A “Coalition for Justice and Equality” comprised of churches and organizations spanning the state joined together on the evening of Martin Luther King Day to march on the Maryland State House in Annapolis. Rallygoers were demanding measures to end police abuses and profiling, as well as foreclosure reform and maintaining funding levels for HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) and minority business programs.
Led by Rev. Delman Coates of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church (and a Democratic primary candidate for lieutenant governor), coalition supporters first convened in the First Baptist Church in Annapolis for remarks by Rev. Coates and the spellbinding Dr. Lisa Weah of New Bethlehem Baptist Church in Baltimore.
The crowd of 500 – 700 people then made its way to the “Lawyers Mall” and the Thurgood Marshall statue across from the Maryland State House. where speakers included Lawrence Stafford (Progressive Maryland), Heather Mizeur (former Maryland delegate and gubernatorial candidate), Delegate Aisha Braveboy, Sara Love (ACLU Maryland), the mothers of two Maryland men slain by police for questionable cause, and others. One of the most affecting parts of the rally was Mr. Stafford’s roll call of men and women slain by police officers over the past twenty-five years; Governor Hogan’s comments notwithstanding, #Ferguson is most definitely a Maryland issue, too.
Regarding civil rights and civil liberties legislation, the coalition plans to push for reform of the “Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights” (LEOBR), including…
- insuring that investigations begin promptly (currently, police get to wait 10 days before starting, opening the possibility of adjusting stories to shield wrongdoers)
- providing a longer, 90 day window to file a police brutality claim (so that, for instance, someone in jail or in hospital has a chance to file a claim)
- lengthen the time frame for other claims to a window of two years (current statute of limitations)
- change investigations so that police chiefs investigate first, rather than hearing boards
- allowing police chiefs to increase penalties handed down by the board
- allowing jurisdictions to create civilian review boards
The coalition also supports the appointment of special prosecutors when police are accused of wrongdoing. For its part, the ACLU of Maryland will also be pursuing re-authorization of the historic “Driving While Black” legislation requiring law enforcement agencies to report the race of the motorists they pull over, as well as measures to rein in SWAT team abuses and overuse, and state level measures to curb “asset forfeitures,” in which even innocent suspects may lose property and cash seized by police forces.
Sponsors are lined up for some of these bills, but adjustments may occur as specific measures prove easier or tougher to push through the committees and the legislature as a whole.
In her remarks, ACLU Maryland’s Sara Love also noted that the coalition would be keeping an eye on the push for police cameras, which must not become an instrument of unwarranted surveillance rather than a check on police abuses.
Rev. Coates urged coalition members to stay in touch and prepare for a “dial-in” next weekend to let legislators know that there’s broad support for the CJE agenda. We will be notifying MCCRC supporters this week about how to join this and other efforts to curb police abuses, restore our rights, and make sure that black lives matter in a system that should guarantee equal justice for all — but all too often does not.