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  February 23, 2017

The Blue State Where Progressive Reforms go to Die

Maryland is blocking police reforms despite damning DoJ report and pleas from activists - By Stephen Janis and Taya Graham
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STEPHEN JANIS: This is Stephen Janis reporting for The Real News Network in Annapolis, Maryland. Police reform has been a huge issue in Baltimore. Currently, Baltimore City is under consent decree with the federal government over issues of corruption and problems with discipline in the Baltimore City Police Department. But now down in Annapolis, another conflict: whether or not civilians will be able to participate in what's known as internal trial boards, boards that decide the fate of officers.

This is Annapolis, the state capitol of Maryland, the allegedly blue state where apparently progressive dreams go to die. And nowhere is that truism more obvious than inside here, the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing Room where testimony was heard for several key pieces of reform legislation on Tuesday. Among them, including civilians on police disciplinary boards, and rolling back solitary confinement for the mentally ill.

But despite the uprising after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody and a scathing report by the Justice Department recounting unconstitutional and racist practices by the Baltimore City Police Department, the pleas seemed to fall upon deaf ears.

MAN: I feel like, yes, there are reforms that were... are needed, were needed, that you're working on, I'm sure, but I also feel like there's maybe a little bit of a, you know, not wanting to take responsibility for some of the things that have happened that have caused the police departments to be a little bit... to have trouble in the towns or the cities that they're trying to enforce the law.

STEPHEN JANIS: Even with testimony and support from Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis.

CATHERINE PUGH: We believe that having more trained citizens on the trial boards are important. It's important to police and community relations, it's important to confidence in the community with the police and the police with the communities...

KEVIN DAVIS: This particular goal, civilians on hearing boards, is another way the BPD is showing commitment to transparency and reform at a very unique time in our city's history.

STEPHEN JANIS: The most prominent obstacle: Committee Chair and Democratic State Senator Bobby Zirkin who cast doubt on having civilians participate in police discipline.

BOBBY ZIRKIN: It's a little concerning to me on multiple levels, but as a precedent that a county would come down here on issues that are unrelated to this and say, well, we didn't like the way that our bargaining with Baltimore County's teachers went, so State Legislature, can you pass a bill to undo this?

STEPHEN JANIS: All the while apparently receiving approval from police union officials sitting nearby. His apparent resistance (?) speaks to precisely what drives the state's politics: money. Campaign finance records reveal Zirkin has received thousands of dollars from police unions across the state, but his ties to special interests fighting reform doesn't stop there. He has also received tens of thousands of dollars from the bail bonds industry, which is why advocates say ending cash bail and police reform may not happen this year. We asked Zirkin for comment, but he declined. After the hearing, The Real News learned that another bill to roll back access to police body camera footage is also on the agenda. Its sponsor? MACo, the Maryland Association of Cities and Counties. ACLU Legal Director David Rocca said the bill would be another blow against progressive reform efforts to policing.

DAVID ROCCA: There's a real danger that it will be interpreted by police departments and courts to mean that all the public would have access to is the moment of a shooting, or the moment of a detention, and not all of the events in the incident, not the events leading up to it, which are obviously critical to understanding whether the law enforcement action was appropriate or not.

STEPHEN JANIS: And ongoing reality for a state that purports to be blue, but seemed to turn red when it counts the most. This is Stephen Janis and Taya Graham reporting for The Real News Network in Annapolis, Maryland.




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