The mounting number of recent deaths of Black people at the hands of police have placed the nation in a state of outrage, and Maryland lawmakers are no exception.
Tuesday afternoon, House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) penned a letter to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) asking him to take immediate action to reform police use of force policies in the state.
“The past three weeks have exposed what some of us have known for years: that enforcement of our laws has not yielded equal justice for all Marylanders,” Jones wrote. “Policing in our country is broken.”
The letter, co-signed by all of the other 98 Democratic House lawmakers, details steps taken hand-in-hand with Hogan to repair police-community relations in Maryland, including the Justice Reinvestment Act, passed in 2016 in an attempt to reform the state’s sentencing, corrections and parole systems.
In spite of this, Jones stated that legislators “have not done enough to fix policing in Maryland.”
In 2015 and 2016, Hogan signed bills put forth by House lawmakers aimed at doubling-down on efforts to review and implement state policing reforms, leading the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission to issue a series of best practices and data aggregation requirements.
“But we need to do more,” the letter reads.
Jones and her fellow House Democrats are asking Hogan to issue an executive order that would require the implementation of some of those best practice recommendations, including:
- Limiting use of force practices to instances where the life of an officer or civilian is faced with the “imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury”
- Mandating officer intervention when witnessing the implementation of unreasonable use of force
- Creating an “early warning system” to pinpoint repeated instances of use of force and opt to retrain those officers
- Prohibiting shooting at moving vehicles unless they are being used as a weapon of deadly force
- Ordering all officers serving in Maryland State law enforcement agencies to sign statements pledging to “respect every human life” and “act with compassion toward others”
Several of these calls echo bill proposals put forth by Senate Judicial Proceedings Chairman William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) earlier this month.
Additionally, Jones has requested that Hogan prohibit the use of chokeholds and is asking the Police Training and Standards Commission to compile a report determining which police departments have executed their own use of force policies, which have required implicit bias and de-escalation training and whether or not they are reporting use of force data.
Jones is expecting the final report to the General Assembly by July 10.
‘With the stroke of a pen’
Late last month, the House speaker announced the creation of a workgroup aimed at reviewing law enforcement use of force, misconduct procedures and other policing reform “to undo the systemic inequality that our justice system continues to hand out every day,” Jones wrote.
The workgroup, chaired by House Judiciary Committee Vice-Chair Vanessa Atterbeary (D-Howard), is set to begin meeting next week in order to make recommendations for the 2021 legislative session.
In spite of this effort, Jones expressed the need for more urgent action.
“This is not a partisan issue: I don’t care who gets the credit,” she said in a statement. “We need to start implementing policing changes now.”
“With the stroke of the pen, Governor Hogan has the power to save someone’s life today.”
Maryland Matters reached out to the governor’s office for a response to Jones’s requests but was told administration officials need more time to review the letter.
Some Maryland legislators have joined a growing list of lawmakers nationwide who have promised to stop taking donations from the Fraternal Order of Police.
So far, Dels. Jazz Lewis (D-Prince George’s), Lesley J. Lopez (D-Montgomery), Julie Palakovich Carr (D-Montgomery) and Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery) are the only members of the General Assembly to have signed the pledge put forth by the Color of Change PAC.
“Let’s be real: the police union is very unlikely to donate to my campaign,” Stewart tweeted Tuesday afternoon. “But I still signed this No Cash From Cops pledge because blue money matters. We can’t stop police violence without cutting off the flow of police money to elected officials.”
Maryland lawmakers on Capitol Hill are also pushing for police reform in light of recent killings.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) spoke on the Senate floor Tuesday about the need to adopt the Justice in Policing Act, which is poised to reform police transparency and accountability practices nationwide.
Van Hollen said that racism is a “deep, ingrained problem” that needs to be overhauled.
“We need to change the culture — here in the Senate we must change laws to compel change in the culture,” he argued, “but let us remember the police as an institution are a reflection of the greater society and we have an obligation to change all of those institutions where we find ingrained racist practices — everywhere we find it.”
Van Hollen noted that since George Floyd’s suffocation at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in late May, several other Black men have died in interactions with law enforcement, including Rayshard Brooks, who was shot in the back by police Friday after falling asleep in his car at a Wendy’s in Atlanta.
“That encounter should never have ended that way,” Van Hollen said.
The senator also brought up several instances of white supremacy that narrowly escaped ending in violence, including an incident in New York City’s Central Park last month where Amy Cooper, a white woman, called the police on a Black bird watcher after he asked her to leash her dog.
“She was exploiting the fact that she would likely be believed,” he said.
Van Hollen explained that “tinkering with the system” and calling for more data will not be enough to fix the years of oppression that has led to the deaths seen today.
“This is a moment of reckoning for this country. Another one,” Van Hollen said. “This time let’s not allow it to pass and let’s start — let’s start right now — by taking up and passing the Justice in Policing Act.”
“But that is just a start.”