Lakew

Elsa Lakew (#BlackLivesMatter and MCCRC activist)

Elsa Lakew grew up in Silver Spring and attended Montgomery Blair High School.  She now majors in economics at Howard University.  Elsa organized a #BlackLivesStillMatter “die-in” at Wheaton Plaza on January 1st, signifying a refusal to “to ring in 2015 by continuing to stay silent.”

Despite her youth, Ms. Lakew already has a long activist track record, helping blow the whistle on an Islamophobic event in Chevy Chase four years ago that led to a successful forum on the “creeping Sharia” myth.

Dr. Menna Demessie (senior policy analyst, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation)

Dr. Menna Demessie is a senior research and policy analyst for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc. (CBCF) where she works on public policy issues relevant to African Americans. In her latest publication, Toward A More Inclusive America: African Americans & Voting Rights, she discusses the significance of restrictive voting law changes in the context of the Voting Rights Act and new age discrimination.

Prior to joining CBCF’s staff, Dr. Demessie worked for Representative Barbara Lee as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow focusing on unemployment legislation, poverty, and foreign policy.  She holds a joint doctorate in Public Policy and Political Science, a Master of Arts in Political Science and Certificate in African American, African and Black Transnational Studies from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Law and Society from Oberlin College.

David Moon. Image and bio via MD Leg. Archives

Delegate David Moon (D-20)

Native Takoma Park resident David Moon has been a member of the Maryland House of Delegates since January 14, 2015, where he serves on the Judiciary Committee.  Perhaps best known, before becoming delegate, for the pathbreaking “Maryland Juice” politics blog, Among the varied positions he’s held, Mr. Moon has worked as campaign director for Senator Jamie Raskin and County Councilmember Nancy Navarro, chief operating officer for the voting system advocacy group FairVote, and program director for the Internet advocacy group DemandProgress.

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Bio references
Information from these sources was adopted in whole or in part:

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Police reform bills to watch in Annapolis – especially next Thursday

mdstatehouseA raft of Maryland police and justice reform bills will get their first public reviews in Senate Judicial Proceedings committee hearings next Thursday, February 26th in Annapolis.

Here are the police and police-reform bills we’ll be watching*:

  • SB0566 (HB0968): Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights – Alterations
  • SB0413 (HB0339): Vehicle Laws – Race-Based Traffic Stops – Policy and Reporting Requirements
  • SB0653 (HB0112): Criminal Procedure – Police-Involved Death – State Prosecutor

While MCCRC supports these three bills, our feelings are more mixed about another one, despite its support by Senators Raskin, Madaleno, and other stalwart civil liberties advocates in the Maryland legislature:

  • SB0482 (HB0627): Public Safety – Law Enforcement Officers – Body-Worn Cameras

In part, we question the value of body cams for accountability in the first place, regardless of safeguards; in part, we don’t see enough of those safeguards in this bill.

To be sure, we very much welcome that this bill ensures that police can’t pick and choose when to activate their cameras, that they can’t use them to surveille constitutionally protected activities (i.e., demonstrations or meetings), and that retrospective investigative use must at least be based on reasonable suspicion (though we’d prefer a probable cause standard).  On the other hand, the bill doesn’t appear to set storage time limits — as recommended by the national ACLU.**  It’s also not (yet?) clear to us how strong its safeguards  are against sharing body cam video with federal agencies, or whether it prevents unwarranted, real-time comparison of streaming, live data against biometric or other datasets.

Finally, there’s one bill we’re decidedly against — and we’re relieved to see it has no support in the Senate, at least not yet:

  • HB0028: Primary and Secondary Education – Security – School Resource Officers

We’ll have more on the merits of  each of these bills in future posts.  Meanwhile, the statewide “Maryland Coalition for Justice and Equality” is preparing for a massive show of support for the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBOR) reform,”Driving While Black” traffic stop reporting, and state prosecutor bills:

  • The ACLU of Maryland is urging police reform supporters to show up in force next Thursday, and is especially interested in soliciting testimony about police abuses and reform
    • from police abuse victims or their family members
    • from concerned citizens and activists
  • Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle” in Baltimore are preparing to bring busloads of grassroots lobbyists to Annapolis on Thursday
  • MCCRC will host a town hall next week — the day after the February 26th Senate hearings, but just under two weeks before corresponding House hearings on March 12th — on the topic of police abuses and reform.

Stay tuned.

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* Senate bills are SB____,  the corresponding House bills are HB____.
** ACLU, Oct 2013: “Retention periods should be measured in weeks not years, and video should be deleted after that period unless a recording has been flagged.”

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Townhall on police abuses in Maryland: hear the stories, act for reform

In support of a sweeping Maryland Coalition for Justice and Equality (MCJE) police reform legislative agenda in Annapolis, Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition will be hosting a town hall next week titled “Police Abuses in Maryland – hear the stories, act for reform.”

WHERE: Takoma Park Community Center, 7500 Maple Avenue, Takoma Park, MD
WHEN: Friday, February 27th, 7-9 pm
(click here to RSVP at the Facebook event page)

Confirmed speakers include:

More about each speaker can be found here.

The town hall will take place the day after critical Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee hearings on police reform legislation supported by MCJE and MCCRC.

So come prepared learn about how those hearings went, and come prepared to call, text, email and/or tweet selected Annapolis legislators about reform bills like SB0566 (law enforcement officer ‘Bill of Rights’ (LEOBOR) reform) and SB0653 (state prosecutor for police-involved deaths).

Co-sponsors include ACLU Montgomery County, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Council on American Islamic Relations (Maryland), Defending Dissent Foundation, and HandsUpCoalition DC.

Watch this space for updates on speakers and co-sponsors.

#BlackLivesMatter on the streets today — in the State House tomorrow!

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EDITS: 2/19: Mr. Dennis is no longer an NAACP Regional Field Director. We mistakenly indicated otherwise, and regret the error. 2/20: ACLU Montg. County and HandsUpCoalition DC added as co-sponsors. 2/25: added links to subsequent posts about speakers and Maryland Senate committee hearings.

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Tell us your police stories, Maryland

We already know of many stories of police abuse in Maryland — but if you have one, we want to hear yours too. Whether it involves yourself, someone you know, or someone else, please tell us about it in the form provided — so legislators in Annapolis can know about it.

Here’s the list of Maryland police-involved deaths we read out on January 24th and again on the 26th:

Here’s a wider list, which we’ve compiled from four sources so far.  Two — the Washington Post’s 2001 “The Blue Wall of Silence“ series (via ppsc.org), and  Fatal Encounters (2013-2015 data from Maryland news and public information) focus on police-involved deaths.  A third, US Police Shootings, includes nonfatal shootings; a fourth, Gun Violence Archive: Officer-involved Shootings, is less detailed than the others.


(download)

Asterisks in the second column indicate cases that, on their face, seem particularly problematic, whether because of an unarmed victim, questionable police choices, and/or other reasons.  (Not all of the cases have been evaluated, so that this roster may grow.)  Duplicates are marked as such in the third column, with the preferred record indicated with an asterisk.

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Save The Internet! with Popular Resistance

Advance elements of the banner-holding, demonstrating wing of the “Save The Internet” movement met tonight at Marx Cafe for beers, music, and an update about recent welcome ‘net neutrality’ news (and a look ahead to the next few weeks) from PopularResistance.org‘s Kevin Zeese.

The big news, of course, was FCC chair Tom Wheeler’s announcement yesterday:

…I am proposing that the FCC use its Title II authority to implement and enforce open internet protections.

Using this authority, I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC. These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services.

…including mobile broadband. In his blog post today (Major Historic Victory For Internet Freedom: The Fight Continues) recalling months of direct action activism, Zeese called the decision a “victory of people power over corporate power, indeed over one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, DC the telecom industry.”

In his remarks last night, Zeese acknowledged that while PopularResistance.org has been working on the issue for just ten months, other groups — like FreePress.net, also represented at the gathering — had been working on it for years.  Between now and the final decision at the end of the month, though, it may be that the technical expertise and online savvy of groups like FreePress, DemandProgress, EFF, EPIC, and Fight For the Future will need allies like PopularResistance.org and other groups emphasizing people power on the streets.

Without going into details, Zeese spoke of making cable company opponents to net neutrality “toxic” in public opinion — which may not be too hard a sell, actually.  As net neutrality opponents push back desperately in the next few weeks before the February 26 decision, I’m guessing we’ll see Zeese, co-director Margaret Flowers, and their supporters doing what they do best: reminding Washington, D.C., that it must at least occasionally listen to and heed the people and not the cable companies of the United States.

Save The Internet!

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Police body cameras: eyes on us, not on them?

In the wake of the Michael Brown shooting and subsequent non-indictment of officer Darren Wilson, many (including Michael Brown’s family) made the understandable call for police body cameras, since such a device might have provided visual documentation for the claims or counterclaims made in that case.

But are body cameras are really going to be effective, long-term means of making police more accountable to the public?  Or will they just be another device to switch on and off as it suits the cop on the beat — while providing another surveillance stream of unwarranted, suspicionless observations to sift and analyze long after the recording?

Problems with body cams
Writing for Truthout, Bill of Rights Defense Committee director Shahid Buttar gives three reasons to suspect that body cameras are no solution to police violence:

First, there’s no guarantee that the public will ever see footage from police body cameras, especially in cases where it may be helpful to defendants or civil litigants. […]

Second, even when body camera footage is public, it remains an inadequate solution at best. Cameras captured video of Eric Garner’s death, which millions of people watched on YouTube. But video neither saved Eric Garner nor helped hold his murderers accountable.

Moreover, even when everything does work as their proponents suggest, body cameras offer transparency only into particular incidents, not into patterns or practices.

Similarly, while one might expect that a grassroots organization named “Stop LAPD Spying” would oppose body cameras, their excellent four-page fact sheet supports that skepticism with references to news reports and studies from around the country.  Among their additional points: *

Dueling studies don’t prove body camera value, raise new issues
Of course, body camera proponents will point to their own favored studies and news reports, but these often prove less than overwhelming on closer scrutiny — and countervailing studies complicate the picture further.

Rialto, CA
One of the favorite studies cited by bodycam supporters shows that in a randomized trial of Rialto, CA Police Department shifts over a 13 month period, shifts with body cameras recorded fewer uses of force per police-public contact; use of force fell by 60%, while complaints filed fell by nearly 90%.

Yet on closer examination there were 7 months with essentially indistinguishable use of force rates, 1 month with a higher rates by body camera shifts, and just 5 months with distinctly lower use of force rates during the 13-month trial.

More to the point, a one-off 13 month trial simply can’t prove what the authors set out to claim –When we become aware that a video-camera is recording our actions, we also become self-conscious that unacceptable behaviors are likely to be captured on film, and the perceived certainly of punishment is at its highest.”  That seems to make sense on first blush — but depends in turn on whether those behaviors are actually, consistently judged to be unacceptable.  As experience ‘getting around’ or simply explaining away video footage accumulates (as seemed to happen in the Eric Garner case, for example), officers will simply learn how to game their cameras by turning them off, pointing them in an inconclusive direction –or narrating comments for the eventual record like “OK, I’m afraid for my life now.”

Fusion.net report
Meanwhile, other reports document the questionable implementation and utility of body cameras.  One in particular — “Investigation of 5 cities finds body cameras usually help police,” by Connie Fossie-Garcia and Dan Lieberman of Fusion.net — notes that Continue reading

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Civilian Review Boards: activist and association views

Police reform advocates like the newly forming Coalition for Justice and Equality and coalition member ACLU of Maryland are taking a close look at the “Law Enforcement Bill of Rights” (LEOBR), the statute that governs procedures when Maryland police stand accused of wrongful injury or death.  One measure under discussion is to authorize strong Civilian Review Boards (CRBs) that could serve as an independent, civilian check on police.  I decided to do a little research.

Lessons from Charlotte, NC
MCCRC’s long-time ally and coalition partner, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC) is in touch with activists around the country with experience in trying to make CRBs work.  They put us in touch with one of those activists: Robert Dawkins, a Democracy North Carolina organizer whodemocracync‘s had notable success in reforming the Charlotte, NC Civilian Review Board.  In a phone conversation, Mr. Dawkins identified some of the key issues as …

  • Information gathering: i.e., is the board empowered to make informed decisions?  Police departments often only share summaries of a case rather than whole case file, citing concerns about confidentiality.  Perhaps understandably, it’s a key issue for police unions — but the practice meant CRB members were forced to take the police department’s word about the case, rather than review it themselves.   The solution to the dilemma was for Charlotte CRB board members to sign confidentiality agreements — and see the full case files.
  • Threshold for investigation: before the Charlotte reforms, its CRB could only go forward with cases where a “preponderance of evidence“supported the complaint (n.b.: when much of that evidence was unavailable to the board and plaintiffs).  That was too high a burden, one leading to game-changing headlines that the “CMPD review panel rules against citizens – every time” (Charlotte Observer 2/16/13):  “…It’s not surprising citizens have never won: The board has no independent power to investigate, and citizens must meet an unusually high standard of evidence for the board to even hold a formal hearing.”  After months of debate, Charlotte City Council revised the process: the new threshold for review was “substantial evidence” supporting the complaint.
  • Difficulty for plaintiffs: the complaint process can be confusing and bureaucratic; while the police officers and their lawyers are familiar  with it, new plaintiffs are not.  The city of Charlotte now appoints advocates to help plaintiffs navigate the process.
  • Transparency: reforms in Charlotte helped make it easier to know who was on the CRB, how often they met, and how they are appointed — keeping both the board and the city government that appointed its members accountable to the public.

But the principal issue for a truly effective CRB — one that’s “worth a hill of beans,” to quote Mr. Dawkins — is this:

  • Decision making power:what power does the board have to subpoena or investigate independently? In Charlotte, the answer unfortunately remained: “none.”  State laws would need to be changed for North Carolina CRBs to get real power.  There’s an excellent proposed Prohibition of Discriminatory Practices Bill,” sponsored by Rep. Rodney Moore, that would give North Carolina CRBs subpoena authority, but it’s unlikely to be passed by the state legislature.

NACOLE
There’s an association for everything, so there’s one for CRBs: the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE). For those of us who’d like to learn more about CRBs, the NACOLE web site provides a listserv, newsletter, detailed oversight agency profiles and enabling legislation for CRBs in cities from Albany to Portland and San Francisco, as well as a number of backgrounder white paper reports.

The association has submitted a statement to the Presidential Commission on 21st Century Policing,” the body convened by President Obama in response to events in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, and elsewhere.  In it, NACOLE President Brian Buchner writes, Continue reading

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One month left in the Battle for Net Neutrality

What is net neutrality?  It’s the idea that no bit of data on the Internet highways and byways is more privileged than the next.  The ACLU puts it this way: it’s what makes the Internet “a place where you can always access any lawful content you want, and where the folks delivering that content can’t play favorites because they disagree with the message being delivered or want to charge more money for faster delivery” — the way companies like Comcast or Verizon would like to do.

For his part, John Oliver (“Last Week Tonight”) puts it this way:

Cable companies are putting pressure on Congress to direct the FCC to make the decision they’d like on the future of the Internet — against net neutrality, for multi-tiered service provisioning.  So the Internet wing of the civil liberties community — Fight for the Future, EFF, DemandProgress, and other groups — are banding together to warn that the “Battle for the Internet“is on:

On Feb 26 the FCC will vote to save net neutrality or let Comcast and other ISPs create Internet slow lanes. Some members of Congress, on behalf of their Cable donors, are trying to stop the FCC from protecting the Internet we love. There isn’t much time to stop them, contact them now.

battle2The “BattleForTheNet.com” site helps users see how their legislators stand on the issue.  It also makes it easy to email, tweet, and (most importantly) phone Senators and representatives to let them know you support net neutrality. Spoiler alert: the Maryland congressional delegation isn’t all it could be. While Senator Cardin and Representatives Edwards and Sarbanes are in the net neutrality camp, it’s not clear yet where Mikulski and Representatives Van Hollen, Cummings, Hoyer, and the rest of the delegation stand.

Please contact your senators and representatives today and tell them you expect them not to surrender to the cable companies.  When you call, it may be useful to note that President Obama now supports net neutrality (despite appointing a former cable company executive to head the FCC).

This may seem like an arcane subject, but the Internet has been a revolutionary medium precisely because every data bit should be treated equally, so to speak, under the law.  Whatever the carriers will say on Capitol Hill, the fact is that the threat isn’t theoretical — there have already been abuses, from jamming a rock concert with political message to outright censoring of the pro-choice organization NARAL.  We need to clarify and ensure that these things may not happen again, by applying ‘common carrier’ law to the cabling of the Internet in the same way that they apply to highways, telephone networks, and electricity.

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Justice Vigil at Dept. of Justice with HandsUpCoalitionDC.com, 1/26/15

Kymone Tecumseh Freeman speaks at Justice Vigil, Department of Justice, 1/26/15. Click image for a video of his initial remarks, click here for additional remarks.

MCCRC joined with HandsUpCoalitionDC.com on Monday, January 26 for a Justice Monday Vigil at the Department of Justice — one of a series of weekly vigils HandsUp has been staging since last fall.  Vigilers demanded:

  1. that federal charges be brought immediately against the officers responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice;
  2. that findings about these and similar cases be released, and,that federal charges be brought immediately against all officers who have acted unlawfully;
  3. an immediate end to DoJ funding of militarized policing, and
  4. that the Department of Justice reopen the Michael Brown case because of improper handling of the grand jury.

Just a few days before the vigil, news leaked from the Justice Department that no civil rights charges would be brought against Officer Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Missouri policeman who shot and killed Michael Brown on August 9, 2014.  In a statement, HandsUpCoalitionDC’s Marsha Coleman-Adebayo said,

“We have waged a good fight since August 9th” … It was our Coalition staying here week in and week out, good weather and bad, with numbers growing every week that made them move so quickly. Still, at least we won’t have to wait for over 2 years—like Travon Martin’s family continues to wait for findings in the investigation into Travon’s killing by George Zimmerman in 2013. We smoked them out. Sadly, the DOJ decided in favor of killer cops. The families of John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and all the other victims around the country can let go of any illusions that DOJ is in their corner.”

While saying much the same at the vigil, Ms. Coleman-Adebayo also said the vigilers could claim a victory, in that at least the Department of Justice wasn’t dragging out the decision.  But since the Department of Justice wouldn’t do it, Justice Vigilers did — staging an arrest of “Darren Wilson” for the cameras after Ms. Coleman-Adebayo’s initial remarks.

MCCRC’s Thomas Nephew read out a list of just 32 of the Marylanders who have died at the hands of police between 1991 and 2014 under questionable circumstances.  He also explained MCCRC’s support for the “Coalition for Justice and Equality” police reform agenda.

One of the cases Nephew mentioned was that of Emmanuel Okutuga, killed by Montgomery County Police in Silver Spring in 2011.  Emmanuel’s mother — referred to fondly as “Mama Emmanuel” by her fellow demonstrators — was on hand to urge police accountability.

Also speaking were Kymone Tecumseh Freeman (WeActRadio.com), Alli McCracken (CodePink.com), Kevin Berends (HandsUpCoalitionDC.com), and other vigil supporters.

What’s next for HandsUpCoalitionDC.com?  Marsha Coleman-Adebayo says the next focus will be on the confirmation hearings of the nominee for Attorney General, Loretta Lynch:

“The Hands Up Coalition DC will now take the fight to Congress. Mr. Holder had his chance to move the wheel of history toward justice, but was too timid, too polite, too weak. And the president was too intent on expressing his “Je Suis Charlie” to care about his own citizens dead and dying in the streets. What ever happened to “I am a man?” The president has to get Mr. Holder’s replacement through confirmation hearings. That will be the next battleground.

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Apologies for the lateness of this post (true posting date was 2/13/15, the post is backdated). I had some technical difficulties producing the videos.

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