Experts from broad coalition conduct briefing on bipartisan Surveillance State Repeal Act

Rep. Mark Pocan, sponsor of the Surveillance State Repeal Act

As reported in ThinkProgress and elsewhere, experts from across the political spectrum convened in the Cannon House Office Building on Tuesday afternoon to strongly advocate the Surveillance State Repeal Act (SSRA) before an audience of press, public, and congressional staff.  The act, numbered HR1466, was released by Representatives Pocan (D-WI) and Massie (R-KY) last week; they are seeking additional co-sponsors in the House and a partner bill in the Senate.  In his own brief comments, Rep. Pocan pointed out “this isn’t just tinkering around the edges, this is a meaningful overhaul of the system.”

On hand to discuss the proposed legislation — and the urgent need for it — were Patrick Eddington (CATO Institute, former senior policy adviser to Rep. Rush Holt), Zack Malitz (CREDO Action), Shahid Buttar (Bill of Rights Defense Committee, BORDC), Norm Singleton (Campaign for Liberty), and Nathan Leamer (R Street Institute, formerly staff of Justin Amash).

Patrick Eddington (CATO Institute) remarked that there are still no documented cases of mass surveillance stopping any attacks: “mass surveillance did not stop the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber, the Boston Marathon bombers… all mass surveillance does at the end of the day is violate the rights and cause a chilling effect on [citizens]”, citing a Pew poll showing that fully one third of respondents have changed how they behave as a result of surveillance.  He concluded “before we get to the Memorial Day break on May 22d, your bosses are going to be asked to vote on legislation to extend the PATRIOT Act.  […] Your bosses… should not be contemplating a straight up vote on that in light of everything that we know now.”

Zack Malkin (CREDO Action) welcomed the sweeping nature of the SSRA: “The SSRA lays down a marker for what real reform will look like. It gives us an opportunity to get members of Congress on the record, as supporting real reform, or, alternately, siding with the intelligence community against the rights of the American public. This is the litmus test that we need.” He saw it as almost a test of Congress’s character: “the crisis that we’re facing isn’t even about the laws that are on the books. One thing that we’ve learned from Edward Snowden’s brave decision to reveal the full scope of government spying is that even the few laws that are intended to restrain intelligence community are often and routinely violated. …That has to change. Congress must reassert its role in checking executive power, overseeing America’s secret intelligence agencies, and protecting Americans from unconstitutional mass surveillance.”

Norm Singleton (Campaign for Liberty), Shahid Buttar (BORDC), Zack Malitz (CREDO Action), Patrick Eddington (CATO Institute

Shahid Buttar (BORDC) stressed that this was an opportunity for Congress to reclaim some of its due powers.   Addressing an audience largely composed of Hill staffers, he pointed out “If Congress is going to get lied to by executive officials and then summarily reauthorize powers… it is allowing its own power to check and balance the executive, to legislate with the full facts, simply to be told the truth under oath to be eroded.”

Buttar argued that the carefully limited authorities of the SSRA would actually restore both the intent of the Fourth Amendment and even the intent of PATRIOT Act authors like Rep. Norm Sensenbrenner — who had to learn of dragnet surveillance not from agency officials, but from Edward Snowden.  He also took aim at the frequent invoked 1979 Smith v. Maryland case as a sound legal basis for surveillance:

“That case was about particularly targeted surveillance of a particular person of whom authorities …in Maryland had suspicion of involvement in drug transactions. It was over a limited time. So we had a particular individual, with suspicion of criminal activity, bounded by time.  What we are talking about is unbounded, the entire state and indeed the entire world.  There is no suspicion of anyone required to come under the government tracking, and we’re talking about indefinite, constant surveillance.”

Norman Singleton (Campaign for Liberty), a former Ron Paul staffer, recalled that members of Congress actually did not have time to read the bill before voting on it — and that on review, it contained many provisions the Justice Department had been unable to slip by a Republican Congress in the 1990s. Yet the result was a system that didn’t help: “There’s so much data coming in that they have to sift through, that it’s very easy for a real threat to fall through the cracks.” He continued, “The Fourth Amendment is there for a reason. It’s not too much of a burden to ask that governments have a reason of probable cause to launch surveillance of a citizen.”  Mr. Singleton also mentioned the provision removing Executive Order 12333 as a basis for bulk collection: “This is an executive order that was signed in 1981 by President Reagan.  1981. Who here had a cell phone in 1981? Who here even had a home computer in 1981, much less a computer with Internet access?”

Nathan Leamer (R Street Institute), a former staffer for Justin Amash (R-MI), recalled the “long hard slog to get one small amendment” passed defunding the NSA activities revealed by Edward Snowden — an amendment that failed, narrowly (205-217), due in part to extremely disappointing votes by Representatives Van Hollen and Delaney from Montgomery County.  Urging his audience to encourage their bosses to co-sponsor the bill, Leamer said, [the SSRA] “sets the standard to address the Fourth Amendment concerns” expressed in phone calls, emails, and town halls from around the country.

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Press release, Rep. Mark Pocan: Pocan & Massie Introduce Legislation to Repeal PATRIOT Act

Surveillance StateLegislation would end NSA Dragnet Collection of Personal Communications
Washington, D.C. Today, U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) introduced the Surveillance State Repeal Act. The legislation would repeal dragnet federal surveillance laws, while overhauling the NSA’s domestic surveillance program.

“The warrantless collection of millions of personal communications from innocent Americans is a direct violation of our constitutional right to privacy,” said Rep. Pocan. “Revelations about the NSA’s programs reveal the extraordinary extent to which the program has invaded Americans’ privacy. I reject the notion that we must sacrifice liberty for security- we can live in a secure nation which also upholds a strong commitment to civil liberties. This legislation ends the NSA’s dragnet surveillance practices, while putting provisions in place to protect the privacy of American citizens through real and lasting change.”

“The Patriot Act contains many provisions that violate the Fourth Amendment and have led to a dramatic expansion of our domestic surveillance state,” said Rep. Massie. “Our Founding Fathers fought and died to stop the kind of warrantless spying and searches that the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act authorize. It is long past time to repeal the Patriot Act and reassert the constitutional rights of all Americans. I am proud to co-sponsor Congressman Pocan’s bill and look forward to working with him on this issue.”


The Surveillance State Repeal Act, H.R. 1466, offers a complete repeal of the 2001 PATRIOT Act, which the NSA has cited as the legal basis for its phone metadata harvesting surveillance program. Additionally, the bill repeals the FISA Amendments Act, which contains provisions for email data harvesting, while overhauling the NSA’s domestic surveillance program. Additionally, the legislation makes retaliation against federal national security whistleblowers illegal and ensures any FISA collection against a US Person takes place only pursuant to a valid warrant based on probable cause.



The Surveillance State Repeal Act would:

  1. Repeal the PATRIOT Act (which contains the telephone metadata harvesting provision)
  2. Repeal the FISA Amendments Act (which contains the email harvesting provision), with the exception of the provisions regarding FISA court reporting and WMD intelligence collection.
  3. Makes retaliation against federal national security whistleblowers illegal and provides for the termination of individuals who engage in such retaliation.
  4. Ensure that any FISA collection against a US Person takes place only pursuant to a valid warrant based on probable cause (which was the original FISA standard from 1978 to 2001).
  5. Retain the ability for government surveillance capabilities to be targeted against a specific natural person, regardless of the type of communications method(s) or device(s) being used by the subject of the surveillance.
  6. Retain provisions in current law dealing with the acquisition of intelligence information involving weapons of mass destruction from entities not composed primarily of U.S. Persons.
  7. Prohibit the government from mandating that electronic device or software manufacturers build in so-called “back doors” to allow the government to bypass encryption or other privacy technology built into said hardware and/or software.
  8. Increase the terms of judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) from seven to ten years and allows their reappointment.
  9. Mandate that the FISC utilize technologically competent Special Masters (technical and legal experts) to help determine the veracity of government claims about privacy, minimization and collection capabilities employed by the US government in FISA applications.
  10. Mandate that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) regularly monitor such domestic surveillance programs for compliance with the law, including responding to Member requests for investigations and whistleblower complaints of wrongdoing.
  11. Explicitly ban the use of Executive Order 12333 as a way of collecting bulk data

Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition is proud to be among the many national and local groups supporting this bipartisan effort to roll back the (bipartisan) surveillance state, including…

Organizational Support (national):  FreedomWorks, CREDO, Campaign For Liberty, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Demand Progress, Coalition for Peace Action, Defending Dissent Foundation, Restore the Fourth, National Libertarian Party, Media Alliance, Rights Working Group, We Are OneAmerica, Government Accountability Project, Code Pink, X-Lab, U.S. Labor Against the War, National Lawyers Guild.

Organizational Support (regional): Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition (MD), OMNI Center for Peace, Justice and Ecology (AR), Bay Area Civil Liberties Coalition (CA), Stop NYPD Spying (NY), Neighborhood UU Church of Pasadena (CA), Friends of the Constitution (WA), Dallas Peace Center (TX), Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights (IL), Cleveland Immigrant Support Network (OH)

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Law Enforcement Officers “Bill of Rights” reform hearings: a report — and next steps

by Fran Pollner

Police reform advocates didn’t just hold a rally on March 12th, they seized the opportunity to tell their stories again at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on 17 bills addressing police misconduct allegations and systemic reforms.

Among these 17 were three bills to alter the internal process under which complaints against police officers are investigated and reported. The most prominent, HB968, would amend the state’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR), a statute described by ACLU-Maryland attorney David Rocah as one of the two “most extreme” such documents among the “14 states in the whole country that have this kind of ‘bill of rights.’”

March 12 House Judiciary Committee hearings

Bill sponsor Jill Carter (D., Baltimore City) called the 41-year-old LEOBR a “shield” against appropriate investigation of complaints against officers, even those alleging brutality and involving the death of people in police custody. She cited as “patently unfair” the 10-day rule, “the gap” that allows an officer to be given witness statements and any other evidence gathered in the case prior to giving his or her own statement.

Moreover, she added, the “lion’s share of cases are never charged.” One reason is that the LEOBR gives citizens 90 days to file a complaint, a deadline that would be thrown out in the reform bill. “It’s not enough time,” Carter said. “The victim could be hospitalized, in jail, traumatized, unfamiliar with the process.”

Another reason is that citizens’ complaints may simply be ignored or turned against them, as was the case with Liz Howard, who testified that her filings were met only with hostility. “I was the one investigated, not the police officer.”

Marion Gray-Hopkins did file a timely complaint in the case of her murdered son, Gary, but the state’s attorney “failed to place an attorney who had ever prosecuted a murder case,” and the grand jury did not indict the involved officer. The status quo, she said, enables police officers to be “judge, jury, and executioner.”

It also enables repeat offenders, Abdul Salaam observed. He recounted a vicious beating he’d received in his driveway in July 2013 that sent him to the hospital and terrorized his three-year-old son. He later learned, from individuals he described as “good police officers,” that his assailants were known for that kind of behavior. Seventeen days later, the same officers who beat him were involved in the beating death of Tyrone West, whose sister, Tawanda Jones, testified that the officers were given immunity and 152 days to make their statements.

Another mother of a slain son, Olubunmi Comfort Olidupe, addressed some of her comments to the sea of police officers in the hearing room, “I say to you, if you see your comrades doing something bad, say something.”

Police Have Their Say
Police officers and representatives of police chiefs and commissioners and states attorneys from across the state of Maryland testified in force against the LEOBR reform bill, which they characterized as violating the due process rights of law enforcement officers. The LEOBR, they said, had served them and the citizens beautifully for 40 years.

Some dismissed the reality of those ill-served by the current system as “emotional,” presenting statistics on the numbers of police officers disciplined or fired in various jurisdictions as proof that justice was being done.

Some scapegoated Baltimore City, claiming that its unique failures were being used to saddle every jurisdiction with unnecessary and unfair (to law enforcement) so-called fixes to a system that was not broken.

Next Steps
Notwithstanding the police opposition, it may still be possible to get a favorable committee vote on the LEOBR reform bill. Kathleen Dumais (D., Montgomery County), committee vice chair, pledged to hearing attendees during the testimonies of those seeking redress that “this committee will work on the bill. It is not all or nothing. We will work through compromises.”

Let’s hold her to that — use our action alert to advocate LEOBR reform to the Maryland House and Senate leadership, and to our Montgomery County delegates and senators on the relevant committees. (Go ahead and email and/or call them even if you’re not from their district — just be up front about being from a different part of the county or the state.)

For more on the LEOBR reform bill – including text of the matching Senate version of the bill — see earlier posts includingLEOBR reform in Maryland — what is it, why is it needed?  Among its most important provisions are ones codifying, statewide, the possibility of civilian involvement in the police officer disciplinary review process, and, as noted above, ones ending the 90 day complaint deadline and the 10-day period during which officers facing complaints can delay obtaining counsel and wait to see witness testimony before being interrogated themselves.

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Video: March 12 MCJE police reform rally in Annapolis

Here is a video playlist of the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Equality (MCJE) March 12 rally in Annapolis preceding the House Judiciary Committee hearings.


The playlist is in the order that people spoke. To navigate to the desired speaker, click the “= Playlist” symbol in the upper left corner and scroll down, or choose one of the speaker links below.  The rally — principally organized by MCJE’s Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle and the ACLU of Maryland — featured…

and police abuse victims and family…

  • Abdul Salaam, beaten 2013 by Baltimore PD (the same officers were involved in the Tyrone West killing)
  • Tawanda Jones, sister of Tyrone West, d. 2013, killed by Baltimore PD
  • Marion Gray-Hopkins, mother of Gary Hopkins, Jr., d. 1999, killed by PG County PD
  • Dorothy Copp Elliott, mother of Archie Elliott III, d. 1993, killed by PG County PD
  • Olubunmi Oludipe, mother of Emmanuel Okutuga, d. 2011, killed by Montg. County PD
  • Darlene Cain, mother of Dale Graham, d. 2008, killed by Baltimore PD

For an overview of the day and links to more detailed reports about different parts of those hearings (as those reports are completed), see “March 12th Annapolis rally and hearings build case for police reforms.”

As of this weekend, LEOBR reform legislation (SB566/HB968) is still stuck in both the Senate and House committees without an up or down vote.  Please continue to advocate for police reforms!  Visit our email alert, featuring links to  the ACLU MD email form to Maryland legislative leadership as well as individual (rewriteable) form emails and phone numbers for Montgomery County delegates and Senators on the relevant committees.

Rev. Heber Brown III fires up rally goers.

* The simple playlist link is:

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March 12th Annapolis rally and hearings build case for police reforms

Adam Jackson (Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle) speaks; behind him, r.t.l: Gerald Stansbury, (MD State Conf. NAACP), Sara Love (ACLU MD), Farajii Muhammad (AFSC), Tawanda Jones (behind banner)

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.

Thomas Nephew (MCCRC) and Del. David Moon legislative aide Alicia Briancon.

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.

A busy day ahead.

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 )

(2) Reporting

  • HB338 (Carter: SWAT teams)
  • HB771 (Carter: Baltimore community policing)
  • HB954 (Washington: officer-involved deaths)

(3) Police Misconduct Allegations

  • HB112

    Sara Love (ACLU-MD) testifies

    (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)

Hearings begin with testimony by Del. Curt Anderson and Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

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

* 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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ACLU MD Briefing Paper: at least 109 deaths in Maryland police encounters, 2010-2014

We Are All 1 Bullet Away From Becoming a #Hashtag

As this Thursday’s critical House Judiciary Committee hearings on police reform bills approach, the ACLU of Maryland has released a briefing paper on deaths in police encounters in Maryland between 2010 and 2014.

Compiled from news sources and a public information request to the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, some of the key findings are:

  • “At least 109 people died in police encounters in Maryland between 2010-2014”
  • “The rate at which Blacks died by a police encounter (deaths per population size) was five times that of Whites,” and…
  • “Ten unarmed Black people died for every unarmed White person who died”
  • “Thirty-eight percent of those who died (41 people) presented in a way that suggested a possible medical or mental health issue, disability, substance use or similar issue”
  • “Police officers were criminally charged in less than 2 percent (2 cases) of the 109 incidents”

This nine page report deserves to be read in full.  The briefing paper proves it’s a fallacy to believe Maryland doesn’t have a police-involved deaths problem — including substantial racial disparities in that problem —  or that that either issue is confined to majority black counties.

The sheer effort necessary to compile this briefing paper also shows that even just keeping track of police-involved deaths has been shamefully neglected in our state.  No wonder many politicians don’t think there’s a problem — no one’s been interested in finding out.  Until now.

We are profoundly grateful to the ACLU of Maryland for compiling this timely, sobering report, and hope to help make facts like these persuade legislators to achieve real change in police accountability and procedures.  Join us on Thursday to make your support for police reform known.

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District 16, 20 – call, email Sen. Lee and Raskin: support SB566!

State Senator Susan Lee (D-16)

State Senator Susan Lee (D-16)

If you live in District 16 (vicinity of Bethesda, Glen Echo) or District 20 (vicinity of Takoma Park, Silver Spring)  (not sure? look it up here),  please take a minute to make a very important phone call to your Maryland Senator’s office right now. Their phone numbers are:

District 16 (Bethesda, Glen Echo)
Senator Susan C. Lee
(410) 841-3124, (301) 858-3124, 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3124 (toll free)

District 20 (Takoma Park, Silver Spring)
Senator Jamin B. (Jamie) Raskin
(410) 841-3634, (301) 858-3634, 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3634 (toll free)

Senator Jamie Raskin (D-20)

Senator Jamie Raskin (D-20)

Both Senators are Montgomery County members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and will therefore vote on the fate of SB566, a bill reforming the “Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights” — i.e., the way cases involving police officers are currently handled.  Here’s what you can say:

Hello my name is ________

I am a resident of the [16th/20th] legislative district. I am calling in support of Senate Bill 566. I would like to know what Senator [Lee’s/Raskin’s] position is on this bill.

[Here are the major points of the bill that we care about]

  • It allows for residents of a community to serve on the trial boards that determine disciplinary measures against officers that have engaged in misconduct. Currently only other law enforcement officers serve on this board.
  • It removes the 10 day window that police officers are given before they are compelled to make a statement in the event that they kill someone in the line of duty.
  • Allows for family members to file complaints on behalf of a victim of police misconduct.
  • It requires that police officers are questioned before they receive information about the complaint against them.

If they ask you about other parts of the bill, make it clear that the advocates are willing to negotiate on other parts of the bill, but that the talking points above are the main elements that we want in the bill.  If they ask for specific names of advocates you can tell them Dayvon Love from Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, Sara Love of the ACLU, and Rion Dennis, and/or Elsa Lakew and Thomas Nephew of the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition.*

Below is an email version of this that you can also send to your Senator’s office.  If you use an email client (Outlook, Thunderbird, etc.), just click the links and then edit with your own words if you choose.  As written, your email will simultaneously CC the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition; you can remove that if you prefer, of course.

Otherwise, just copy/paste/edit the email below with your web-based email system:

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Feb 26 MCCRC testimony opposing the SB482 body camera bill

policebodycameraimageLast week we submitted testimony against one of the bills that others within the police accountability movement support — SB482, concerning the use of police body cameras.  Senator Raskin’s office graciously distributed it to the Judicial Proceedings Committee before hearings on the topic.

Here is that testimony:

…concerning this legislation:

Testimony for SB482 by ACLU-MD and Safe Silver Spring
Two statements for SB482 were made by the ACLU of Maryland and the local anti-crime advocacy group Safe Silver Spring.  The Safe Silver Spring statement explains the group’s position: “We strongly support this bill because police body cameras will enhance the safety of the public by accurately recording the interactions of police officers with citizens, provide additional evidence and be a training tool.”

For its part, the ACLU Maryland had a substantial role in drafting the bill and of course supports the result.  As noted in our statement, the law has several very good features — especially in creating protocols for activation and deactivation of body cameras, and in prohibiting their use during constitutionally protected activities.  The ACLU lifts those out.  But it seems to us their analysis is largely confined to the details of body camera operation in the field, and their testimony concludes with the claim that with SB482, Maryland legislators’ work in preventing routine surveillance is done:

…the challenge of body-worn cameras is the conflict between their potential to invade privacy and their strong benefit when it comes to police accountability. Overall, we think they can be a win-win—but only if they are deployed within an appropriate policy framework that ensures they protect the public without becoming yet another system for routine surveillance of the public. Without such a framework, their accountability benefits would not exceed their privacy risks.  SB 482 lays out the correct balance in all of these instances.

The conversation continues
From license plate readers to surveillance cameras, few law enforcement systems today operate in isolation from wider state and federal networks. Body cameras could well become the latest example; we believe this law does not prevent or mitigate that possibility, and may contain loopholes encouraging it.

Are we in danger of accepting a technology simply because it seems inevitable?  When even closeup videos of deaths like Eric Garner’s result in no conviction or even indictment, is it really eyewitness footage that is lacking? Or is the system itself overly protective of police officers, even when they kill a man for nothing more than illegal cigarette sales?  As we note in the testimony and in our previous body cam post, there are many counterexamples to the notion that body cams necessarily end or even reduce unjustified police violence.

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Police reform town hall builds resolve for Annapolis March 12 action

Marion Gray-Hopkins (mother of Gary Hopkins, d.1999) speaks to town hall audience. L. to r: Thomas Nephew (standing; MCCRC), Neal Carter (MCJE), Elsa Lakew (MCCRC), Dr. Menna Demessie (Congr.Black Caucus Fdtn.), Leighton Watson (HUSA), Olubunmi Oludipe (mother of Emmanuel Okutuga, d.2011), Deidra Squire (Identity, Inc.), Nate Lucas (behind Ms. Gray-Hopkins), Delegate David Moon (seated). Darlene Cain (mother of Dale Graham, d.2008) was out of view in this photo.

A rapt audience heard stories of loss, calls for change, and clear advocacy for specific solutions before acting for  reform themselves at Friday night’s town hall on police abuses in Maryland.

About sixty people packed Takoma Park Community Center’s Azalea Room to hear accounts from mothers Olubunmi Oludipe, Marion Gray-Hopkins, and Darlene Cain of their heartbreaking losses of their sons to police shootings — and the difficulties they’ve had finding justice for those deaths.  They also heard from activists and public servants dedicated to restoring control over and trust in police forces by the public they’re supposed to serve and protect.

The mothers: Olubunmi Oludipe, Marion Gray-Hopkins, Darlene Cain
The first speaker, Ms. Oludipe, talked about the death of her son Emmanuel Okutuga, shot by Montgomery County police in 2011.  She led off saying “I never thought it would happen to me… I raised our children that police officers are our friends.  […]  I strongly believe that the only thing that was wrong about that boy that day was the color of his skin.”   The mysterious disappearance of closed circuit TV footage of the incident did nothing to build Ms. Oludipe’s confidence in a system better at protecting police officers than protecting her son. Oludipe:

Don’t get me wrong – there are good cops and there are bad cops. […] the bad elements out there are giving you good cops a bad name.

…and urged good cops, “if you see something, say something.”

Ms. Olubunmi’s remarks lead off this video playlist of all the speakers*:

The two other mothers of slain police victims were equally compelling.  Marion Gray-Hopkins of Prince George’s County told about her son’s final essay: “My son loved to write and in his final college paper he wrote how it takes a village to bring about change. This issue requires a village. Don’t sit silent. People are power! We can make a difference.”

Darlene Cain, of Baltimore told the audience about her son, Dale Graham — a young idealist who worked for Kweisi Mfume’s 2006 Senate campaign and the NAACP’s Prison Project.   The investigation of her son’s death was marred by inconsistencies and chicanery — officers couldn’t even agree how many bullets were shot, an autopsy report was delayed for months.   It also seems to have been so half-hearted that the current State’s Attorney office “has no record of his death… and there’s no record of the police officer who took his life.  So that’s why I’m out here more now than I used to be, because something is definitely wrong, something is truly wrong with the system.”

 The audience also heard about other Maryland police abuses — for example, Deidra Squire, of Identity, Inc., related the story of young Hispanic clients who were profiled as potential gang members and compelled to lift up their t-shirts to have tattoos photographed by Montgomery County Police in 2011.  The story was also reported by WAMU’s Armando Trull in two May 2011 reports.

Audience at Takoma Park Community Center

Marion Gray-Hopkins on legislative reform
The centerpiece of police reform efforts this legislative session is “LEOBOR” reform.  The acronym stands for “Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights”, but its real name could be “Law Enforcement Officers Shield of Impunity” — officers get numerous important procedural advantages during investigations of officer-involved injuries or deaths, ones that often had direct effect on the stories of loss the audience heard.  For example, discussing the day of her son’s death, Ms. Gray-Hopkins told the audience (full text available here):

All witnesses were taken to the station that same day where they had to provide a written statement yet the LEOBOR allows the officer a minimum of 10 days to give their statement. It also allows the officers and their attorney access to witness statements.  An opportunity exists for an officer to corroborate their story around the witnesses’ statements.

Likewise, she had specific comments about the need for special prosecutors (as envisioned in SB653**) rather than inexperienced ones or ones too close to the police departments involved.  The State’s Attorney for PG County, she recalled,

…chose an attorney to lead the case who had never prosecuted a murder case. […] We need an independent prosecutor who is trained and experienced in handling these types of cases if victims’ families are to be given fair and impartial treatment through the entire process.

Neal Carter, Elsa Lakew, Nathaniel Lucas
Maryland activists like Neal Carter (among those steering the new Maryland Coalition for Justice and Equality, MCJE) and Elsa Lakew of Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition (MCCRC) urged the audience to take a hand in pushing for police reform.    Up next in Annapolis: Thursday, March 12 House Judiciary committee hearings on the LEOBOR reform, anti-racial profiling, and other bills — assuming the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee doesn’t vote against them before then. (Call Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee chairman Bobby Zirkin at 410-841-3131 and urge him to schedule a Senate vote on SB566 or other police reform bills after the March 12th House hearings.)

Carter noted how intentionally grueling the Senate hearings were — yet another reminder of how long it can take to get justice after police shootings:

“…we were there for maybe six or seven hours.  They ended up pushing our legislation, our hearing to the end of the day — which was intentional.  They wanted to basically dwindle our numbers.”

Carter also brought a one page MCJE memo  with reasons to support each of the bills mentioned in our “Police reform bills to watch” post a week ago:

  • SB0566 / HB0968: Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights reform
  • SB0653 / HB0112: State prosecutor for police-involved deaths**
  • SB413 / HB0339: Race-based traffic stops (profiling) policy and reporting
  • SB0482 / HB0627: Police body cameras

In her remarks, Elsa Lakew recalled a friend’s comment when it was announced Darren Wilson wouldn’t be indicted for Michael Brown’s death: “I’m not surprised, and neither should you be. How did you expect a system to work for us, when it was never built with us in mind?”  It’s time to assert control of that system, she concluded:

“Something solid has to come out of this movement, and it is here, in this room, it is in the hands of every single individual present here today–that these changes can be made. We must urge those who we have elected in office to pass responsive legislation to reinforce a system of accountability.”

In addition to state legislation advocated by MCJE, she noted that our group, Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition, advocates the federal “End Racial Profiling Act” as well as county and city-level “Civil Rights Restoration Acts.

Nathaniel Lucas gave the audience a well-researched history lesson on police brutality in America, recalling the Orangeburg Massacre (1968), the Rodney King beating (1991), and the death of Oscar Grant (2009) — shot in the back while prone by BART police — as preludes to the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases of last year.

He also noted the Maryland cases of Calvin Kyle (2012) and Tyrone Brown (2010): yet more cases where officers seemed to feel entitled to resort to deadly force with very little provocation.  (While both officers involved were convicted of crimes, that’s little consolation to their victims.)

But perhaps above all, Lucas spoke for the deceased sons of all the mothers addressing the audience:

“As a young African American male, I would like to feel safe knowing that officers are here to ensure our safety, and not play judge, jury, and executioner on the spot.”

Delegate David Moon (D-20) talks about justice reform in Maryland.

Delegate David Moon, Delegate Will Smith
We were honored and fortunate to have not one but two members of the Maryland House Judiciary Committee on hand to talk about police reform and related concerns of mass incarceration, second chance legislation, drug policy, and asset forfeiture, to name a few.

Delegate David Moon noted that “we need civilian review and we will be working very hard to try and make that move.” Moon emphasized that not all police officers are bad, but some are, which had to be recognized “for the health of the system”. Regarding body camera legislation, Moon pointed out that there are several competing bills of varying perspectives; he suspected this would be a “multiyear conversation.”  He also commented,“we can’t have a conversation about police abuse without talking about the war on drugs,” noting the racial disparity in marijuana-related arrests in Maryland, and indeed in Montgomery County as well, with a black arrest rate three times that of whites.

Stressing that “participation in Annapolis is key. It really is,” Moon also urged audience members to come to Annapolis on March 12th.

Delegate Will Smith talked to the audience about his work on the issue of mass incarceration, including the “Second Chance Act,” HB244:

… it’s my top priority this year.  The Second Chance Act shields nonviolent misdemeanor crimes from public view. So you can get back on the on-ramp to society, you can get a job, you can get a student loan … a business loan.  That actually happened this week — and I think it’s going to pass this year.

He also discussed his own bill, HB1047, titled “Enterprise Zone Income Tax Credit – Economically Disadvantaged Individuals – Qualified Ex-Felons”:

…In MD, our recidivism rate hovers between 40 and 50 percent in three years when folks get out. Know what it is in VA?  It’s less than 20. …So we’re trying to arm ourselves with tools that give people ways to get back into society, so I have a tax credit bill that incentivizes businesses to hire returning citizens.

Dr. Menna Demessie, Leighton Watson, Deidra Squire
Dr. Menna Demessie (Congressional Black Caucus Foundation), Deidra Squire (Identity, Inc.), and  Leighton Watson (HUSA) brought wider national and cultural perspectives to the discussion.  Despite the national scope of her work, Dr. Demessie emphasized the importance of grassroots action: “There’s so much power in local efforts.” She also pointed out that just looking at the panel gives the lie to the canard that young people aren’t engaged.  She added,

“I think the rest of the community across [this] country need to stand up. [… ] “We need to sort of carry the torch to others to say that–it’s time for us to join our young counterparts.

Leighton Watson (Howard Univ. S.A.)

Leighton Watson — whose father is a police officer — talked about the perspective that gave him on the issue:

One of the things that we want to address is the underrepresentation of African Americans within police departments. It’s very difficult to teach people about cultural sensitivity, that fundamentally don’t understand the culture.

Just as practically, he pointed out, “Literally no one knows the number of individuals who are killed every year by police, that’s scary to me.”  It’s true; just discovering the facts within Maryland has proven to be a difficult task; please continue to submit your own stories here.

Deidra Squire — a Maryland attorney and program manager of the Youth Opportunity Centers of Identity, Inc., a Latino youth service organization — told the audience, “Our communities are being ravaged by the very guards of our safety through excessive force and a broken accountability system. […] I am deeply aware of the broken relationship between police and minorities. . . . The blood of our minority youth has dripped upon American streets and sidewalks far too many times, making an absolute mockery of our Constitution and the rights defined and guaranteed therein.”

Like other speakers, Ms. Squire urged the audience to demand remedies from state legislators; she, too, was critical of the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR), which she characterized as a

policy … that provides due process standards for officers that far exceed the due process rights of … citizens.

Ms. Squire closed with poetry by Langston Hughes – “Let America be America again“:

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Acting for reform; Q and A
The event was live-tweeted by Merlin Sula (@chakasula) of Montgomery County Young Democrats.  Her reporting nicely conveyed the energy of the event — including a five-minute “action for reform,” when many audience members made use of a handout with telephone numbers and bill numbers to urge State Senate Judicial Proceedings chairman Bobby Zirkin and Maryland legislators to support SB566, the LEOBR reform bill, and other police reform legislation.

A lively Q&A session followed the mini-phoneathon; among the topics were whether and how allied groups could be productive allies, rather than seeking to control or co-opt #BlackLivesMatter and allied movements.  Other audience members raised the issue of how many of the police shooting victims were also disabled or challenged physically or mentally, and that Hispanic citizens often faced the same profiling and police violence that African Americans do.

We’re all pleased and proud to have helped bring such great speakers to a local audience — first live, and now online — about an issue that’s both about civil rights, and literally about life and death.  Our next goal: to help make the House Judiciary Committee hearings on Thursday, March 12 a success for police reform with citizen activism, lobbying and testimony.

Individual speaker links

(“Text” means remarks as prepared rather than a transcript.)

= = = = =

* Links to videos of the individual speakers and, when available, the text of their remarks and/or web sites are provided at the end of this post; speakers’ names are also linked to their individual video throughout the post. A second video stream from a central angle will also be made available.  Finally, in interests of not delaying this post any further, notes of some speakers’ remarks will be added over the next few days.
** Unfortunately, the SB653 state prosecutor bill hearing did not take place; the sponsor decided he wanted more input.  Neal Carter said that there’s hope of rescheduling a hearing before the end of the session.

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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) statute.*  The main vehicle for doing so is SB566 (“Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights – Alterations”), displayed in its current form at the end of this post, and the corresponding house bill HB968.

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, “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 SB566 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, SB566 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 SB566 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 SB566 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

    Tell him you support LEOBR reform and SB566, and hope that he will support its vote out of committee and on the floor.

  • The corresponding House committee chairman for HB968 is Joe Vallario (D23b)
    Phone: 410-841-3488 | 301-858-3488 | Toll-free: 1-800-492-7122 ext. 3488
  • 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
    2. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D23a: Prince Georges County – Bowie)
      Phone: 410-841-3101 | 301-858-3101 | Toll-free: 1-800-492-7122 ext. 3101
      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 HB968.

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