A brisk, bright early spring day provided the perfect backdrop for a stirring rally for police reform on Annapolis’s “Lawyers Mall” last Thursday.
Speakers at the rally included Adam Jackson (Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle), Sara Love (ACLU MD), Gerald Stansbury (Maryland State Conf. of NAACP), Farajii Muhammad (AFSC/Young Leaders for Peace), and Rev. Heber Brown III (Pleasant Hope Baptist Church) — and also mothers of victims like Olubunmi Oludipe, Marion Gray-Hopkins, and Darlene Cain, all of who were also at our recent town hall on police abuses in Maryland.
The rally was followed by marathon House Judiciary Committee hearings on the subject, beginning at 1pm on Thursday, March 12th — and lasting until around 10pm that evening. Over 500 witnesses signed up to testify, including MCCRC’s Thomas Nephew, who submitted testimony regarding HB627, body camera legislation sponsored by Delegate Rosenberg.
Before the rally, MCCRC activists Fran Pollner and Thomas Nephew had already taken the opportunity to visit the offices of Delegate Moon and Delegate Smith to convey our support for police reform bills like HB968/SB566, the Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights reform legislation that would authorize civilian participation in disciplinary hearing process, end the 10 day harbor for police to avoid interrogation following complaints of police-involved violence, and end the 90 day time limit for filing such complaints.
We also voiced concerns about what’s missing from body camera legislation: storage time limits, awareness of live body cam footage, and stronger prohibitions on retrospective surveillance.
The hearings can be viewed online; we will report on parts of them in more detail in the days ahead. They were organized into five parts*:
(1) Body cameras
- HB308 (Conaway: video cameras )
- HB533 (Sydnor: surveillance exception )
- HB627 (Rosenberg: body-worn cameras )
- HB338 (Carter: SWAT teams)
- HB771 (Carter: Baltimore community policing)
- HB954 (Washington: officer-involved deaths)
(3) Police Misconduct Allegations
(Conaway: state prosecutor for police-involved deaths)
- HB363 (Anderson: misconduct in office)
- HB365 (Anderson: attorney general felony prosecution of police officer)
- HB438 (Rosenberg: state prosecutor for use of force by police officer)
- HB813 (Washington: state prosecutor for police-involved deaths)
(4) Police Oversight
- HB731 (Carter: written policy for disciplinary actions )
- HB819 (Carter: alcohol and drug testing)
- HB968 (Carter: Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights reform)
(5) Civil Actions
- HB608 (Carter: nondisclosure agreements )
- HB728 (Carter: tort claims for excessive use of force)
- HB890 (Carter: liability insurance)
Most witnesses were held to 2 minute statements as they appeared in panels of three to five people organized for or against the bills. Delegates would occasionally engage them in discussion following the final panelist statement.
Many onlookers could find standing room only in the Judiciary Committee hearing room which, while spacious, gives over most of that space to delegates seated along two long walls and one facing wall. This eventually turned the hearings into an endurance test for those who hadn’t snared one of the relatively few chairs — but those who remained in the room throughout were occasionally rewarded with electrifying testimony, particularly by many of the activists, victims and/or family members who spoke:
- Diana Tokaji (beaten by MCPD): “If a gang beat you up, would you run to their headquarters to report the harm?”
- Marion Gray-Hopkins (mother of Gary Hopkins): “The opposition said, you’ll hear emotional testimony. Well, yes, it’s emotional I will never see my son again! With the [Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights], they are judge, jury, executioner.”
- Tawanda Jones (sister of Tyrone West):“This is a state problem. This room would be filled to capacity (with the dead). I wish I could get the dead folks to speak up. If we had all the dead stand up, we would fill this room and out the doors.”**
We will post more detailed articles about testimony in several of these groups, as well as video from the rally and from a “freedom school” seminar organized by Rev. Heber Brown. Meanwhile, more photos from the rally and the hearings are available in an “Annapolis rally and House Judiciary Committee hearings, 3/12/15″ album.
Additional March 12 rally and hearing posts
- Video: March 12 MCJE police reform rally in Annapolis
- Law Enforcement Officers “Bill of Rights” reform hearings: a report — and next steps
- Maryland body camera legislation – on its way to “worse than nothing”
- MCCRC “favorable with amendments” position on HB627, the ACLU body camera bill
- Video: Freedom School
* HB363 was heard “out of order” first to accommodate testimony by Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
** Fran Pollner reported these quotes, as well as excellent, detailed background notes on the hearings in general. She will be contributing some of the forthcoming articles about the hearings.
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