#whatupbmore: Baltimore hosts a townhall on what lessons it can learn from Ferguson
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: On Tuesday, September 9, Empowerment Temple Family Life Center on Baltimore’s west side hosted a town hall on Ferguson and Baltimore’s youth, asking the question, now what, B’more?
The evening started with music and a moment of silence for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teen fatally shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on August 9. Congressman Elijah Cummings addressed the almost entirely African-American audience.
ELIJAH CUMMINGS, U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: We have to redefine the relationship between police and black boys and black men.
NOOR: Blaming the media, the congressman told the rapt audience that the portrayals on TV helped criminalize black youth in the eyes of law enforcement.
CUMMINGS: A lot of people, the only thing they know about our boys and our men is what they see on the 6 o’clock news. They never see the men that March in here every Sunday, the strong black men singing on the choir. They don’t see them.
NOOR: J. Wyndal Gordon explained how arrests for simple disk misdemeanors for young African-American men in Baltimore often result in months in prison.
J. WYNDAL GORDON, ATTORNEY: Imagine being taken away from your family from six to eight months. You can’t even work to provide a job. And then they throw something at you–plead guilty to the first count, this felony. Yeah, it’s a felony, but you’ll go home today. You’ll go home today. And then that person has to make a decision. And these are the decisions that African-American men are faced with every day: do I go home and be with my family and try to repair all that was broken as a result of a very minor offense, or no offense at all, or do I continue to fight and sit in jail longer because the case gets postponed about three to four times?
NOOR: Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake instead she acknowledged that police brutality needs to be addressed. But she emphasized that the African-American community needs to cooperate with police to get justice in such cases like that of McKenzie Elliot.
STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE, MAYOR OF BALTIMORE: And everybody wants to be mad at the commissioner, ’cause he promised that he was going to get an arrest. The person’s in jail. But we can’t charge him. The attorneys will tell you we can’t–you charged once, right? We don’t get a couple of times at this. You’ve got to make it stick. So we need the information. Who has the information? Right? We do. So it’s beyond complacency. To me, you know, you want to talk about a demonic spirit in our community that’s going to let the killer of a three-year-old child run free–he is not serving time; he’s held on something else–that’s our doing. So if we don’t own up to that, we could be mad. We need to deal with police brutality. I’m not taking that away. But we’ve got to start speaking up for our kids that are getting killed every single day around this country.
NOOR: Following Mayor Rawlings-Blake was Rev. Dr. Heber Brown with Pleasant Hope Baptist Church, who’s also a board member for The Real News Network.
REV. DR. HEBER BROWN III, PASTOR, PLEASANT HOPE BAPTIST CHURCH: A young black man was shot multiple times. He died in the street. The officer who was shot him was not arrested. Thousands of people marched to protest. They met with elected officials to demand justice for this young man. You would think I’m talking about Michael Brown, but I’m not. I’m talking about a young man named Thomas Broadus. In 1942, Thomas Broadus was shot down by a Baltimore City police officer and his body was left in the street. Black folk in Baltimore got together and organized, followed the leadership of Carl Murphy of the Afro-American newspaper and Lillie Jackson of the NAACP. They organized 2,000 people to march on Annapolis to demand a meeting with the governor. And guess what they were talking about? Police brutality.
Now, somebody forgot the year already. I said 1942. Seventy-two years ago, my grandparents and your grandparents was debating the issue of police brutality. We are fighting our grandparents’ fight. And I’ll be damned if my grandchildren are going to fight a fight that we have the power right now to end in our community.
NOOR: Doctor Brown said revoking the police officers’ bill of rights would be the first step in getting accountability for the actions of rogue police.
BROWN: Real quick things. We’ve got to organize on specific agenda items. We need Congress to revisit that amendment that allowed the militarized weapons to get into our communities. I’m thankful for the congressman here. We need Congress to reconsider that amendment. We need the city and state starting to impanel grand juries in Baltimore City, so that highly controversial cases like the murder of Tyrone West [incompr.] for the people to determine what indictments will come to officers, because city power has not proved successful in holding the police department accountable.
My brother J. Wyndal Gordon put it up so nicely last week: we need to repeal and revise the law enforcement officers’ bill of rights and allows for the shielding of officers who engage in misconduct in the city, and it needs to be revised and/or repealed. We need legislation in Annapolis starting in January, so that we have a zero tolerance for police brutality/harassment in our city.
And we need to publish the names of every officer in every community that engages in police brutality. If they put Pookie and Man-Man’s name on the news and in the paper for an allegation of a crime that’s not proven, why the hell can’t we have police officers’ names on the news and in the paper when they are alleged to have conducted misconduct in our communities?
Organize! Organized! Organize! Beggars can’t be choosy. Power concedes nothing without a demand.
NOOR: Police detective Efren Edwards called for the removal of abusive officers from the Baltimore police force.
EFREN EDWARDS, BALTIMORE POLICE DETECTIVE: I recognize and I would be a liar if I were to sit here tonight and tell you that there are those on the police department who should not wear a service weapon, a badge, and the patch that I wear. I stand here tonight and I tell you that I wear my uniform with pride. I’m from Baltimore. My family is still here in Baltimore, I have a host of aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins who live in Baltimore, and I educate them about certain officers in their area, because I trained them.
This is not to say anything negative about the Baltimore City Police Department. I know that the mayor and the commissioner are working diligently to remove those who do not belong on our police department.
But I would also say that it takes a community, like the reverend said, to be a voice. I have four children, and I don’t allow the Police Department to raise my children. I raise my children.
NOOR: Detective Edwards even acknowledged that even he fears what fellow Baltimore police officers may do to his children.
HOH: I stand here transparent and I tell you I am petrified to let my sons and daughters–I have four kids–in the city limits if they’re not with a family member. And I shouldn’t feel that way, because I grew up Loch Raven and Cold Spring Lane, 1329 Crofton Road. We didn’t have the tragedies that are happening today then. But I also say that my father put the fear of God in me, so I wasn’t going to be out there doing something stupid.
I don’t want to take too much time up, but I would say that do not judge all police officers by their uniform. I stand here and I tell you that I do the best that I can to be the role model for you, because the bottom line is you pay my salary. I work for you. And I recognize that. And I make mistakes, but I understand malice, I understand gross negligence, and that line will not be crossed. But I understand there are those on the department who do, and I know for a fact that we are working as hard as we can to try and remove those entities.
NOOR: In response to an audience question on what next steps are needed to be taken to avoid a repeat of Ferguson happening in Baltimore, Gordon echoed Dr. Heber Brown’s sentiments that the police officers’ bill of rights should be repealed or amended to make the police department more accountable to the people.
GORDON: I’ve always said that the law enforcement officers’ bill of rights is the deadliest piece of legislation to come out of the General Assembly since the death penalty act. I think it’s responsible for claiming more deaths of African-Americans since its enactment in 1974 than Maryland’s death penalty act during that same period of time. You know, the death penalty act has since been repealed. But in the law enforcement officers’ bill of rights, police officers have ten days before they can be questioned for police misconduct. And in that ten days, they are to get a lawyer. And if they are unable to get a lawyer within that ten days, they can get an extension of that ten days so that they can have a lawyer. They can only be interrogated at their precinct during the times that they are on duty, with their lawyer present, who can intercede and object to any questions and demand that their client not answer certain questions. And that’s why we have this lack of accountability. And even good police officers–I’ve even heard commissioner Batts express his frustration for the law enforcement officers bill of rights, because it stymied his investigations into police misconduct.
NOOR: From Baltimore, this is Jaisal Noor.