MCCRC lobbies Annapolis for “3 S’s” – sanctuary, SWAT reform, Stingray regulation

Noche de los Inmigrantes/Immigrant Lobby Night rally crowd outside Maryland State House. More photos here.

MCCRC’s Sue Udry and Thomas Nephew joined scores of activists participating in CASA’s Immigrant Lobby Night on Monday evening.

Sanctuary
Our number one priority was asking our respective delegations (Districts 18, 20) to support the Maryland TRUST Act (HB1362/SB0835) —  legislation that would essentially take every police force and agency in the state off the table in helping enforce federal immigration law.

The effort was particularly important after Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett’s disappointing (and unconvincingly explained*) choice not to support the bill.  Among our points — submitted as written testimony to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee:

… The current federal government has indicated that it will be pursuing an agenda ratcheting up deportations and making America in general more hostile to immigrants.  …These policies are directly contrary to the democratic aspirations of Marylanders… [who] supported a ballot initiative granting certain undocumented immigrants in-state tuition and state financial aid.  Maryland also allows undocumented immigrants to acquire state driver’s licenses. […]

In addition to upholding the values of Maryland, HB1362 would make Maryland more respective of civil liberties… For example it would prohibit Maryland from making an arrest on the basis of a civil immigration warrant. Civil immigration warrants do not contain the signature of a neutral magistrate and thus violate the Fourth Amendment….Furthermor, by prohibiting law enforcement from conducting a stop, arrest, search, or detention to investigate a suspected civil immigration violation or inquire about citizenship, the bill would defend Marylanders from discriminatory profiling.

The full text of our testimony is embedded at the end of this post.

Sue Udry (BORDC/DDF, MCCRC) and Mark X, chief of staff for Senator Lee - a co-sponsor of HB1362.

Sue Udry (BORDC/DDF, MCCRC) and chief of staff for Senator Susan Lee’s chief of staff Michael Lore.  Senator Lee is a co-sponsor of the Maryland TRUST Act.

SWAT reform
We also explained our position on SWAT reform bills HB0739/SB0941 : training and policy standards are fine, but ongoing data collection is needed to confirm those standards are working — to Montgomery County delegates and senators on the Judiciary or Judicial Proceedings committee including Del.Pam Queen (D-14) and Senator Susan Lee (D-16).

We learned that the outlook for robust data collection and reporting those data to the public remains bleak, but that Delegate Moon and Senator Smith are working hard to preserve some form of public access to SWAT deployment data.

Stingray surveillance reform
Finally, we discussed the “Stingray” bill HB0917/SB0878 —  sponsored by Delegate Charles Sydnor (D-44B) in the House and Senator Delores Kelley in the Senate — that would require police to obtain a warrant for the use of “stingray” cell phone tower emulators, which can be deployed in vans or aircraft and can sweep up all cell phone traffic within range — alleged criminal suspects and innocent public alike.

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StingRay cell phone tower emulator

MCCRC’s Suraj Sazawal submitted written testimony to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee pointing out that…

Despite its proliferation, very little is known about when and how the technology is being deployed. Non-disclosure agreements signed between police departments and the device’s manufacturers often prevent critical information, including details about the sale, the price, and the source of the funds for the purchase, from reaching the public. […] The bill takes the common sense step of requiring that police obtain a warrant in order to to access the data  produced by or contained in cell phones. This will protect the digital privacy rights of Marylanders without unduly burdening law enforcement.

We hope to have more on this soon.  Meanwhile, we’re proud to have worked to “Restore the 4th” by advocating the Sydnor/Kelley Stingray bill.

Testimony for HB1362, Maryland TRUST Act


=====
* Leggett seems to ignore the needs of Maryland residents outside the “major jurisdictions” like Montgomery County that have similar non-immigration enforcement policies in place.  He also illogically calls the TRUST Act “symbolic” when it protects more Marylanders with a stronger guarantee (as a statute) than a reversible police department or executive policy. Finally, he expresses concern that the legislation would risk putting Montgomery County at risk of immigration enforcement raids.  But the county’s residents are *already* in the Trump administration’s crosshairs whether or not we use the magic word “sanctuary” or “TRUST” to describe our policies. ICE raids will happen here whether or not the TRUST Act is passed, and whether or not Trump smiles briefly at Leggett’s naivete before ordering them.

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MCCRC delegation visits Muslim Community Center & Clinic

There’s a jewel of community medicine right here in our county: the Muslim Community Center (MCC) Clinic — the largest multi-function, faith-based, safety net clinic in the country.

MCCRC delegation and our Muslim Community Center hosts. L.to.r.: Thomas, Judy, Joleen, Dr. Rashid Chotani (exec.director MCCC), Mark, Tasnuva Khan (MCC), Susan.

Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition delegation and our Muslim Community Center hosts. L.to.r.: Thomas, Judy, Joleen, Dr. Rashid Chotani (exec.director MCC Clinic), Mark, Tasnuva Khan (MCC), Susan.

On Monday, a delegation of Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition supporters from our Islamophobia committee had the opportunity to tour that clinic and the rest of the community center.  Our goal: to learn more about this great community resource hosted by the one of the pillars of the Montgomery County Muslim community, and share that with our supporters and the rest of the county.

We were met outside the clinic by the MCC public relations committee’s PR committee leader Tasnuva Khan and the clinic’s executive director Dr. Rashid Chotani, M.D.  Dr. Chotani’s CV includes work at Johns Hopkins University and the U.S. Defense Department; now he’s a tireless advocate, fundraiser, and grant proposal writer for the clinic, in addition to his physician’s duties.    He was also a wonderfully friendly, enthusiastic, and informative host; we all thank him and Ms. Khan for spending so much time with us!

Stepping inside, we found a sparkling, handsome, modern waiting room, as nice as any I’ve ever waited my turn for a doctor’s visit in.  The clinic boasts an online patient registration system for use at home or in the waiting room — and also has a dedicated kiosk set aside to help patients to enroll in “Obamacare” if eligible.

Cardiology room and EKG unit.

Cardiology room and EKG unit.

Starting with 53 patients in 2003, the Muslim Community Center Clinic served over 16,000 patients in 2016.  In case you were wondering, over half of both the staff and their patients served are non-Muslim. Dr. Chotani had a nice story to tell about a patient who came back to thank him and the clinic for their excellent services, closing, “And you know, I’m not even Muslim.”  Dr. Chotani says he replied, “You know what? Neither of your doctors were either: one is Orthodox Christian, the other is Buddhist. ”

Dentist's chair

Dentist’s chair

The Muslim Community Center Clinic is a true community clinic, run with the help of grants, congregation donations, county and state subsidies, in-kind donations, and affordable patient payments. Dr. Chotani hopes to add a senior center and urgent care center in the years to come. Patients eligible for Montgomery Cares (adult residents of the county, no health insurance, low income) pay $25 per visit, others pay $50 or what their participating insurance plan supports.  (The clinic does not refuse service to those unable to pay these fees which are covered by special charitable zakat or sadaqah donations)

The clinic offers a wide range of medical services including specialty services like optometry, dermatology, cardiology, oncology and more as well as social and preventive services including mental and colorectal health services, domestic violence programs/referrals, and patient referrals to other low-cost health providers when necessary. There’s even a courtesy shuttle to and from public transportation hubs in the area.  Reflecting the diversity of Montgomery County — we met patients of West African and Panamanian origin during our short visit — the clinic has staff who can communicate in several languages, such as Urdu, Punjabi, Arabic, Amharic, Spanish, Kashmiri, and Bangla.  (Plus French, as Dr. Chotani demonstrated in talking with the West African patient.  The clinic relies on help from the Montgomery County Language Bank when other translators are needed.)

Clinic founder Dr. Asif Qadri. The words on the painting are

Clinic founder Dr. Asif Qadri. The words on the painting are “And when I am ill it is He who cures me. {Al-Quran 26:80}

We were also lucky enough to meet the founder of the clinic, Dr. Asif Qadri.  A cardiologist by specialty, he had been going over a patient’s EKG chart with a medical student from G.W. University who was completing some of her medical curriculum by being on the clinic’s staff for several months.  We also met University of Maryland students who were collecting health survey data from participating patients.

Seeing these students helped drive home both another way in which the clinic serves the community — and one secret of the Muslim Community Center Clinic’s success: its founder, executive director, and supporters have been great organizers, coalition builders, and Primary Care Coalition participants, embedding the clinic in a supporting network of teaching schools, state and local agencies, and supportive for-profit businesses.

But underlying it all is the generosity, charity, and faith of the Muslim community at MCC — which also operates a food pantry, library, and an impressive Sunday school including Arabic language instruction.  The clinic operates rent-free on MCC premises, and there’s a designated sadaqah donations “mailbox” just inside the main entrance that several of us added our own donations to on our way out.  We — and the county — are lucky to have such good neighbors.

Thank you, Muslim Community Center and congregation, and thank you to all who work at the clinic.

 

 

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Meaningful SWAT reform at risk in Annapolis — here’s how to help

Action alert: Help enact meaningful SWAT reform in Maryland!

  1. Visit this state web site: SWAT Team Reporting – SB 447. Then click and download the last SWAT statistical report to be issued, FY 2014 SWAT Data Report.(Please do both.) Believe it or not, this matters: police and politicians are claiming no one is interested, so let’s prove them wrong. 
  2. Call these four House Judiciary committee members now–and again first thing on Monday when office staff will have to take your call– and tell them you want meaningful SWAT reform via Delegate David Moon’s bill HB0739, meaning uniform training and deployment standards and data collection to prove those standards are working:
    • 301-858-3052, Kathleen Dumais (Vice chair; Montg.County, D15)
    • 301-858-3488, Joseph Vallario (Chair; P.G. County, D23B)
    • 410-841-3291, Curt Anderson (Deputy Majority Whip; Baltimore, D43)
    •  301-858-3380, Pam Queen (Montg. County, D14 — the third Montg.County member of the committee besides Dumais and Moon)
  3. Email bill sponsors Delegate David Moon and Senator Will Smith with a message of appreciation for their work on HB0739 and SB0941, the crossfiled bills that could make Maryland a leader again in reining in the rampant overuse of SWAT teams.
SWAT team. (Via

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

Background

I went to Annapolis on Tuesday to participate in the Judiciary Committee hearing for HB0739 (fiscal note) — a bill sponsored by Delegate David Moon that, in its current form, calls for…

  1. development of standards about training and deployment of SWAT teams by the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission (MPTSC), and…
  2. data collection about SWAT team deployments by every police department on the frequency, location, reasons or warrants for SWAT team deployments, and outcomes of those deployments including arrests, injuries or deaths, property seizures, forcible entries and weapons discharges as well as the age, gender, and race of persons encountered, and the reporting of these data by the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention (GOCCP).

The data collection half of the bill would simply return the state to its leadership years of 2010-2014 when Maryland collected just such data, prompted by a notorious botched SWAT raid of a house belonging to the mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, resulting in him kneeling in his boxers next to his two dead dogs and terrified mother-in-law.

It’s hard to know where to start with a critique of the SWAT culture permeating our country’s and state’s police forces. Maybe here: we were getting along just just fine without any SWAT teams whatsoever, until the 1965 Watts riots prompted LA Police Chief Darryl Gates not to, say, rethink police practices, but to double down with counterinsurgency warfare tactics being honed in the Vietnam War.*

Our nation’s police forces have been at war with us — well, mainly with some of us — ever since. As the ACLU’s fine 2014 report and police department survey “War Comes Home” showed , about 5 out of every 7 persons of known race** affected by a SWAT raid were persons of color. Moreover, over two thirds (68 percent) of those deployments were merely for drug searches — not hostage situations or barricaded bad guys. Only about one third (38 percent) were mere drug searches when white people were impacted.

Prepared with those facts, and knowing that this year’s bill was essentially a carbon copy of last year’s version, HB521, that passed out of committee by a 15-4 margin, I was hopeful that the hearing would go well. But when I arrived in Annapolis, Delegate Moon warned it might not, and that it was the reporting requirements that might not survive the committee’s deliberations.

The hearing

House Judiciary Committee hearing room, Annapolis

The full hearing that day had a total of 16 bills to hear testimony about — and as bad luck would have it, HB739 would turn out to be the 15th to be considered.  So despite beginning at 1pm, it wasn’t until around 10pm(!) that I could finally join Delegate Moon, Maryland Libertarian Party’s Eric Blitz, and ACLU Maryland’s Toni Holness at the panelist table to testify for HB739. Video of our part of the hearing can be seen here. Copies of both my own written testimony and that of Takoma Park resident, TPMobilization supporter… and ex-New York State prosecutor Eli Koppel are embedded at the end of this post.

Continue reading

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Muslim Community Center Town Hall speakers report on #MuslimBan executive order, offer toolkit to resist

Khaled Beydoun (l.), Abed Ayoub (r.), American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, field questions from MCC audience.

An emergency town hall convened at the Muslim Community Center this Sunday at noon gave two speakers — Abed Ayoub of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), and Khaled Bhartoum, a law professor at  University of Detroit Mercy School of Law — a chance to explain the details of the outrageous anti-Muslim executive order published on Friday afternoon, and share advice about next steps with the largely American Muslim audience in attendance.

As is well known from the news, the executive order indefinitely barred Syrian refugees from entering the United States, suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days and blocked citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, refugees or otherwise, from entering the United States for 90 days: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen(New York Times). The ban includes dual nationals who have, e.g., an E.U. passport.

Questions and answers were extensive.  The key advice was that persons without U.S. citizenship and with passports from any of the listed countries should forego travel out of the U.S. in the next 90 days, or risk not being able to return.   Among the other answers:

  • Q: Should legal permanent residents (LPRs, a.k.a. “green card” holders) apply for citizenship?
    A: Yes – but not without advice from counsel, especially if they have even minor blemishes on their record.
  • Q: How can non-Muslim allies help?
    A: Support ADC and CAIR and other Muslim advocacy groups financially; visit Muslim Student Associations and other Muslim organizations and congregations, especially where they may feel isolated; and urge Congressmembers to stand against the ban.

Mr. Beydoun also remarked that American Muslims will need to “think of ourselves in very broad terms” and reach out to and support other communities likely to be targeted next, e.g., Latino and African Americans.

Perhaps the best summary of what Mr. Ayoub and Mr. Bhartoum were saying about the legal situation can be found in the ADC Immigrant and Muslim Ban ToolKit, linked from the ADC web site. The one pageA BREAKDOWN OF THE “MUSLIM BAN” – AN ADVOCACY TOOL FOR IMPACTED COMMUNITIES” is especially important and can be seen here:

Other points made during their discussion and the Q&A:

  • Different airport TSA’s may be interpreting the order differently; also the stays issued by the New York and Virginia judges are differently worded and specific.
  • Legal permanent residents (aka LPRs, aka “green card” holders) from other likely target countries who are overseas should accelerate their returns ‘before he tweets again.’
  • The notorious “religious minority” exception applies ‘only’ to refugee policy, not travel policy.
  • The ACLU win over the weekend (resulting in the New York stay) only got people out of detention here in the U.S. who were en route when the order was given; it did not resolve the limbo overseas travellers are in.

As the speakers explained, there was more that was bad about the executive order than made the headlines. In an executive order that’s ugly to begin with, one of the less noticed yet ugliest features requires the Department of Homeland Security to publish biannual counts of foreign nationals involved in crimes, ‘radicalizations’, material support to ‘terrorism-related’ organization deemed hostile to the U.S., gender-based violence, and ‘honor killings’ — the kind of official “enemy ‘other’ scorecard” last seen in Nazi Germany.

It also requires that entry applicants submit to an interview where their religious views are probed — blatantly discriminatory since ‘religious minorities’ from the listed countries are excluded, and blatantly unconstitutional since the interview questions reported so far amount to a religious test for entry to the U.S. (“How often do you pray?” etc.)  Mr. Beydoun advised sticking to “vague, general statements” to the effect that “the First Amendment guarantees me the right to the free exercise of my religion.” Continue reading

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Activist gets Rockville PD complaint form corrected

John Appiah-Duffell addresses Rockville City Council about police department complaint form issue

John Appiah-Duffell addresses Rockville City Council about police department complaint form issue. Video here.

After reading our report about police department transparency compliance failures in Montgomery County, activist John Appiah-Duffell decided it might as well be him to challenge the City of Rockville about its police department’s own failure.  The Rockville PD had not got a key fact on its brutality complaint form right: they listed the deadline to file as 90 days, when the correct deadline is 366 day.

So on Monday evening, that’s what he did.  Here are some excerpts from his brief comments, which can be read in full here:

If you venture down the rabbit hole of the “general orders” section of the Rockville police department website, you will find that the correct timeframe of 366 days is listed. However, the actual form required to file a complaint, which is offered for download on the “Forms and Requests” page, contains the following instruction—and I’ll hand copies out to you in a moment—“If you are filing a brutality complaint, state law requires that your complaint MUST be sworn to and filed within 90 days of the alleged incident.” This is not only false, but even if unintentional, it is an illegal deterrent to complaints, and it needs to be corrected. The transparency law went into effect on October 1 of last year–114 days ago. It is conceivable that someone sought to exercise their legal right of complaint in the past 114 days and was given the false impression that their complaint was invalid. […]

I just want to say that accountability and oversight are good things. They are not a sign of mistrust, but on the contrary, are an essential part of ensuring the public’s trust is earned. Again, this is current state law, and I just ask that my mayor and council exercise their responsibility of oversight to ensure the Rockville Police department is in compliance with the law. Thank you so much for your time.

Both councilmembers and (later) the police chief thanked him for his comments, and, more to the point, the form has now been corrected.

The police chief explained that while paper copies of the form were correct, the change had not been made to the online version of the form. Mr. Appiah-Duffell also relayed the news that Rockville PD in fact has no bargaining agreement — so there’s nothing to report.  We will correct both items, and will also check whether this is the case for Chevy Chase, Gaithersburg, and other cities where we failed to find a posted agreement.

Thank you John!!!  And great work!!! This was fine activism and an excellent public comment — succinct, well-researched, reasonable, respectful — but utterly insistent.  We hope other citizens of Montgomery County and P.G. County will take a page from John and challenge their own city councils and police departments when they’ve fallen short.  You might well be pleasantly surprised how much your comments will matter.

 

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BORDC/DDF, MCCRC oppose announced anti-BDS legislation on 1st, 14th Amendment grounds, circulate open letter to MD General Assembly

mdstatehouse
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation (BORDC/DDF) and the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition sent the letter below to all members of the Maryland General Assembly yesterday. It concerns reported plans by some of those members to legislate against the “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” of Israel (BDS) movement in Maryland.  From the letter:

We recognize that the co-sponsors of the forthcoming bill feel passionately about their opposition to BDS, and that the First Amendment protects those views no less than it protects the views of those who support BDS. The First Amendment, however, prohibits one side of a contentious debate on a matter of great public interest from using the legislative process to silence the other.


(Circulated to all Senator and Delegate email addresses listed at the Maryland General Assembly web site)

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Many MoCo, PG police departments fail to comply with complaint process, transparency reforms

Our review of Montgomery County and Prince George’s County police department web sites has found widespread noncompliance with state transparency requirements, and ongoing, outright misstatements of key reforms of the police brutality complaint process — particularly of the new 366 day deadline for filing such a complaint.

While other elements of last year’s state police reform bill got more attention, it had very important transparency provisions as well.  The state legislature required that Maryland police departments should publicly post to the Internet:

  1. all bargaining agreements (Maryland Public Safety law 3-515)
  2. all department policies (PS 3-515)
  3. a public complaint process (PS 3-515), and
  4. [eventually] a detailed description of the department’s community policing program (PS 3-517)*

Elements of a correctly described and administered complaint process should include :

  1. 366 days from the date of a brutality incident to file a complaint (not 90) (PS 3-104)
  2. sworn statement (not notarized) (PS 3-104)
  3. persons with standing to file a complaint include family members, parents of minors who suffered the brutality, and persons present at the incident or in possession of unaltered (to the best of their knowledge) video of the incident. (PS 3-104)
  4. [eventually] assurance that the complainant would be informed of the final disposition of the complainant’s complaint and any discipline imposed as a result  (PS 3-207) *

We’ve undertaken a survey of all local police departments in Montgomery County and most in P.G. County, and are concerned to report that many of them appear to be failing to comply with these requirements or accurately describe complaint process law.  A table below summarizes the findings — with links to supporting web pages when a department has posted at least partly compliant materials.


[Y=Yes, the item is posted or answered correctly. Y=…and linked from the table. n=No. -Blank-= Not applicable or not answered.  “Score” is discussed below.]

Why is this important?
Well, for one thing, we think police departments ought to be setting a good example in obeying state law.  More to the point, these are not frivolous transparency requirements — or especially onerous ones — so it’s concerning when police departments drag their feet to comply.  One by one:

  • Complaint processes that are generously deadlined, easy to find and understand, yet hard to abuse (sworn statement) seem self-evidently important and self-evidently important to get right.*  For police departments like Rockville PD or Prince George’s County PD to still be listing 90 day deadlines (1, 2) — when the true deadline of 366 days went into effect over 100 days ago (10/1/16) — is an illegal deterrent to complaints, and one that many other police departments avoided.  Each of those 100+ (112 to be exact) days was potentially one when someone gave up on a complaint process who didn’t need to.

    Rockville PD complaint form, 1/17/2016 - wrong since 10/1/2016.

    Rockville PD complaint form excerpt (archived 1/19/2016) – wrong since 10/1/2016, when state police reform law reset the deadline to 366 days.

  • Police department policies (often called “general orders”) itemize each department’s more or less unique set of internal protocols about issues ranging from uniforms and employee wellness to use of force and profiling.   Some cases (Fairmount Heights, Colmar Manor PD) clearly involve very small police departments with limited resources.  But other police departments with more advanced websites (e.g., Hyattsville PD, Upper Marlboro PD) have posted promises to supply their general orders in the near future.  That’s fine — but there was plenty of advance notice, the reform bill was signed in May, 2016.Some cases of “compliance” should also be put in quotes.  PG County Police PD stands out: it does supply a large, multi-volume General Orders manual — but lists some orders as “REDACTED” even in their titles in the first volume, so the public has no idea what’s at stake — just that it won’t be reading anything about it. While this is permitted by the statute when publishing “would jeopardize operations or create a risk to public or officer safety,” it’s hard to believe everything about, e.g., PGCPD General Orders 42, 43, and 44 is so hush-hush we can’t see any of their contents, not even the title.
  • Bargaining agreements between police unions and their employing governments are not “just” about wages, overtime, pensions, time off and so on, as important as those are.  They can also cover issues like how long “derogatory information” remains on the record,  internal affairs procedures — issues that the public has a legitimate interest in. Without access to them, police reform advocates are ‘flying blind’ — and with them, some arguments by *management* may disappear as it becomes clear that a given bargaining agreement isn’t necessarily the root cause of resistance to change.  We hope the Chevy Chase Village, Rockville, and Gaithersburg police departments quickly correct their web sites and supply these texts.  [Correction, 1/26/17: these police departments don’t have bargaining agreements with their cities, so there is nothing to list.]

  • Community policing transparency can be a very worthwhile contract between a police department and its community.  However, that awaits a standard definition of community policing  — and that in turn awaits all but glacial progress of the newly formed “Police Training and Standards Commission.”  Authorized as of October 1, there have been a grand total of two meetings.  Part of the problem still has an Annapolis address.

Hall of Fame
Having called out a few police departments, it’s only right to praise the good ones.  The Bowie Police Department got every current transparency requirement right.  Well done! The Takoma Park Police Department also looks great – overlooking for a moment that we helped them correct their complaint policy errors about a week ago; they would have had a -2 score otherwise.

But what’s particularly great about both departments’ transparency compliance is that
(a) they cared — the TPPD fixed the problems we pointed out all but instantly — and
(b) they proved it can be done.

Caveats and comments Continue reading

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Legislative forum Q&A gets answers on SWAT, trial boards, profiling, immigration enforcement, surveillance

A legislative forum hosted by Progressive Neighbors last Sunday, January 8, at Silver Spring Civic Center yielded insights into state and county civil rights and civil liberties issues during audience questions.

SWAT reporting, civilian trial board participation
Thomas Nephew (MCCRC) directed his question to Senator Will Smith, asking about (1) his thinking on reintroducing a SWAT team reporting bill Smith introduced as a delegate last year, and (2) whether the Senator was open to pursuing “Section 1”, legislatively created trial boards with voting civilian participation, via a Montgomery County Maryland delegation vote.

Senator Smith explained (1:23) that after passing the house his bill last year stalled in the Senate, in the very Judicial Proceedings Committee he’s joined this year.   Motivated in part by the apparent disproportionate deployment or SWAT team deployments in communities of color, the bill would have required police departments to report data about warrant, outcomes, and other data for each deployment.  Pointing to Delegate Moon, Smith said, “… we’ll be talking about stuff we’ll be working together on, maybe this is something he’ll be interested in.”   He added, “I’m going to work as hard as I can on the Senate side, but it came out of the House last time.” 

Regarding civilian trial board participation (2:58), Senator Smith called it a “critical piece of police reform.  […] The major point of contention wasn’t along party lines, it was really along whether you would open up something that had been collectively bargained for  … in the (what I view as) superseding interest of public safety, meaning that you’d have more civilians part of a review process when police officers get into some sort of trouble.”  But while civilians were added, “it isn’t enough, and we haven’t added enough civilians, and it isn’t strong enough.”  Smith concluded, “To answer your question very succinctly, yes, I would support that, I’m sure most of us from Montgomery County would support that, but that’s a delicate balance, it’s not along partisan… lines, you’ve got labor and folks that are interested in police reform on opposite sides here.  I think there’s a middle ground but I do think this piece, civilian review, is critical and something I’m looking forward to support.”

Profiling, immigrant enforcement, surveillance
Jenny K. wanted to know what actions we might be “…taking affirmatively at the state level to ensure that over the next four years the Muslim American community are being guaranteed their civil liberties and civil rights, not just from things like hate crimes… but also government actions…  from surveillance… from registries, from deportation….  I know a lot of this stuff happens at the federal level, but if there are actions that can be taken at the state level to affirmatively declare that the state of Maryland will not cooperate with these efforts, I would like to hear what your ideas are and what your plans are.”

Continue reading

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Jeff Sessions Would Be a Disastrous Attorney General

Jeff Sessions smirking

Photo Courtesy Gage Skidmore

MCCRC joins with a broad coalition of civil rights and civil liberties organizations in opposing the nomination of Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General. As AG, he will be our nation’s top law enforcement official responsible for protecting the Constitutional rights of every person in the US. But he has spent his career undermining the rights of people of color, women, LGBTQ people, immigrants, religious minorities, and people with disabilities. And he’s no friend of civil liberties either.

Please contact Senators Cardin and Van Hollen and tell them to staunchly oppose the nomination of Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General.

It’s essential that even Senators whom we believe will vote against this nominee hear from their constituents, so please call this toll free number: 877-959-6082

The above phone number is sponsored by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and will ask for your zip code, you will be connected with your Senator’s office. You can simply tell the person who answers that you are constituent and you want your Senator to oppose the nomination of Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General.

Senator Sessions’ record on civil rights and civil liberties is deplorable. Here are just a few examples:

Surveillance: Sessions has been a leading proponent of expanding the government’s surveillance of ordinary Americans at the expense civil rights and civil liberties. He has defended the USA PATRIOT Act, calling it a “restrained piece of legislation,” and recently voted to expand it to grant the FBI even more power to access our personal information without a warrant. He has spent his 20-year career in the Senate arguing for broad, often unchecked surveillance powers in intelligence investigations, even though those investigations pose unnecessarily invasive risks to privacy. 

Torture: Sessions has consistently failed to oppose torture. He was one of only nine members of the US Senate to vote against a 2005 amendment barring cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees in US custody. In 2015, Sessions again voted against torture prohibitions when he voted against holding the FBI and the CIA to the same standards of interrogation laid out in the US Army Field Manual (which forbids torture).

Criminal Justice: Sessions continues to embrace a number of antiquated views about criminal justice, and is a vociferous opponent of any criminal justice reform. He loves the death penalty, has voted against reducing the sentences of nonviolent drug offenders, and has continued to support civil asset forfeiture. He is also tight with the private prison industry.

Immigration: Sessions is right in line with Donald Trump on securing the borders, banning Muslims, and keeping Syrian refugees (especially Muslim ones) out of the United States.

Voting Rights:  He called called the Voting Rights Act “intrusive” for seeking to protect eligible minority voters.

Please make two phone calls today, to Senators Cardin and Van Hollen to tell them to oppose Sessions.

Call 877-959-6082

Sources and further reading:

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Police reform fight moves to counties – including ours

Montgomery County Council Building

Montgomery County Council Building

Police reform will be on the local civil rights agenda again this year — but unlike the past two years, the action will be moving from Annapolis to county seats such as Rockville.  That’s because of the passage of a state police reform bill last spring that made some civilian review of police misconduct a possibility – but by no means a foregone conclusion.

The Maryland 2016 legislative session last spring was dominated by police reform, with the Freddie Gray uprising in Baltimore in April 2015 lending urgency to the effort.  Democratic leadership submitted the recommendations of the so-called Maryland Public Safety and Policing Workgroup as the broad but flawed bill numbered HB1016 that police reform advocates in the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability* had to work hard to improve.  Thanks in part to MCJPA advocacy — and flaws so obvious even police chiefs and sheriffs had to acknowledge them — a controversial “Recommendation #23” guaranteeing police unions undue influence over administrative trial boards was stripped from the bill, despite last-minute resistance by anti-police reform Democrats like House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Vallario and Delegate Kathleen Dumais.

MCJPA call for civilian voting members on police trial boards

MCJPA call for civilian voting members on police trial boards

The momentum then shifted to including civilians on these trial boards.  Trial boards are the most significant way most police misconduct is likely to be penalized, since criminal convictions are exceedingly rare (as the failure to convict any police of wrongdoing in the Freddie Gray’s death showed).  But trial boards, too, all too rarely hand out significant penalties** — no surprise given they’ve only been composed of police until now.  Meaningful, voting civilian participation is crucial.

The final version of the bill passed last spring was a mixed bag in this respect:

  1. [Good:] Trial board hearings must be open to the public (unless witness or undercover agent safety is at stake).
  2. [Good]: Local jurisdictions are authorized to appoint 2 voting or non-voting civilians to “section c-3” trial boards.
  3. [Bad:] But the reform law also provides for an alternative (“section c-5”) trial board, developed under the collective bargaining process with the police union, in which trial board members would be appointed by the police chief — and might include no voting civilians at all.  Police union members facing a trial board could choose their preferred kind of board.***

The final two points obviously pose both challenges and opportunities for local civil rights advocates.  Authorizing the possibility of civilian review  was one of many major wins**** in HB1016 for police reform advocates in Maryland — thanks to the long, uphill battle waged by determined activists such as bereaved mother Marion Gray-Hopkins, organizers such as MCJPA’s Larry Stafford and Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle’s Dayvon Love, and lawyers such as the ACLU’s Sara Love and David Rocah.

But to profit from that win in Annapolis, it must be implemented county by county, with county legislation authorizing civilian participation in “section c-3” trial boards.

It’s our job to demand that happens in Rockville.  Even when we succeed, citizens will have to remain vigilant to prevent a much weaker “section c-5” trial board alternative from being negotiated during collective bargaining.  But first we have to get the strongest possible trial boards — ones with voting civilian participation — authorized by our county council.

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* MCCRC is one member of the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability; the coalition included 32BJ SEIU, 1199 SEIU, African American Democratic Club of Montgomery County, American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, NAACP, Amnesty International USA, Hollaback! Baltimore, Beats, Rhymes, and Relief, Black Church Center for Justice and Equality, CASA, City Bloc, Color of Change, Communities United, Council on American Islamic Relations, Empowerment Temple, Freddie Gray Project, Jews United for Justice, Justice League, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, Making Change, Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition, Montgomery County Young Democrats, Power Inside, Prince George’s People’s Coalition, Progressive Maryland, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Universal Zulu Nation, UUs for Liberation from Racism, and more.
** Data are hard to come by, but one study of 1995-1997 trial board results suggests only about 1 in 3 cases result in suspension or dismissal; see the first footnote to this MCCRC blog post.
*** 3-107.(c)(3)(II): If authorized by local law, a hearing board formed under paragraph (1) of this subsection may include up to two voting or nonvoting members of the public who have received training administered by the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission on the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights and matters relating to police procedures…” The collective bargaining alternative is authorized in subsequent section (5) of 3-107.(c), using essentially identical language except that the police chief is the sole appointer of trial board members, including any civilian ones. While turning over all trial board appointments to the police chief is in itself less accountable than appointing some by the county, the main point is that no matter what the “local law section 1” trial board composition is, the all but certain “collective bargaining section 5” alternative negotiated by police unions could again feature only up to 2 (e.g., zero) voting or non-voting civilians.
**** The omnibus police reform bill had many other provisions to improve police-community relations and increase the odds of police accountability, including longer periods to file complaints, shorter periods for police to delay testimony, expanded data collection, transparent reporting of policies and collective bargaining agreements, and whistleblower protections.  A summary based on one shared by Kim Propeack (CASA) can be viewed here.
EDIT, 4/5/17: abbreviations for the 2 key sections involved were renamed from sections “1” and “5” to sections “c-3” and “c-5”.

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