Citizen lobbying tips, or “How to Get Your Congressman to Wake Up and Pay Attention!”

Long time MCCRC supporter Bill Day has just shared a great list of citizen lobbying tips on his blog at daylawpractice.com, titled “How to Get Your Congressman to Wake Up and Pay Attention!”

Bill’s experience and expertise comes both from his profession, from joining both MCCRC and NELA (National Employment Lawyers Association) in lobby visits, from his experience as a Congressional intern, and from conversations with his father, a former lobbyist.  With his permission, we’ll just copy and paste his advice:

  • If you find yoU.S. Capitolurself in Washington, visit your Congressman’s office on Capitol Hill and meet with the Chief of Staff and possibly even the Member. Particularly if you are a constituent from out of town, I guarantee that a staff member will be happy to speak with you. According to my father, 10 minutes with the Washington staff is worth 20 with the member.
  • Don’t neglect your state senators and delegates. State law can’t conflict with federal law, but, for example, state civil rights laws often have a much farther reach, better remedies, and more access to the courts than federal law. Also your state representatives may have better access to the Congressman than you; my newly elected Congressman spent years as a state senator.
  • Attend events at which your Member or state legislator is appearing. You would be surprised by the fact that they are not always well attended, and you never know when you might be able to get in a word or two.
  • Donate to the national NAACP and ACLU, but don’t forget that they have local chapters across the country which are always hungry for volunteers.
  • Coalitions of local organizations are very powerful. I once had an opportunity to meet for an hour with Congressman Chris Van Hollen’s staff and for about 20 minutes with the Congressman himself to discuss national security issues and surveillance as part of the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition in his district, which includes representatives from a number of state and local organizations, including the ACLU. All politics are local.
  • Don’t neglect organizations who might have a different point of view on other issues. My father used to say that the Congressman had to think very hard when he walked in the door as the company lobbyist accompanied by the union lobbyist when both had the same position. Most of us do not have the clout of a Fortune 100 company and the United Auto Workers, but don’t neglect people like the Chamber of Commerce and local congregations. Maybe they won’t respond, but maybe they will.
  • According to Jack Sinclair, my former Congressman’s AA, a contribution, no matter how small, gets you on the Member’s list of contributors. Members notice if you are both a contributor and a constituent. It does not hurt to volunteer on the campaign either.
  • If you can find a substantial donor or even better, a fundraiser, a handwritten note approving an enclosed news article can have a real impact.
  • If you call your Congressman, don’t just leave a comment with the receptionist, tell them that you have a question you would like to ask the relevant staff member.

Other good citizen lobbying advice:

  • Advice from a Citizen Lobbyist :Guidelines, Rules of Thumb, and Suggestions for Lobbying in the Oregon Legislature (Peter Chabarek, shared with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, 10/28/15):

    …Consider everyone you encounter in the legislature as either an ALLY or a POTENTIAL ALLY. The issue of civil liberties cuts right across party lines, so make no assumptions about who you think will help or hurt the movement. Assume that anyone who doesn’t yet agree with defending the Bill of Rights simply needs to be educated more. That’s our job. And legislators’ aides can be very important allies, even if they take the opposing view, so work on everyone.

    Be RESPECTFUL BUT ASSERTIVE when dealing with legislators and their staff….

  • A former congressional staffer explains how to best stand up to Trump through Congress (Vox, 11/15/16). In a series of tweets, former staffer Emily Ellsworth explained what works best *short* of seeing your Congressman in person:

    …First, tweeting or writing on Facebook is largely ineffective. I never looked at those comments except to remove the harassing ones.
    Second, writing a letter to the district office (state) is better than sending an email or writing a letter to DC.
    But, the most effective thing is to actually call them on the phone. At their district (state) office.

    She explains that emails were handled by computer algorithm, which letters could not be — and that mass phone call campaigns were tactics guaranteed to get the Congressperson’s attention because they sure get the staff’s attention.

I’ll just add that you may not think it’s useful to lobby some of your representatives because you figure they are already on your side.  Not so: you’re helping them stay in touch and  know what matters to their constituency — you — day in, day out.  You can also learn useful background about the substance and politics of a given issue from a sympathetic staffer or legislator.

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Hate crime surge countered with peaceful rally in Silver Spring

An increase in hate crimes over the past year and particularly in the last month was rebuffed by local elected officials and hundreds of local citizens on Sunday’s “Stand Up for the Montgomery Way” rally in Silver Spring.

Ama a todos! Love evreything! Share the love!

Ama a todos! Love evreything! Share the love!

As Montgomery County residents are all too aware, there has been a worrisome wave of hate crimes and bias incidents this year leading up to the November 8 general election and after – 62 this year already, up 17 percent from 2015.  Among those in just the last month:

So it was welcome to see a veritable who’s who of local officials including County Executive Ike Leggett, Senator Chris Van Hollen, Congressman Jamie Raskin, and many others standing shoulder to shoulder to push back — both against local lowlifes seemingly emboldened by Donald Trump’s victory, and against fears among immigrants stirred by Trump himself and his incoming administration.  And it was more heartening yet to see an estimated six hundred people from every corner of the county on hand to applaud and join them.

What’s more, many of the people in attendance won’t just be attending this rally: MCCRC activists collected names and email addresses from over 230 people who want to stay in touch about the kinds of local events, teach-ins, and lobby visits we’ve done in Montgomery County, Annapolis, and Washington DC.

A County Council resolution last week both condemned the recent hate crimes in the county and assured county residents that “The Montgomery County Police Department will play no role in enforcing federal immigration law,” adding that “County residents should never be afraid to seek help from our public safety officers.”

If you are victimized by a hate crime in Montgomery County, you can turn to county and state government for help:

  • At the state level, Attorney General Brian Frosh has established a 1-866-481-8361 hotline for people to call if they’ve been victimized on the basis of their identity.
  • Montgomery County has a well-organized hate response system, described in the brochure “Know Your Rights“:
    • Hate Crimes Coordinator: 240-777-6082
    • Montgomery County Office of Human Rights: 240-777-8450 (administers “Partnership Fund for Victims of Hate Violence”: up to $2000 for property damage from an act classified by the police as a hate/violence act, and $4000 for medical expenses from injury from such an act).

One of the most important points the brochure makes to victims of hate crimes is this one: “No matter what your immigration status, report the hate incident. The MCPD does not question the documentation status of victims and witnesses to crimes.”

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MCCRC appeals WMATA denial of request to document bag searches are “random”

mtpd-patch[SIGN OUR PETITION AGAINST BAG SEARCHES]

Today, MCCRC continued to press our “PARP” (public access records process) with the regional transit authority WMATA, appealing the agency’s 2/24/16 administrative decision that the first six elements of our request could not be provided on grounds that they are “Sensitive Security Information.” As we reported in January, MCCRC was seeking information regarding:

1) locations and times of bag search unit deployments over the 6 month period ending at the end of last December.
2) documents from the same time frame substantiating that bag searches were truly “random,” including measures taken to ensure that,
3, 4) numbers of false positives and bag search refusals over the same time period.
5, 6) costs and subsidies of the program over the same time period, and the most recent cost-benefit analysis or program evaluation of the program.

Each of these requests was denied on “sensitive security information” grounds.  Yet it’s hard to see why.  Referring to the “alleged random explosive screening program” as “ARESP”, Thomas Nephew wrote in the appeal,

…the description of methods used to assure any truly random inspection or selection process cannot be sensitive security information — since there should be no systematic, planned pattern to divulge. Indeed, it would be to WMATA and the public’s clear benefit to divulge just how the “randomness” of their bag searches is assured: the more convincing that demonstration, the clearer the program’s (alleged) deterrent effect will be to would-be attackers.

and continuing later,

To sum up bluntly, either (1) WMATA and MTPD have been lying that the ARESP is a truly random bag search program, or (2) they have no acceptable basis for refusing to divulge just how that randomness is assured; rather, they should welcome that demonstration. That, in turn, means this is precisely the kind of inquiry that FOIA and PARP processes were designed to illuminate: whether or not our public agencies are misleading us and serving us badly. Refusal to turn over information substantiating that the bag searches are random can only be interpreted as an admission of guilt that they are in fact nonrandom, biased searches.

“Randomness” of bag searches is not inconsequential; the Macwade v. Kelly case WMATA itself cites in their response, upholding a New York subway bag search program, actually insists on the randomness of bag searches as a prerequisite for upholding the program.
We appealed the denials of both items 1 (locations and times of bag search deployments) and 2 on those grounds.

We appealed denials of requests 5 and 6 on the grounds that revealing the aggregate cost, funding sources, and latest cost-benefit or program evaluations do not in themselves reveal sensitive security information, and that the public is entitled to data supporting the efficacy of the program, if there is any, which we doubt.  The same applies to item 3 (false positives); we can infer (and WMATA essentially confirmed in denying a 7th request for data about persons forwarded to other agencies) that there have been no true positives, since we can be sure we’d never hear the end of it if an attacker were actually apprehended via a bag search, and that hasn’t happened.  The question is how many times the program results in accusations towards innocent Metro customers.

Re the denial of information about bag search refusals, we wrote,

We are at a loss to imagine how a 6 month count of bag search refusals — a constitutional right admitted by even by WMATA and insisted on by MacWade v. Kelly — can be permitted to constitute “sensitive security information.”

As also noted in the appeal, it is our suspicion that rather than being “sensitive” information, there may in truth be no information at all for some of our requests — and that’s not good either, either in itself or especially when obscured behind a ‘sensitive information’ smokescreen:

We do not seek to score mere debating points. Nearly every day, there is news of law enforcement behavior that is disappointing or worse, often having to do with racial or ethnic bias towards some Americans but not others. We seek, and the public deserves, public, indisputable proofs that a system is in place guaranteeing the publicly asserted claim that bag searches are “random.”

We suspect, though, that there is in fact no such system, and no such guarantee to be made. Rather, to WMATA and MTPD, “random” may mean (improperly) something much more like “arbitrary”: police officers waiting for “a while,” then selecting someone “at random” from the crowd of commuters hurrying by, with no attention from supervisors whether any random selection process is actually followed. That would be a recipe for unequal, biased decisionmaking by officers.

If so, WMATA’s refusal to provide documents substantiating how the randomness of searches was assured would not be based on the risk of revealing so-called “sensitive security information”, it would in truth be based on the nonexistence or inadequacy of such documentary evidence — and with the public none the wiser. It is critical that either an administrative judge or a regular court judge insist that that the “sensitive security information” rationale be disallowed, at least for Part 2 of our request. If there are no supporting documents supporting WMATA’s repeated public contention that its bag searches are truly random, WMATA and MTPD should be required both to admit that, correct that, and publicly document that.

We await WMATA’s administrative appeal decision with interest.

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Van Hollen, Raskin, Flowers, twenty other MD candidates respond to MCCRC/Peace Action questionnaire

Congressional districts in Montgomery County. Image via

Congressional districts in Montgomery County. Western (dark green): 3d CD; eastern (light green): 6th CD; central (purple): 8th CD. Image via Maryland Department of Planning. Click image to magnify. To determine your Congressional district, visit mdelect.net.

Twenty three candidates for Senate and 3d, 6th, and 8th Congressional District Representative seats have responded to a 13 part questionnaire circulated by MCCRC and Peace Action Montgomery.  The questionnaire and links to election pages and candidate questionnaire pages can be found at 2016 Maryland primary election questionnaires; a table of responses linking to individual candidate pages and comments can be viewed at a candidate response table page.

Respondents include Chris Van Hollen, campaigning for the Democratic nomination to run for Senate in November, as well as Jamie Raskin, Joel Rubin, Ana Sol Gutierrez (8th CD Democratic primary candidates), and Margaret Flowers (seeking the Green Party Senate nomination). Republican, Libertarian, unaffiliated candidates and other Green Party candidates responded as well.  We thank all participants for their answers.

In addition to “yes” or “no” answers to questions ranging from drone warfare to nuclear weapons and from encryption to police violence, almost all candidates supplied many thoughtful comments elaborating on those answers.  We believe the questionnaire will be extremely valuable to many voters, both in learning more about these issues (our questions are footnoted with links to supporting information) and to learn where Maryland candidates stand on each of them.

2016 Primary Candidate Questionnaire image320x427Prominent non-respondents include the Donna Edwards, Kumar Barve, Will Jawando, Kathleen Matthews, and David Trone campaigns.  While most simply never replied, the Kathleen Matthews campaign notified us late last week — nearly three weeks after first receiving the questionnaire — that “given the limited time between now and the primary, and all that we need to do, we’re no longer filling out questionnaires.”  The Edwards campaign replied to an early reminder e-mail, but not to subsequent ones.

We find instructive the failure of both Congressman John Delaney (6th CD) — challenged directly in our NSA question — and John Sarbanes (3d CD) to answer our questionnaire.  In a state that has seen to it — via the kind of extreme gerrymandering apparent in the Montgomery County map above — that politicians and parties can all but pick their constituents rather than vice versa, it seems telling that incumbents like these two would also choose to duck substantive questions about their views.  Are Montgomery County voters’ concerns on foreign policy or civil liberties an afterthought to these Congressmen?

While the candidate survey was incomplete — and it’s possible that nonrespondents have different views — we are very encouraged by the broad, transpartisan support expressed for civil rights and civil liberties principles.  For example, 100% of the 22 candidates choosing to answer question 8, “Surveillance of First Amendment protected activities” —  whether the candidate would support Congressional investigation of FBI and DHS snooping on Black Lives Matter, environmental, and other nonviolent political movements — responded in the affirmative.  Support for the civil liberties or civil rights point of view was similarly high among responding candidates that metadata  — historical data about the nature of your communications (to/from/when/where) as opposed to its content — are covered by the Fourth Amendment (96%), for rolling back the NSA’s warrantless surveillance programs (96%), protecting encryption via the ENCRYPT Act (95%), and supporting the End Racial Profiling Act and the Stop Militarization of Police Act (91%).   On the other hand, a question asking whether candidates would support increasing the Syrian refugee target number from 10,000 to 100,000 found less agreement (65%).

We’re proud of the questionnaire and its response.  We’re also grateful to our friends at Peace Action Montgomery for a wonderful collaboration on a project of great and mutual interest.  We hope you’ll take a look.

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MoCo Delegate Dumais puts FOP at the table, scuttles key police accountability measure

Police accountability efforts were set back on Monday when House Judiciary Chairman Joseph Vallario and vice chair Kathleen Dumais (D-15, Montgomery County) attended a key Criminal Justice subcommittee hearing.  Despite not normally being members of the subcommittee, the two conservative Democrats joined the hearing — and cast 2 decisive votes against key provisions of HB1016, the omnibus 32 page police reform bill that is in the subcommittee markup phase following marathon hearings on February 3d.

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Fox at henhouse table, discussing fox reform, at vice chair chicken’s invitation. Delegate Kathleen Dumais (left; D-15) literally invited police union officials like the one to her right to the work table to discuss police “reform.” Real reform advocates didn’t get the same opportunity.

In a brazen show of favoritism, vice chair Dumais also invited Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) union officials to the table to “advise” the subcommittee on police reform — a lot like an elected chicken inviting the fox to the henhouse to discuss fox reform.  No activists, no civil rights lawyers, no police brutality survivors got a seat at Kathleen Dumais’ table — just police union members.

She and Chairman Joseph Vallario then cast the 2 deciding votes in a 6-4 vote allowing local jurisdictions to collectively bargain away the trial board structure otherwise required by state law and HB1016.  Montgomery County Delegates Marice Morales (D-19) and Will Smith (D-20) deserve our thanks for being among the 4 votes sticking up for real reform.

The effect in each of the jurisdictions involved — Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and unfortunately Montgomery County* — is to retain the almost unbelievable rule that police officers accused of brutality can select one of 3 administrative hearing board members, and must agree with the police chief on a second one.

Unions had sought to make this a statewide law via the notorious “Recommendation 23” of the “Public Safety Work Group” recommendations forming the core of HB1016. While that proposal appears to have been shelved, at least on the Senate side, the 6-4 vote on Monday still means that police officers in much of Maryland will continue to choose who reviews their own brutality cases — a setback meaning the bill will still fail to meet key demands of the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police accountability.

Meanwhile, here in Montgomery County,  we can start to do something about Dumais’s favoritism towards police unions. First, all Montgomery County residents should call her office and let her know they disapprove of her efforts to thwart real police accountability:

Kathleen Dumais — Phone: 301-858-3052
kathleen.dumais@house.state.md.us

Second, Progressive Maryland is organizing outreach actions this weekend in Dumais’ home base, District 15 (Poolesville/West Montgomery County), to get her constituents to urge her not to oppose any more provisions of real police accountability reform — including subpoena power for civilian investigators, the ability to file anonymous complaints about police misconduct, and outlawing police collusion in manufacturing defense stories.

Please contact PM organizer Justin Vest to sign up at justin@progressivemaryland.org. Actions are likely to include canvassing door to door, at transit stops, or both, and asking people to phone Delegate Dumais about police reform on the spot.

=====
* Howard County also has a collective bargaining agreement, I’m not sure what its trial board provisions are.

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Peace Action Montgomery, MCCRC send issues questionnaire to 3d, 6th, 8th CD and Senate candidates

Congressional districts in Montgomery County.

Congressional districts in Montgomery County. Western (dark green): 3d CD; eastern (light green): 6th CD; central (purple): 8th CD. Image via Maryland Department of Planning.  Click image to magnify. To ascertain your Congressional district, visit mdelect.net.

Peace Action Montgomery and MCCRC have issued a questionnaire with 11 peace, justice, and civil liberties questions for candidates to federal public office seeking Montgomery County voter support.

The questionnaire was sent to 30 Senate candidates, and 5, 11, and 18 candidates from the 3d, 6th, and 8th Congressional Districts, respectively, including Green, Libertarian, and independent candidates.

We have asked for answers by Thursday, March 31, and will publish those answers and summaries on this web site during the week of Monday, April 4.  (Early voting begins a little over a week later, on April 14.)

Topics covered by the questionnaire include drone attacks, the NSA, military spending, police practices, nuclear weapons, encryption, Israel/Palestine, surveillance of First Amendment protected activity, refugees, Guantanamo and indefinite detention and “Countering Violent Extremism” programs.

We feel this questionnaire can be a valuable voter education tool in its own right.  Each topic is begun by a brief introduction with links to supporting material, followed by a yes/no question and an opportunity for the candidate to elaborate with comments.  Many questions direct candidates’ attention to legislation currently before Congress, and ask whether the candidate will support or oppose such legislation if elected; some of those bills include the Surveillance State Repeal Act, the ENCRYPT Act, and the End Racial Profiling Act.

We’re proud to have collaborated with Peace Action Montgomery on this important effort, and we hope it will prove useful to Montgomery County voters as they make their primary election decisions on April 26th.

 

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MCCRC joins “Activism is not Terrorism” national letter urging investigation of FBI

fbi-dhs-graphic-800

MCCRC is among over 60 civil rights and civil liberties groups co-signing a letter to Congress expressing concern over revelations of FBI and DHS surveillance of nonviolent protest groups and movements, and calling on the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to

“…investigate and report on FBI and DHS surveillance of Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, anti-Keystone XL Pipeline activists, and the School of Americas Watch [… and] address in their reports what reforms are necessary to prevent counterterrorism resources from being used to monitor non-violent First Amendment-protected activity.”     [links from letter]

The letter was initiated by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation (BORDC/DDF), and boasts signatory organizations ranging from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee to Greenpeace to Veterans for Peace; its full text is available at the end of this post.

As the letter states, the FBI has unfortunately had a long history of confusing protest with criminality.  Thos old habits apparently die hard; as BORDC/DDF’s Chip Gibbons put it on a RealNewsNetwork interview,

“…while the FBI no longer is tasked with investigating “subversives,” or “radicals,” they’ve continuously used their counterterrorism authority to spy on political groups. And they always go, oh, we don’t do political surveillance. We do counterterrorism surveillance. But if all, if many of the groups you’re looking at are just nonviolent political groups, it’s very clear they’re doing political surveillance. […]  …DHS has a similar talking point. You know, they say, we’re not doing political surveillance, we’re doing situational awareness. But if that situational awareness is the movements, locations, and times of Black Lives Matter protests, the situation you’re being aware of is dissent.”

You can add your name to a BORDC/DDF petition urging Congress to rein in the FBI from surveilling nonviolent protest movements under the guise of counterterrorism.  From the introduction to the petition:

The FBI claims it no longer spies on groups because of their political beliefs. Yet, over and over again, we have found out that the FBI surveils, and even deploys confidential informants, against groups it acknowledges are totally peaceful. Why does the FBI do this? It claims it is conducting “counterterrorism investigations.” It would seem that the FBI has difficulty discerning between terrorism and activism. Isn’t it time for Congress to help them learn the difference?

The full text of the letter can be read below:

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Please ask these MoCo delegates to sign the Syria refugee letter!

The campaign to get Maryland state senators and delegates to join an open letter endorsing the settlement of Syrian refugees is proceeding apace. As of tonight, 39 delegates and senators have signed!

That honor roll includes 19 Assembly members from Montgomery County, and the entire delegations of District 20 (Takoma Park, Silver Spring) and District 22 (Greenbelt, Prince George’s County).  For a look at the complete list of signers, visit the “Maryland Welcomes Refugees” letter signers web page.

In Montgomery County, that currently leaves 13 delegates and senators (updated list below) who haven’t signed the letter yet.  In an extremely busy legislative session, that’s no wonder — it may just take a reminder from you.  So if you can spare a moment to contact members of your delegation and ask them to co-sign the letter (viewable at the link), that would be very helpful.  (Not sure who’s in your delegation? Check here.) You may want to remind the delegates and senator that the Montgomery County Council is supportive, having sent a similar letter of their own late last year.


(Scroll to the last column for the member’s office phone number.)

As an attachment, you might want to include the packet assembled by “Maryland Welcomes Refugees” — a cover letter, the letter itself to co-sign, and supportive statements by city and county councils and human rights organizations from around the state.

We’re thrilled at the response the letter — drafted by State Senator Jamie Raskin — has received.  That’s thanks to his eloquence and the good sense of Maryland legislators — but also to the fantastic work of Erinn Mansour, who’s been pushing the letter tirelessly and effectively in Annapolis, and the great email system set up by Saqib Ali — just add your address, and voila, an email to your delegation is ready for you to edit and send.

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MCCRC supports Del. Smith’s HB521 bill restoring SWAT team reporting

SWAT team. (Via

SWAT team. (Photo via “Will the Growing Militarization of Our Police Doom Community Policing?, cops.usdoj.gov, Community Policing Dispatch)

On February 23d, MCCRC submitted written testimony in support of HB521, a bill sponsored by Delegate Will Smith (D-20) that would require Maryland police departments to annually report detailed data about their SWAT (special weapons and tactics) team deployments. The law would be similar to one passed in 2009, but allowed to lapse due to a sunset provision.

As will be clear from the testimony we submitted (below), we don’t believe the appearance of SWAT teams and the associated “no-knock” raids have been a good development at all in American history.  Or in Maryland’s; to cite some of the statistics gathered during the 2009-2014 period (see our testimony for references.):

  • In FY 2014 (July 1 2013-June 2014), there were 1689 SWAT deployments in Maryland — nearly 5 per day, with well over one a day in P.G. County alone (418 in all).
  • About two of every three SWAT raids used forced entry.
  • Yet in FY 2012, nearly 90 percent of the SWAT raids in Maryland were executed merely to serve search or arrest warrants.  By FY 2014, that figure had actually climbed to 93 percent, leaving only 7 percent for the kinds of emergencies (barricaded structures, bank robberies, hostage situations) that SWAT teams are imagined to respond to exclusively.
  • Half the SWAT deployments in 2012 were for nonviolent “Part II” crimes. The vast majority of those raids were to serve search warrants on people suspected of drug offenses.

518E0PEYFGL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_We strongly support gathering data like this about their deployments, in hopes those data will continue to bear out skeptics like Radley Balko (author of “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces“) that they are overused, and a step backward for civil rights and civil liberties in America.  This bill would give Maryland another chance to do that.

While HB521 envisions only annual rather than semiannual reporting, that seems a small price to pay for the improvements it makes on the original 2009 law.  Police would resume reporting basic data like location, number of arrests, weapons discharge, and injuries to persons or domestic animals. In addition, HB521 would also require data about the age, gender, and race of detained individuals, as well as a list of all controlled substances, weapons, contraband, or evidence found.  Perhaps most crucially, HB521 would also require police departments to report not just the legal authority and type of warrant involved for each SWAT deployment, but specific data about the alleged crime committed by the suspect.

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Delegate Will Smith (D-20)

In what appeared to be a good sign for the bill’s prospects during oral testimony on Tuesday (beginning at the 6:29:40 mark), Chief David Morris of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association (MCPA) said he supported the bill with amendments.  His reservations had to do with reporting on all evidence gathered as the result of SWAT team deployments, which he said might might jeopardize the integrity of ongoing investigations or cases resulting from the raid.  We understand an acceptable compromise may be to provide checkbox-style reporting on the kinds of evidence gathered rather than an exhaustive, detailed list.  Delegate Smith said he’d accept the MCPA’s amendments in this regard as friendly ones.

As Delegate Smith pointed out in his final remarks, “Greater transparency means greater trust, and this will benefit both law enforcement and our communities.” We agree — and hope this is a first step to dialing down SWAT team deployments in Maryland.  As a glance at our legislative tracker shows, the Senate crossfile is SB589.

MCCRC testimony follows:

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Marylanders show up in Annapolis for police reform – sheriffs, chiefs agree #NoRec23

Larry Stafford (MCJPA) addresses press conference before Maryland House Judiciary Committee police reform bill hearings, 2/23/16.

Over a hundred advocates of police reform descended on Annapolis on Tuesday to press their case for real police reform and against measures like “Recommendation 23” — packing brutality hearing boards with members favorable to the accused — that would set back that cause.

Rally, press conference
A press conference before the hearing featured advocates bedecked in yellow “Caution” ribbons indicating the strong reservations about that element and others of the House and Senate leadership omnibus police reform bill HB1016 (now crossfiled as Senate bill SB1026).

Larry Stafford (Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability, MCJPA) led off comments with a remembrance of Marshawn Carroll, a smart, committed young African American Ohio man who had worked with Larry and MCJPA here briefly before returning to Columbus, where he committed suicide earlier this month.  “What has not been reported widely was that before he took his life, he had actually lost a friend to police violence in Ohio. And so recognizing the pain and the trauma that is inflicted on communities across this country when their loved ones lives are lost through police violence, or their freedom is infringed upon because of police misconduct and abuse of their authority, it’s because of that that we’re here today.” Other speakers included:

  • William Rau (Caucus of African American Leaders): “…our elected officials are policymakers who are acting on our behalf.  These walls, this carpet, this podium, the pomp and circumstance, the parliamentary procedure, that is all put into place to do our will.  We must remember that…we are challenging a process that has run amuk.  […] We must let them know we’re paying attention to every single word and every single comment.”
  • Marion Gray-Hopkins (Coalition of Concerned Mothers): “…most importantly, I am a survivor.  My son Gary Hopkins was murdered by the police November 27th 1999.  I’m here with Greta Willis whose son Kevin Cooper was murdered in Baltimore City.  I’m here with Darlene Cain whose son Dale Graham was murdered in Baltimore City in 2008.  And… there are other mothers who are not here who I am representing: Dorothy Elliot – son: Archie Elliot, murdered – over 20+ bullets while he was handcuffed in the back of a patrol car, and it was alleged that there was a gun.  I’m here for Gina Best whose daughter India Kator was murdered in Virginia.  This is not just about Maryland.”
  • Rev. Jamila Woods Jones (Jabez Christian Community Church):“This is not a new issue, we’ve been coming here for years, with the same issues, the same concerns. And while we’re happy that we’re moving forward, we want to acknowledge that there are some fatal flaws that *must* be addressed if we’re going to make this a truly transparent effort that is beneficial to everyone. … Now we’re calling on our legislators, we’re demanding that our legislators hear the cry of the people.  That’s all I have to say.”
  • Sophia Marjanovic: “…during my divorce I met a county sheriff whose conduct concerned me about his neglect of duty and misconduct. I made a complaint of misconduct with the county sheriff’s department. The department did not advise me about whether they’d be investigating the case, and never advised me about whether there was an outcome of an investigation. […] I was later ordered to work with the same sheriff against whom I filed the complaint. […] I’m concerned about retaliation because the officer shouted at me that he didn’t want me filing a complaint against him again. […]  I ask that the agency be required to inform the complainant of the outcome of an investigation.”
  • Kirkland Hall (Somerset County NAACP): “I’m here speaking for a young lady who had been voiceless after what happened to her in 2009.  … The Maryland State Police called her home looking for a young man who had escaped from a work release team.  She wasn’t there.  But he left a message. He said ‘My name is Sergeant Milo, Maryland State Police.  We need for you to call us.’ When he thought he had hung up the phone, he made this statement: ‘I’m getting sick and tired of calling these n*****s on the telephone with these long voice messages.’ […] We could hear other police officers laughing on the phone.  Which tells me there’s a culture of the police department. Which tells me that they are very familiar with the words of Chief Justice Taney many years ago, that a black man has no rights which a white man should respect.”
  • Lawrence Grandpre (Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle):“Some people think this issue of police reform is complicated.  I don’t think so.  You can look at the words of the people who represent the establishment to see what the problem is.  A few days ago [Delegate] Curt Anderson was on the radio. And he said ‘This trial board thing, it doesn’t matter. That’s internal, that’s kind of like a court martial. So we don’t need non-police officers on that board. Think about that. An elected official in Maryland just said that we should have military style justice for civilian police forces.  It’s a small step when you isolate a community and produce a military style accountability system; soon enough you’ll get military style application of policing on the streets.”

Watch this space for videos from the day — including from MCJPA’s own new Youtube channel.

MCJPA volunteer advocate Alonzo Smith after our visit to the offices of Delegates Hettleman and Lierman.

Lobbying
Advocates then fanned out throughout the Lowe House office building, visiting as many delegates as possible with information sheets explaining MCJPA’s demands, and emphasizing “#NoRec23,” to use the Twitter hashtag for the occasion.  Those demands, again:

  • Reduce the unfair advantage given to officers accused of brutality:
    • Don’t let bad cops choose who reviews their own brutality cases.
    • Allow trained civilians to sit on trial boards, ESPECIALLY in brutality cases.
  • Provide local civilian review boards with subpoena power to question officers accused of misconduct.
  • Eliminate the 5 day window that bad cops use to manufacture their story.
  • Outlaw collusion between officers so they don’t lie to protect each other.
  • Treat victims of brutality as well as all other victims fairly:
    • Open up who can file brutality complaints.
    • Eliminate the time restriction on when complaints can be filed.

In my own discussions, I got the sense that some but not all delegates and staffers fully understood community reservations about “Recommendation 23.” I was particularly struck by one staffer’s seeming insistence that the hearing boards were fair because of the accused officer’s and police chief’s need to agree on the 3d, potential tie-breaking member.  It seemed to me the staffer overlooked several important points: Continue reading

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