ACLU-MD finds African-Americans killed by police at disproportional rate, only two officers charged in the killings, and no state mechanism to track or learn from fatal encounters
STEPHEN JANIS, TRNN CORRESPONDENT: Amid increasing concerns about policing in Maryland, a new report from the ACLU outlines the impact of the use of force by police on African Americans throughout the state. Since 2010, the ACLU found in this report that 109 people died during encounters with police. Of those, 69 percent were black, even though African Americans make up just 29 percent of the population in the state. SONIA KUMAR, ATTORNEY, ACLU MD: It’s shocking but not surprising that so many of the people who died in police encounters were African-American. JANIS: It’s an imbalance the ACLU says raises questions against how force is used by police in minority communities. The study also reveals that of the people killed by police officers, roughly 41 percent were unarmed during the encounter, and of the 109 cases, only two resulted in indictments against the officers. KUMAR: You know, we need to expect that police officers will be in these situations. And the question is: what are we training them to do? What are we encouraging them to do? What are the messages we send about what the decision should be in a split second. FARAJI MUHAMMAD, DIRECTOR, YOUTH EMPOWERMENT: We’re not coming here with our hats in our hands begging for something that should be done based upon right. JANIS: The report comes as policing has been under increased scrutiny in Maryland this year, with a flurry of proposed reforms to a variety of laws that govern policing under consideration in Annapolis, among them changes to the law called the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, which dictates how police are disciplined, and a push for greater transparency for the disciplinary process that determines when a police officer’s actions merit termination. Front and center in this debate are families of people who have died at the hands of police. This includes Tawanda Jones, whose brother Tyrone West succumbed during arrest in 2013. He too was unarmed. TAWANDA JONES, SISTER OF TYRONE WEST: And they brutally kill him. And then they want to bring up their past and dehumanize him. As if killing him wasn’t enough, they want to spit in your face and dehumanize [you.] JANIS: Neil Franklin, a former Baltimore City police commander who ran the city’s police academy and currently serves as executive director of LEAP, an organization of former law enforcement officers who advocate for ending the drug war, says this problem is not unique to Maryland. FRANKLIN: And, again, systems, systemic problems–a lot of this is because we have so much turmoil and problems surrounding the drug war, so much focus on enforcing these drug laws and the nonviolent drug laws out there. JANIS: Part of the problem, Franklin says, is the heavy-handed prosecution of the war on drugs, which too often culminates in unnecessary uses of force. FRANKLIN: You know, when you have jump-out squads in our neighborhoods just snatching up any and everybody who even looks like they’re committing a crime, very problematic. JANIS: The ACLU says the simple process of gathering the information points to one of the biggest problems with holding police accountable here and across the country–the lack of public information regarding use of force, particularly when it turns deadly. KUMAR: These deaths aren’t inevitable. There are things we can be doing differently. But it also shouldn’t fall to nonprofit organizations and communities to put together that picture of what is happening and what can be done differently. JANIS: Stephen Janis, reporting from Baltimore for The Real News Network.
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