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 Afro.com, “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
    Email: bobby.zirkin@senate.state.md.us
    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bobbyzirkin
    Web: http://www.bobbyzirkin.com/

    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
    Email: joseph.vallario@house.state.md.us
    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DelegateJoeVallario
  • 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
      Email: kathleen.dumais@house.state.md.us
    2. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D23a: Prince Georges County – Bowie)
      Phone: 410-841-3101 | 301-858-3101 | Toll-free: 1-800-492-7122 ext. 3101
      Email: geraldine.valentino.smith@house.state.md.us
      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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Speakers at this Friday’s town hall

We’re honored to have a wonderful group of speakers for this Friday’s event, “Police Abuses in Maryland: hear the stories, act for reform.” First, details about the event:

WHERE: Takoma Park Community Center, 7500 Maple Avenue, Takoma Park, MD (map), Azalea Room
WHEN: Friday, February 27th, 7-9 pm
(click here to RSVP at the Facebook event page)

Our speakers include:

Marion Gray-Hopkins (mother of police shooting victim Gary Hopkins)

Marion Gray-Hopkins is a mother of 3 adult children, grandmother of 6 and great grandmother of 2. She is currently retired after nearly 40 years in the banking industry. Her son Gary A Hopkins, Jr. was killed by police in 1999. She has participated in numerous marches and rallies to support reform against police brutality. Most recently she was engaged with the CODE PINK Organization to hear the stories first hand from mothers across the country who have lost their sons at the hands of  the police violence. She is a member of the PG County Peoples Coalition for Justice, and is actively involved in working towards reform of laws to stop the unjust killings of people of color.

Sara Love, ACLU-MD

Sara Love (policy director, ACLU Maryland)

Native Chicagoan Sara Love became the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland’s Public Policy Director in 2012 after serving as Board President for four years.  Love attended Princeton University and Northwestern University School of Law.  Previously, Love was the General Counsel and Legal Director at NARAL Pro-Choice America. Prior to that, she was Legal Director for the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Clinic Access Project and General Counsel to the National Women’s Health Foundation.

Oludipe Comfort Olubunmi at “Justice Monday” vigil, 1/26/2015

Olubunmi Comfort Oludipe (mother of police shooting victim Emmanuel Okutuga)

Emmanuel Okutuga, age 26, was shot and killed by MCPD police officer Christopher Jordan in Silver Spring on February 19, 2011.  Ever since, Ms. Olubunmi, known as “Mama Emmanuel,” has been active in calling for police accountability, establishing the “JusticeForEmmanuel” web site and joining numerous demonstrations in the DC area calling for an end to police-involved shootings like Okutuga’s.

Rion Dennis (executive director, Majority Minority Foundation)*

Rion Dennis has over a decade of experience as an organizer and activist in Maryland having served as Executive Director of Progressive Maryland and Regional Director of the NAACP. Mr. Dennis now heads up a new non-profit called the Majority Minority Foundation with a mission to prepare communities of color for our nation’s demographic shift to a majority minority populace.

Darlene Cain (mother of police shooting victim Dale Graham)

Darlene Cain is a mother from from Baltimore, Maryland. On October 28, 2008, her 29-year-old son Dale Graham was killed by a Baltimore City police officer. Since then she has been dedicated to lifting the voices of those who have had a family member killed by the police fbut were never given true justice and closure. She is is President and founder of MOTHERS ON THE MOVE.

Howard University: “Hands Up Don’t Shoot”

Leighton Watson (Howard University Student Assoc. president)

A 22-year-old Grand Rapids, Mich., native, Mr. Watson helped stage a viral photo at Howard University in August after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Since the photo, Mr. Watson has continued to speak out about injustices against young African Americans, including a speech at the Justice for All March in Washington, D.C.  He is president of Howard University’s student association and an ambassador for BET’s What’s at Stake initiative.  Mr. Watson is set to graduate in May, and hopes to get a Juris Doctor/Master of Business Administration joint degree and eventually practice law, start a successful practice — and go back into public service.

Tomas Alejo (“Identity” youth center director) (or designated alternate)

Mr. Alejo has worked for “Identity”, a Hispanic youth and family services agency, since 2013. He holds a Masters degree in Social Work from San Jose State University and a Bachelors Degree in Sociology from the University of California at Santa Cruz. Tomas is originally from Northern California where he gained experience working with formerly incarcerated, homeless, and gang-impacted populations with a focus on substance abuse. He has worked and interned at various social service agencies providing case management, advocacy, and therapy, and has served on the steering committees of the Santa Cruz Resource Center for Nonviolence, and the Santa Cruz Community Coalition to Overcome Racism.

Elsa Lakew

Elsa Lakew (#BlackLivesMatter and MCCRC activist)

Elsa Lakew grew up in Silver Spring and attended Montgomery Blair High School.  She now majors in economics at Howard University.  Elsa organized a #BlackLivesStillMatter “die-in” at Wheaton Plaza on January 1st, signifying a refusal to “to ring in 2015 by continuing to stay silent.”

Despite her youth, Ms. Lakew already has a long activist track record, helping blow the whistle on an Islamophobic event in Chevy Chase four years ago that led to a successful forum on the “creeping Sharia” myth.

Menna Demessie, Ph.D. (Vice President, Policy Analysis and Research, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation)

Dr. Menna Demessie is a senior research and policy analyst for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc. (CBCF) where she works on public policy issues relevant to African Americans. In her latest publication, Toward A More Inclusive America: African Americans & Voting Rights, she discusses the significance of restrictive voting law changes in the context of the Voting Rights Act and new age discrimination.

Prior to joining CBCF’s staff, Dr. Demessie worked for Representative Barbara Lee as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow focusing on unemployment legislation, poverty, and foreign policy.  She holds a joint doctorate in Public Policy and Political Science, a Master of Arts in Political Science and Certificate in African American, African and Black Transnational Studies from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Law and Society from Oberlin College.

David Moon. Image and bio via MD Leg. Archives

Delegate David Moon (D-20)

Native Takoma Park resident David Moon has been a member of the Maryland House of Delegates since January 14, 2015, where he serves on the Judiciary Committee.  Perhaps best known, before becoming delegate, for the pathbreaking “Maryland Juice” politics blog, Among the varied positions he’s held, Mr. Moon has worked as campaign director for Senator Jamie Raskin and County Councilmember Nancy Navarro, chief operating officer for the voting system advocacy group FairVote, and program director for the Internet advocacy group DemandProgress.

Bio references
Information from these sources was adopted in whole or in part:

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Police reform bills to watch in Annapolis – especially next Thursday

mdstatehouseA raft of Maryland police and justice reform bills will get their first public reviews in Senate Judicial Proceedings committee hearings next Thursday, February 26th in Annapolis.

Here are the police and police-reform bills we’ll be watching*:

  • SB0566 (HB0968): Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights – Alterations
  • SB0413 (HB0339): Vehicle Laws – Race-Based Traffic Stops – Policy and Reporting Requirements
  • SB0653 (HB0112): Criminal Procedure – Police-Involved Death – State Prosecutor

While MCCRC supports these three bills, our feelings are more mixed about another one, despite its support by Senators Raskin, Madaleno, and other stalwart civil liberties advocates in the Maryland legislature:

  • SB0482 (HB0627): Public Safety – Law Enforcement Officers – Body-Worn Cameras

In part, we question the value of body cams for accountability in the first place, regardless of safeguards; in part, we don’t see enough of those safeguards in this bill.

To be sure, we very much welcome that this bill ensures that police can’t pick and choose when to activate their cameras, that they can’t use them to surveille constitutionally protected activities (i.e., demonstrations or meetings), and that retrospective investigative use must at least be based on reasonable suspicion (though we’d prefer a probable cause standard).  On the other hand, the bill doesn’t appear to set storage time limits — as recommended by the national ACLU.**  It’s also not (yet?) clear to us how strong its safeguards  are against sharing body cam video with federal agencies, or whether it prevents unwarranted, real-time comparison of streaming, live data against biometric or other datasets.

Finally, there’s one bill we’re decidedly against — and we’re relieved to see it has no support in the Senate, at least not yet:

  • HB0028: Primary and Secondary Education – Security – School Resource Officers

We’ll have more on the merits of  each of these bills in future posts.  Meanwhile, the statewide “Maryland Coalition for Justice and Equality” is preparing for a massive show of support for the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBOR) reform,”Driving While Black” traffic stop reporting, and state prosecutor bills:

  • The ACLU of Maryland is urging police reform supporters to show up in force next Thursday, and is especially interested in soliciting testimony about police abuses and reform
    • from police abuse victims or their family members
    • from concerned citizens and activists
  • Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle” in Baltimore are preparing to bring busloads of grassroots lobbyists to Annapolis on Thursday
  • MCCRC will host a town hall next week — the day after the February 26th Senate hearings, but just under two weeks before corresponding House hearings on March 12th — on the topic of police abuses and reform.

Stay tuned.

* Senate bills are SB____,  the corresponding House bills are HB____.
** ACLU, Oct 2013: “Retention periods should be measured in weeks not years, and video should be deleted after that period unless a recording has been flagged.”

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Townhall on police abuses in Maryland: hear the stories, act for reform

In support of a sweeping Maryland Coalition for Justice and Equality (MCJE) police reform legislative agenda in Annapolis, Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition will be hosting a town hall next week titled “Police Abuses in Maryland – hear the stories, act for reform.”

WHERE: Takoma Park Community Center, 7500 Maple Avenue, Takoma Park, MD
WHEN: Friday, February 27th, 7-9 pm
(click here to RSVP at the Facebook event page)

Confirmed speakers include:

More about each speaker can be found here.

The town hall will take place the day after critical Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee hearings on police reform legislation supported by MCJE and MCCRC.

So come prepared learn about how those hearings went, and come prepared to call, text, email and/or tweet selected Annapolis legislators about reform bills like SB0566 (law enforcement officer ‘Bill of Rights’ (LEOBOR) reform) and SB0653 (state prosecutor for police-involved deaths).

Co-sponsors include ACLU Montgomery County, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Council on American Islamic Relations (Maryland), Defending Dissent Foundation, and HandsUpCoalition DC.

Watch this space for updates on speakers and co-sponsors.

#BlackLivesMatter on the streets today — in the State House tomorrow!

EDITS: 2/19: Mr. Dennis is no longer an NAACP Regional Field Director. We mistakenly indicated otherwise, and regret the error. 2/20: ACLU Montg. County and HandsUpCoalition DC added as co-sponsors. 2/25: added links to subsequent posts about speakers and Maryland Senate committee hearings.

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Tell us your police stories, Maryland

We already know of many stories of police abuse in Maryland — but if you have one, we want to hear yours too. Whether it involves yourself, someone you know, or someone else, please tell us about it in the form provided — so legislators in Annapolis can know about it.

Here’s the list of Maryland police-involved deaths we read out on January 24th and again on the 26th:

Here’s a wider list, which we’ve compiled from four sources so far.  Two — the Washington Post’s 2001 “The Blue Wall of Silence“ series (via ppsc.org), and  Fatal Encounters (2013-2015 data from Maryland news and public information) focus on police-involved deaths.  A third, US Police Shootings, includes nonfatal shootings; a fourth, Gun Violence Archive: Officer-involved Shootings, is less detailed than the others.


Asterisks in the second column indicate cases that, on their face, seem particularly problematic, whether because of an unarmed victim, questionable police choices, and/or other reasons.  (Not all of the cases have been evaluated, so that this roster may grow.)  Duplicates are marked as such in the third column, with the preferred record indicated with an asterisk.

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Save The Internet! with Popular Resistance

Advance elements of the banner-holding, demonstrating wing of the “Save The Internet” movement met tonight at Marx Cafe for beers, music, and an update about recent welcome ‘net neutrality’ news (and a look ahead to the next few weeks) from PopularResistance.org‘s Kevin Zeese.

The big news, of course, was FCC chair Tom Wheeler’s announcement yesterday:

…I am proposing that the FCC use its Title II authority to implement and enforce open internet protections.

Using this authority, I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC. These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services.

…including mobile broadband. In his blog post today (Major Historic Victory For Internet Freedom: The Fight Continues) recalling months of direct action activism, Zeese called the decision a “victory of people power over corporate power, indeed over one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, DC the telecom industry.”

In his remarks last night, Zeese acknowledged that while PopularResistance.org has been working on the issue for just ten months, other groups — like FreePress.net, also represented at the gathering — had been working on it for years.  Between now and the final decision at the end of the month, though, it may be that the technical expertise and online savvy of groups like FreePress, DemandProgress, EFF, EPIC, and Fight For the Future will need allies like PopularResistance.org and other groups emphasizing people power on the streets.

Without going into details, Zeese spoke of making cable company opponents to net neutrality “toxic” in public opinion — which may not be too hard a sell, actually.  As net neutrality opponents push back desperately in the next few weeks before the February 26 decision, I’m guessing we’ll see Zeese, co-director Margaret Flowers, and their supporters doing what they do best: reminding Washington, D.C., that it must at least occasionally listen to and heed the people and not the cable companies of the United States.

Save The Internet!

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Police body cameras: eyes on us, not on them?

In the wake of the Michael Brown shooting and subsequent non-indictment of officer Darren Wilson, many (including Michael Brown’s family) made the understandable call for police body cameras, since such a device might have provided visual documentation for the claims or counterclaims made in that case.

But are body cameras are really going to be effective, long-term means of making police more accountable to the public?  Or will they just be another device to switch on and off as it suits the cop on the beat — while providing another surveillance stream of unwarranted, suspicionless observations to sift and analyze long after the recording?

Problems with body cams
Writing for Truthout, Bill of Rights Defense Committee director Shahid Buttar gives three reasons to suspect that body cameras are no solution to police violence:

First, there’s no guarantee that the public will ever see footage from police body cameras, especially in cases where it may be helpful to defendants or civil litigants. […]

Second, even when body camera footage is public, it remains an inadequate solution at best. Cameras captured video of Eric Garner’s death, which millions of people watched on YouTube. But video neither saved Eric Garner nor helped hold his murderers accountable.

Moreover, even when everything does work as their proponents suggest, body cameras offer transparency only into particular incidents, not into patterns or practices.

Similarly, while one might expect that a grassroots organization named “Stop LAPD Spying” would oppose body cameras, their excellent four-page fact sheet supports that skepticism with references to news reports and studies from around the country.  Among their additional points: *

Dueling studies don’t prove body camera value, raise new issues
Of course, body camera proponents will point to their own favored studies and news reports, but these often prove less than overwhelming on closer scrutiny — and countervailing studies complicate the picture further.

Rialto, CA
One of the favorite studies cited by bodycam supporters shows that in a randomized trial of Rialto, CA Police Department shifts over a 13 month period, shifts with body cameras recorded fewer uses of force per police-public contact; use of force fell by 60%, while complaints filed fell by nearly 90%.

Yet on closer examination there were 7 months with essentially indistinguishable use of force rates, 1 month with a higher rates by body camera shifts, and just 5 months with distinctly lower use of force rates during the 13-month trial.

More to the point, a one-off 13 month trial simply can’t prove what the authors set out to claim —When we become aware that a video-camera is recording our actions, we also become self-conscious that unacceptable behaviors are likely to be captured on film, and the perceived certainly of punishment is at its highest.”  That seems to make sense on first blush — but depends in turn on whether those behaviors are actually, consistently judged to be unacceptable.  As experience ‘getting around’ or simply explaining away video footage accumulates (as seemed to happen in the Eric Garner case, for example), officers will simply learn how to game their cameras by turning them off, pointing them in an inconclusive direction –or narrating comments for the eventual record like “OK, I’m afraid for my life now.”

Fusion.net report
Meanwhile, other reports document the questionable implementation and utility of body cameras.  One in particular — “Investigation of 5 cities finds body cameras usually help police,” by Connie Fossie-Garcia and Dan Lieberman of Fusion.net — notes that Continue reading

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Civilian Review Boards: activist and association views

Police reform advocates like the newly forming Coalition for Justice and Equality and coalition member ACLU of Maryland are taking a close look at the “Law Enforcement Bill of Rights” (LEOBR), the statute that governs procedures when Maryland police stand accused of wrongful injury or death.  One measure under discussion is to authorize strong Civilian Review Boards (CRBs) that could serve as an independent, civilian check on police.  I decided to do a little research.

Lessons from Charlotte, NC
MCCRC’s long-time ally and coalition partner, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC) is in touch with activists around the country with experience in trying to make CRBs work.  They put us in touch with one of those activists: Robert Dawkins, a Democracy North Carolina organizer whodemocracync‘s had notable success in reforming the Charlotte, NC Civilian Review Board.  In a phone conversation, Mr. Dawkins identified some of the key issues as …

  • Information gathering: i.e., is the board empowered to make informed decisions?  Police departments often only share summaries of a case rather than whole case file, citing concerns about confidentiality.  Perhaps understandably, it’s a key issue for police unions — but the practice meant CRB members were forced to take the police department’s word about the case, rather than review it themselves.   The solution to the dilemma was for Charlotte CRB board members to sign confidentiality agreements — and see the full case files.
  • Threshold for investigation: before the Charlotte reforms, its CRB could only go forward with cases where a “preponderance of evidence“supported the complaint (n.b.: when much of that evidence was unavailable to the board and plaintiffs).  That was too high a burden, one leading to game-changing headlines that the “CMPD review panel rules against citizens – every time” (Charlotte Observer 2/16/13):  “…It’s not surprising citizens have never won: The board has no independent power to investigate, and citizens must meet an unusually high standard of evidence for the board to even hold a formal hearing.”  After months of debate, Charlotte City Council revised the process: the new threshold for review was “substantial evidence” supporting the complaint.
  • Difficulty for plaintiffs: the complaint process can be confusing and bureaucratic; while the police officers and their lawyers are familiar  with it, new plaintiffs are not.  The city of Charlotte now appoints advocates to help plaintiffs navigate the process.
  • Transparency: reforms in Charlotte helped make it easier to know who was on the CRB, how often they met, and how they are appointed — keeping both the board and the city government that appointed its members accountable to the public.

But the principal issue for a truly effective CRB — one that’s “worth a hill of beans,” to quote Mr. Dawkins — is this:

  • Decision making power:what power does the board have to subpoena or investigate independently? In Charlotte, the answer unfortunately remained: “none.”  State laws would need to be changed for North Carolina CRBs to get real power.  There’s an excellent proposed Prohibition of Discriminatory Practices Bill,” sponsored by Rep. Rodney Moore, that would give North Carolina CRBs subpoena authority, but it’s unlikely to be passed by the state legislature.

There’s an association for everything, so there’s one for CRBs: the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE). For those of us who’d like to learn more about CRBs, the NACOLE web site provides a listserv, newsletter, detailed oversight agency profiles and enabling legislation for CRBs in cities from Albany to Portland and San Francisco, as well as a number of backgrounder white paper reports.

The association has submitted a statement to the Presidential Commission on 21st Century Policing,” the body convened by President Obama in response to events in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, and elsewhere.  In it, NACOLE President Brian Buchner writes, Continue reading

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