The Real News speaks with Baltimore legislators, advocates and activists about what they say are necessary changes to state law including the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, and a planned protest on January 15th
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore, where advocates and adds activists have gathered to unveil their legislative agenda for 2015. On top of the list is reform of state law that some say prevents accountability of abusive officers, especially the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. Maryland’s police bill of rights is among the strongest such bills in the country. While it does not shield police from criminal investigation, it does keep internal disciplinary procedures secret and gives officers ten days before they speak to internal investigators. It also stipulates that only law enforcement can investigate and punish other law enforcement. ~~~ NOOR: “The [law] is working as it should”, said Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore, president of the Maryland sheriffs association. “There are no statewide problems with the [law] as it is currently written.” The executive director of the state Chiefs of Police Association, Larry Harmel, told The Sun that there’s obviously concern that reform will be tried, and their “antennas are up” is what he told The Baltimore Sun. What’s your response to that? JILL P. CARTER, MARYLAND DELEGATE (D-41): Therein lies the problem, the fact that they’re in such deep denial that there is a problem. It isn’t working as it should if it’s protecting bad officers, and it’s in their own interest to make the proper changes, so that they’re preserving the integrity of law enforcement. And right now they’re not doing that. So it’s unfortunate that they’re so unwilling to acknowledge the truth and make proper changes. But we just have to push through that like a bulldozer and force them to do the right thing. ~~~ NOOR: Activists also say they plan to disrupt and protest the opening session on January 15. ~~~ DAYVON LOVE, DIRECTOR, RESEARCH AND PUBLIC POLICY LEADERS OF A BEAUTIFUL STRUGGLE: So next Thursday, January 15, there’s going to be a mass demonstration. It’s going to be at ten o’clock in Annapolis. There are going to be buses that leave from Baltimore at 8 a.m., one on the east side, one on the west side, so one at Mondawmin, one from Alameda Shopping Center. The point of the demonstration is to provide force behind legislative changes around the issues of police brutality and other issues that affect people most directly affected by racism and white supremacy, poverty, etc. And so that’s really the plan, where our hope is is that this can send a message to legislators who will likely be influenced by law enforcement’s powerful lobby. NOOR: Who’ve already said they oppose any changes. LOVE: Exactly. Exactly. And they’re very powerful. Current elected officials have already kind of backed off of some promises in terms of challenging the law enforcement bill of rights and strengthening the Civilian Review Board. So our plan is to demonstrate that the people will show up in Annapolis, and to demonstrate support for those legislative efforts. NOOR: And people like Delegate Jill Carter have said it’s essential this be a sustained effort. Are there any plans to keep that going? LOVE: Absolutely. One of the things that’s really important during general assembly is to have people there for hearings. And so one big part of bringing people to Annapolis is to bring people to a hearing so that the legislators on those committees can see the mass support. And it’ll be unique the session, given all the things that have happening all the organizing happening, people present, particularly during those hearings, will make the legislators that are particularly important in getting those bills passed on notice about the pressure that is to be beared. ~~~ CARTER: You know, I hope there is a protest, because I think there should be. I think that it’s very important for people to wake the legislature up. It’s one thing to protest in the streets, but I think it’s more significant to protest where the legislators, where the policy records actually are. And so we’re just starting in session. And so I’d like to see the protesters take over the halls of Annapolis. NOOR: At the event, which was hosted by associated black charities and Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, advocates discussed the reforms to state law they would like to see implemented in 2015. Many called for reforms to the criminal justice system. CHARLY CARTER, EXEC. DIR., MARYLAND WORKING FAMILIES: This is probably one of the most important meetings we’ll have in Baltimore this year. And I say that because there’s so much energy right now on the streets, so many people are paying attention, and there is such a danger of losing the attention and the passion and the energy that could make real change in Annapolis and make real change for all of us. There’s a real danger of losing that if we can’t figure out how to direct that. TONI HOLNESS, PUBLIC POLICY ASSOCIATE, ACLU-MD: –talking about solitary confinement here in Maryland’s prisons. So last year, the Vera Institute of Justice produced a report that showed that comparatively with other states, Maryland is really close to the belly of the beast when it comes to isolated confinement. And so there’s been no official state response to that report. So what we’re going to try to do is to put forth a reporting bill that would require the state to report on certain data points about what’s happening in these institutions, for example what sort of deaths we’re seeing, assaults, what length of stay we’re talking about, how long are people being held in solitary confinement. When we talk about rec time, is it two hours out of the cell in a bigger cell, or is it actually rec time? So that was what we’ve been looking at, solitary confinement, and hopefully getting a reporting bill so we can really know what’s happening. And the idea is that once we have that reporting bill or law passed, we can then move towards having some substantive changes. But as of right now, we don’t even really know what’s happening in our institution. So that’s the first starting point. In this country, one in three Americans has some kind of a blemish on their criminal record, and we know, we all know what that means when it comes to trying to find a job and how doors are regularly immediately closed in the face of anyone who has any kind of a blemish on their background, no matter how minor it is, no matter how dated it is, all these things. People often don’t even get a chance to get their foot in the door. So the Second Chance Act is a bill that would allow for the shielding of certain nonviolent misdemeanor convictions. It will be back this year. There’s a broad coalition of groups working on it. And we need more help. PERRY HOPKINS, EX-OFFENDER: Right now we’re currently engaged in a campaign for felon assistance. Felons can’t get jobs, felons can’t get housing, even after they’ve completely served their time. I’ve completed parole and probation. I’ve gone through college. I’ve completed three job readiness programs. I’ve been to college and gotten certificates. And I can’t get a good job. I’m still serving time. JOHN P. COMER, LEAD ORGANIZER, MARYLAND COMMUNITIES UNITED: Alright. So this–our legislation is a part of a larger umbrella, which most of the organizations I’ve spoken to were looking to re-enfranchise the disenfranchised. Voting can help to possibly help the current recidivation, allow people to get back into the system, give people a reason to go down to Annapolis. And we’re also asking that the correctional system, upon release, lets, informs these men and women that they can vote, because many of them don’t know that they can’t vote. NOOR: The Real News will be covering the events on January 15. Again, activists say they plan to protest and perhaps even disrupt the opening of the 2015 Maryland legislative session. From Baltimore, this is Jaisal Noor.
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