Opinion: Dist. 18 Constituents Question Senator’s Priorities on Police Reform, Other Measures

The Maryland State House. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

One of the key responsibilities of elected officials is to safeguard those who are most vulnerable. But who does state Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher protect, and who does he serve? Those are the questions that we, as residents of District 18, are asking after the senator’s eyebrow-raising performance in the 2021 legislative session.

Like the rest of the nation, Marylanders have been actively engaged in movements to stop racist police violence. Large coalitions have made clear their support for needed changes to our policing and court systems that disproportionately harm Black and Brown persons. Waldstreicher and his constituents are well aware that several Black men in our county have been killed by police in recent years, and that county police verbally abused and threatened a 5-year-old Black child last year.

Yet, after making public statements in support of enacting meaningful policing reform, Waldstreicher voted with the Republican members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (JPR) and against his constituents and statewide community advocates on certain key reforms, including the ability of local jurisdictions to create civilian oversight bodies.

Sen. Jeffrey D. Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery)

We were dismayed when Waldstreicher introduced or supported several amendments from the Fraternal Order of Police and the Chiefs and Sheriffs Associations. For example, Waldstreicher was the deciding vote in committee on one such amendment from Sen. Michael Jackson (D-Prince George’s), and he introduced an amendment to allow police to expunge their misconduct records as well as an amendment making it harder to discipline officers with certain criminal convictions. Most other Democrats on JPR refused to support him, and the committee did not pass most of his amendments.

In addition, when Del. Vaughn Stewart (D) introduced a bill that would permit the Montgomery County Council to shift some traffic enforcement duties from the police to the Department of Transportation (with the full support of the county council), Waldstreicher told a group of student activists that he would support the bill if it came up for a vote. But advocates and even some fellow elected officials have told us that Waldstreicher was a primary obstacle behind the scenes and succeeded in making sure the bill did not come up for a vote.

Police reform was not the only area in which Waldstreicher turned his back on vulnerable Marylanders. Waldstreicher was one of two Democrats in the JPR who voted with Republicans in favor of Governor Hogan’s crime bill, which would have increased prison sentences and driven up the prison population. Additionally, Waldstreicher agreed to sponsor legislation to further decriminalize marijuana, but then signaled support for Republican-sponsored amendments that would have weakened the bill — and the measure wound up dying in committee.

Waldstreicher also ignored constituents who urged him to support a juvenile justice reform bill that would have given critical protections to children charged with crimes, and failed to use his leadership position to push the committee chair to bring the Juvenile Interrogation Protection Act, which would have required police to allow children to consult with a lawyer prior to interrogation, up for a vote.

Waldstreicher’s neglect of our most vulnerable children — especially those who are transgender and non-binary — is further exemplified by his refusal to co-sponsor the Inclusive Schools Act.​ This bill would have protected LGBTQ students from discrimination, and it should have been a no-brainer for Waldstreicher. Yet despite constituents begging him to ensure the bill made it out of committee in time for the Senate to vote on it, the measure ran out of time on the Senate floor.

This was not the only time Waldstreicher appeared to dismiss the pressing needs of the LGBTQ community during this session. In committee, Waldstreicher questioned the urgency of the Inclusive Schools Act as well as a bill to ban the “trans panic defense.” When advocates asked why he wasn’t moving more quickly on these bills, Waldstreicher said the committee was “too busy.”

Ultimately, Waldstreicher supported the trans panic defense bill, but only after being pressured to do so at the very end of session. The day after the vote, he acknowledged on Facebook that the bill “forced him” to recognize that “we haven’t done enough for our transgender neighbors.”

When the legislative session ended, Waldstreicher tweeted, “Democracy is dependent upon trust in the government. And when Black and Brown Marylanders lose trust… it is like acid slowly eating through the framework of our democracy.”

Waldstreicher’s constituents, especially those who are Black and Brown, have no reason to trust him. We would have replied to his tweet to say this, but we couldn’t because he had disabled the responses on his account.

Toni Holness, District 18, Silver Spring

Elissa Laitin, District 18, Silver Spring

Joanna Silver, District 18, Silver Spring

Max Socol, District 18, Silver Spring

Michael Tardif, District 18, Kensington

Elaine Weiss, District 18, Silver Spring

Michelle C. Whittaker, District 18, Kensington