#ReclaimMLK demonstration on Veterans Plaza remembers Maryland police homicides

Activists demonstrated on Silver Springs Veterans Plaza Saturday afternoon to #ReclaimMLK and, in organizer Elsa Lakew’s words,

…to show our elected officials that we will not rest until police brutality, the unlawful targeting and killing of black people, and the dangerous biases in our flawed judicial system have been sufficiently addressed.

Many passersby joined in, holding signs and joining the “No Justice – No Peace!”, “Black Lives Matter”, and other chants led by the indefatigable Ms. Lakew.

We are all 1 bullet away from becoming a #hashtag

Pulling together reports from the Washington Post (“The Blue Wall of Silence“, 2001, via ppsc.org) and Fatal Encounters (2013-2015 data from Maryland news and public information) MCCRC is compiling a growing list of Maryland police homicides of unarmed or otherwise questionably killed Marylanders.  Activists read some of those 32 names on Saturday:

Among them is the 2011 Montgomery County case of Emmanuel Okutuga, which you can learn more about at projectforemmanuel.com.

Without closer investigation, we can not say whether every one of the cases listed here were avoidable or wrongful deaths.  But we can still remember, and we can still ask questions.  It appears to us that too many of these cases involve black victims, too many involve mentally ill victims, too many involve unarmed victims, too many involve a formulaic need to subdue a suspect no matter the cost, and too many involve the Prince George’s County and Baltimore police departments. And after all, even one death is one too many.

MCCRC advocates police and justice reforms at the state, national and local level, and dozens of passersby signed our petition adding their voices to a call for an end to racial profiling, real police accountability, and caution about police body cameras. The petition will be available online soon. Continue reading

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#ReclaimMLK in Silver Spring this Saturday afternoon, because #BlackLivesMatter

On Saturday at 3pm, civil rights supporters from around the county, the region, and the state will join together in a sit-in on Veterans Plaza in Silver Spring to, in MCCRC organizer Elsa Lakew’s words,

show our elected officials that we will not rest until police brutality, the unlawful targeting and killing of black people, and the dangerous biases in our flawed judicial system have been sufficiently addressed.

Please join us at 3pm in Veterans Plaza in Downtown Silver Spring (map; convenient to Silver Spring Metro on the Red Line).  And please our #ReclaimMLK Facebook event page to let us know you’re coming, to invite your friends, and to learn more about the issues.

The protest’s significance has grown in the light of news leaks yesterday that the Justice Department is likely not to file civil rights charges against Darren Wilson, the former police officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.  It’s crucial not to let setbacks dissuade us from protesting and organizing for change, and we mean for these sit-ins, vigils, and demonstrations to send that message not just to our politicians, but to eachother.

But we don’t just want to demand real change, but to achieve it — and to do that, we don’t just need to find strong allies for change, we need to be strong allies for change.  So we’re also proud that our protest is part of a fast-growing new statewide movement.  The Coalition for Justice and Equality served notice in Annapolis on Martin Luther King Day that it will be advocating concrete police reform, social justice, and opportunity equality measures in the days and weeks ahead.   Just on police and criminal justice reform, here are some of the measures the coalition advocates

  1. reform of the “Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights” a.k.a LEOBR reform so investigations of police homicides and other abuses begin immediately and can be requested more easily;
  2. allowing jurisdictions to create civilian review boards with real power to investigate police, and/or appointing special prosecutors for police homicide cases.
  3. renewal of the “Driving While Black” Act requiring law enforcement record-keeping and reporting of motorist race in all vehicular stops;
  4. taking care that police ‘body cameras’ should not become another surveillance tool

The coalition is also still gathering information about the possibility of a special prosecutor’s office responsible for investigating police homicides.   In addition, Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition advocates…

  1. In the United States: passage of the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) supported by Maryland Senator Ben Cardin; a complete end to federal funding of militarized policing; Justice Department investigation of and, when necessary, intervention in police departments like those in Ferguson, New York City, Albuquerque, and Cleveland, and the police abuses they commit.
  2. In Maryland: going beyond marijuana decriminalization to legalizing and taxing it like alcohol.
  3. In Montgomery County: consideration and passage of the Local Civil Rights Restoration Act, esp. its racial profiling, surveillance, and federal immigration law enforcement provisions.

In the weeks ahead, we’ll be discussing each of these ideas in more detail.

For too long, too many of us have let Martin Luther King Day be little more than a day off, with at most a familiar quote or two to remind us why.   It’s time to not just remember King, and not just quote him now and then, but to try to do what he did: compel a reluctant nation not just to talk the talk about equality before the law, but to walk the walk.  It’s time to #ReclaimMLK.  If you need another reason why, here’s Marion Gray-Hopkins, mother of Gary Hopkins, Jr.

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Coalition for Justice and Equality marches on Annapolis on Martin Luther King Day

Crowd gathers at Lawyers Mall across from Maryland State House to rally for equality and justice.

A “Coalition for Justice and Equality” comprised of churches and organizations spanning the state joined together on the evening of Martin Luther King Day to march on the Maryland State House in Annapolis.  Rallygoers were demanding measures to end police abuses and profiling, as well as foreclosure reform and maintaining funding levels for HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) and minority business programs.

Led by Rev. Delman Coates of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church (and a Democratic primary candidate for lieutenant governor), coalition supporters first convened in the First Baptist Church in Annapolis for remarks by Rev. Coates and the spellbinding Dr. Lisa Weah of New Bethlehem Baptist Church in Baltimore.

The crowd of 500 – 700 people then made its way to the “Lawyers Mall” and the Thurgood Marshall statue across from the Maryland State House. where speakers included Lawrence Stafford (Progressive Maryland), Heather Mizeur (former Maryland delegate and gubernatorial candidate), Delegate Aisha Braveboy, Sara Love (ACLU Maryland), the mothers of two Maryland men slain by police for questionable cause, and others.  One of the most affecting parts of the rally was Mr. Stafford’s roll call of men and women slain by police officers over the past twenty-five years; Governor Hogan’s comments notwithstanding, #Ferguson is most definitely a Maryland issue, too.

Regarding civil rights and civil liberties legislation, the coalition plans to push for reform of the “Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights” (LEOBR), including…

  • insuring that investigations begin promptly (currently, police get to wait 10 days before starting, opening the possibility of adjusting stories to shield wrongdoers)
  • providing a longer, 90 day window to file a police brutality claim (so that, for instance, someone in jail or in hospital has a chance to file a claim)
  • lengthen the time frame for other claims to a window of  two years (current statute of limitations)
  • change investigations so that police chiefs investigate first, rather than hearing boards
  • allowing police chiefs to increase penalties handed down by the board
  • allowing jurisdictions to create civilian review boards

The coalition also supports the appointment of special prosecutors when police are accused of wrongdoing.  For its part, the ACLU of Maryland will also be pursuing re-authorization of the historic “Driving While Black” legislation requiring law enforcement agencies to report the race of the motorists they pull over, as well as measures to rein in SWAT team abuses and overuse, and state level measures to curb “asset forfeitures,” in which even innocent suspects may lose property and cash seized by police forces.

Sponsors are lined up for some of these bills, but adjustments may occur as specific measures prove easier or tougher to push through the committees and the legislature as a whole.

In her remarks, ACLU Maryland’s Sara Love also noted that the coalition would be keeping an eye on the push for police cameras, which must not become an instrument of unwarranted surveillance rather than a check on police abuses.

Rev. Coates urged coalition members to stay in touch and prepare for a “dial-in” next weekend to let legislators know that there’s broad support for the CJE agenda.  We will be notifying MCCRC supporters this week about how to join this and other efforts to curb police abuses, restore our rights, and make sure that black lives matter in a system that should guarantee equal justice for all — but all too often does not.

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Rally to Close Guantanamo and End Torture, Jan 11 2015

January 11th was the 13th anniversary of the arrival of the first detainees at Guantanamo. A broad coalition of groups from Amnesty International to Witness against Torture and World Can’t Wait held a rally at the White House, followed by a march to the Department of Justice.   From the Center for Constitutional Rights “Close Guantanamo – No More Excuses” web site:

The story of Guantánamo remains that of nearly 800 men and boys thrown into an island prison designed to exist beyond the rule of law. Most were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, refugees fleeing the chaos of war in Afghanistan. The U.S. military captured only one in twenty; many were sold for significant sums of money to the U.S. by local authorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Of the 149 men who remain at Guantánamo as of January 2014, approximately half were cleared for release years ago. The vast majority will never be charged with any crime.

Here are photos and videos from the day. Click any photo for a slideshow of photos of the event. Please share yours, if you like! — contact us at mococivilrights@gmail.com.

Close Guantanamo.

Martine Zee, Tighe Berry.

Detainees march single file, with Washington Monument in background.

Speakers included Zainab Chaudry (Council on American-Islamic Relations), Rabbi Charles Feinberg (Interfaith Action for Human Rights), Aliya Hana Hussein (Center for Constitutional Rights), and others.


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New Year, Same Message — #BlackLivesMatter

#BlackLivesStillMatter die-in, Wheaton Mall, 1/1/15. Photo: Martine Zee; click for slideshow.

On January 1st 2015, a die-in demonstration took place at Wheaton Mall. The event was entitled #BlackLivesStillMatter for a reason. Personally, I don’t know how many times I have seen the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag.

Even though the message and the statement this hashtag encapsulates is powerful one, it tends to be written off after sometime has passed. It is a sad fact but movements that are fueled through Twitter or any other social media platform tends to not last that long.

On social media we have seen the trend in which movements such as this have taken root and also plateaued. Sadly movements like this–just like every other trending topic–tends to die out, with the coming of a trendier or more timely issue. This is also emphasized with the coming of a New Year.

There is an unspoken collective declaration made that with the coming of a New Year, it also brings forth a new slate or a fresh start for all of us. And although this “New Year, Fresh Start” mindset brings about a lot of good things, it also threatens the progress we have been trying to make with the #BlackLivesMatter movement. By putting 2014 completely behind us, we are also inadvertently writing off the progress we have been making with this movement. I wish it were that simple for me. I wish I could leave Michael Brown and Tamir Rice behind, but I can’t. I know that it is only a matter of time, before there is another major new media coverage around the death of another Black life taken. And yet again, another name added onto the list. The names of my fallen brothers and sisters will forever be etched into my mind.

If you take off the hashtag in front of that statement, it should ring a message much greater than any trending topic. If only with the coming of a New Year, that also means the end of police brutality and the value of Black lives within this country. But sadly, that isn’t the case.

Even with the coming of a New Year, the problems that have plagued us in 2014 continue to follow us into 2015. And it is on us to keep this movement going. To remember the Black lives that did not have a chance to flip that new page of their life, to celebrate the holidays with their families, and enjoy the prospects of what a New Year had to offer them. That includes, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, 10-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones and 43-year-old Eric Garner, just to name a few. All of these lives were snatched away prematurely at the hands of police officers. And the thing that frustrates me the most, is the very fact that the American judicial system refuses to bring in those perpetrators. And moreover, the media that continues to vilify the slain.

I refuse to ring in the 2015 by continuing to stay silent about an issue such as this. And at our last demonstration–more than 40 people who participated let their actions speak for them. To say that they too are sick of seeing Black lives being murdered across this nation, alongside with a “justice” system that continue to not hold anyone accountable for these killings.

So expect more demonstrations, expect more rallies, and protests. A few people may be sick and tired of hearing about this issue or movement, but please understand that this is not just merely a hashtag for some of us–this is our reality. And I refuse to see another one of my innocent brothers’ or sisters’ names added onto the list of lives taken by the hands of police officials.

So we march forth into 2015 — with the same message:
no justice, no peace!

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Photos from the Wheaton Mall #BlackLivesMatter die-in, New Year’s Day 2015

The Wheaton Mall #BlackLivesStillMatter die-in on New Year’s Day was a great success, with about a hundred people taking part. Mall-goers welcomed and some even joined the demonstration.  Here are a few photos, courtesy of Martine Zee.

Die-in. Photo: Martine Zee

Mother and children. Photo: Martine Zee

“If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things that you do not see.” — James Baldwin.   Photo: Martine Zee

Click any photo for a slideshow of photos of the event. Please share yours, if you like! — contact us at mococivilrights@gmail.com.

News coverage was largely favorable.  One person was arrested after splitting away from the planned protest with a small group; we hope to learn more about what the outcome was. Selected news coverage: ‘Die-in’ at Wheaton mall puts spotlight on racism (WTOP); Group stages die-in at Wheaton Plaza (WUSA); Peaceful New Year’s Day protest at Wheaton mall ends with an arrest (WJLA);  Die-In Staged At Wheaton Plaza (AM1260 The Answer); Scene at #BlackLivesMatter protest die-in, Wheaton mall, MD Ferguson Liveuamap.com.

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Wheaton Mall “#BlackLivesMatter” die-in set for New Year’s Day

blacklivesstillmatterLocal activists Elsa Lakew and Mariam Jiffar are organizing a peaceful, nonviolent #BlackLivesStillMatter die-in at Wheaton Mall at 1pm on New Year’s Day.  On their Facebook event page, the organizers write:

The purpose of this demonstration is to raise awareness about the countless Black lives that have been taken, and to send a message that this issue hasn’t gone away and won’t be swept under the rug just because it’s a new year.

Even though it is a new year, we are dealing with the same problem: young Black people are being targeted and killed by the police, yet officers face no charges.

These young men and women will be remembered, and we will hold this demonstration to mourn the loss of those who have been killed, remind everyone that the fight is not over, and demand safe and responsible law enforcement going forward.

A flyer to be handed out at the event reiterates these points, and lists MCCRC, Unchained, and the Washington Peace Center as some recommended avenues for joining this cause.

Organizers have been in touch with both Montgomery County police and the mall proprietors; all parties are working to ensure that the event is a safe and peaceful one.  When you join us, please join us in that spirit; also, let organizers know by registering yourself at their Facebook event page, or by contacting lakewelsa@gmail.com or mariam.jiffar@gmail.com.   Die-in participants should be prepared to work with organizers to respect the ability of mall shoppers to get around or past them (per Montgomery County ordinance).  Organizers also prefer that these participants be persons of color, while white supporters are encouraged to hold signs or banners in support — again, with a concern not to obstruct foot traffic.  The goal is to be  visible, memorable, and motivating — not obstructive.

The location of the die-in will be near the Macy’s interior mall entrance, bottom floor. Everyone is encouraged to wear black.   Westfield Wheaton Mall is at 11600 Veirs Mill Road (zoom in on the map to see the Macy’s location within the mall).  The mall is very near the Metro Wheaton stop on the Red Line.
Continue reading

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Join us for a movie and conversation with the filmmaker

A new documentary by award-winning fimmaker Johanna Hamilton about the break-in that exposed COINTELPRO.

1971 1971film

Saturday June 21
11:15 a.m.
AFI Theatre
8633 Colesville Rd
Silver Spring, MD 

In March of 1971, a break-in occurred at an FBI field office in Media, PA, that resulted in the theft of every single document contained within it. The true nature of what was discovered within those files would soon prove to be more shocking than the crime itself. Finally, the story of how it all went down is revealed in director Johanna Hamilton’s searing portrait of past events that echo into our own present

Come see the movie, and join us afterwards at Asian Bistro for a conversation with Johanna Hamilton.

The film is part of AFI Docs. We recommend buying your ticket ahead of time here. You are strongly urged to arrive 15 minutes before the start time.

We are pleased that Johanna Hamilton has agreed to join us for conversation after the film at Asian Bistro (around the corner from AFI). She is deeply concerned about mass surveillance by the NSA, and continued FBI monitoring and disruption of peace and justice groups. Let’s discuss with her how her film can illuminate and educate. It will be a fascinating discussion!

AFI Theater is located at 8633 Colesville Rd, Silver Spring, MD

Asian Bistro is at 8537 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, MD

You will be able to purchase lunch or beverages at Asian Bistro.

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MCCRC supports Maryland marijuana reform efforts

The drug war in general and the criminalization of marijuana use in particular have been costly, oppressive failures throughout the United States, Maryland, and Montgomery County.  While the potential and actual harms of substance overuse and abuse cannot be denied, not all substance use is abuse — and an unnecessarily punitive, unequally enforced legal system exacerbates and creates harms of its own.

In a recent national study, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” the ACLU has shown that in state after state and county after county, black Americans are arrested for marijuana possession at rates generally anywhere from twice to eight times that of white Americans — despite basically identical marijuana usage:

The War on Marijuana has largely been a war on people of color. […] In 2010, the Black arrest rate for marijuana possession was 716 per 100,000, while the white arrest rate was 192 per 100,000.  […] In states with the worst disparities,  Blacks were on average over six times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white residents in the same county.

The ACLU of Maryland finds a similar pattern in its own report, “The Maryland War on Marijuana in Black and White“:

In every county in the Free State, Blacks are disproportionately targeted for enforcement of marijuana laws. The glaring racial disparities are as staggering in the suburbs of Baltimore and Washington D.C. as they are on the Eastern Shore or in Western Maryland. They are as likely to exist in large counties as small, in counties with high median family incomes or low median incomes. They exist regardless of whether Blacks make up a large majority or small minority of a county’s population. And the disparities have only gotten worse over time.

In particular, blacks are over three times as likely as whites to be arrested on marijuana possession charges in Montgomery County — and that may understate the disparity.  From the ACLU Maryland report: “Between 2001–2010, Black arrests went up by 45%, even though the Black population increased by less than half that much. By 2010, Blacks made up 18% of Montgomery County’s population, but 46% of all marijuana possession arrests. These statistics likely underestimate race disparities in marijuana possession arrests, as Montgomery County has Maryland’s largest Latino population, which was not accounted for in the data reviewed.”  While there’s reason to support decriminalization of marijuana in any event, these unequal arrest rates make this a particularly urgent civil rights issue.

Fortunately, a groundswell of support for decriminalization or legalization of marijuana is building in Maryland:

MCCRC was also asked to join in support of the ACLU of Maryland’s marijuana reform efforts.  We are proud to do so.  We hope to actively advocate for marijuana reform bills before the Maryland legislature, actively educate supporters and the public about the costs to civil liberties caused by the war on drugs — and actively support politicians and candidates such as Heather Mizeur who advocate for marijuana reform.  Advocacy like theirs — and the campaign season ahead — make us optimistic that the time has come for marijuana reform in Maryland.

Activism on this issue falls squarely within MCCRC’s mission to defend civil rights and civil liberties everywhere by defending them at home.  As outlined at newsrackblog, the drug war in general and marijuana criminalization in particular have gone hand in hand with erosions of civil rights and civil liberties: “Black, white, or Hispanic; Christian, Jewish, or Muslim; activist or not;  marijuana user or not: push back against the war on marijuana — both the biggest and arguably the least justified part of the War on Drugs — and the rights you restore or preserve will be your own.”

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MCCRC bids adieu to Kit Bonson

Kit Bonson was one of the founders of MCCRC — along with Sue Udry, Martine Zee and Thomas Nephew — in the wake of the FBI raids on the midwest activists in September 2010.  At the time, we came together to provide local support to those activists, who never had charges placed against them and refused to appear in front of the Grand Jury.  Since that time, Kit has been in the center of all the organizing that MCCRC has undertaken.  Now Kit is leaving MCCRC to spend more time with her work on reproductive rights with the Abortion Care Network and on promoting socially-engaged poetry with Split This Rock.  We wish her the best!

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