Advocates Warn of Political Consequences if Police Accountability Fails
Broad coalition says lack of action by new MD workgroup will be felt at the polls
STEPHEN JANIS, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: The death of Freddie Gray in police custody and resulting unrest that engulfed the city continued to have consequences in Maryland as a vast coalition of activist groups and local leaders gathered to prepare for what they said would be a renewed battle over police reform in Maryland.
REV. TODD YEARY, PASTOR, DOUGLASS MEMORIAL COMMUNITY CHURCH: We’re here as concerned advocates and partners in fostering a healthy police-community relationship to say that we not only claim our responsibility and our right to be in the conversation; we want to lay out the foundation of principles that are going to inform the conversation. And we are hopeful.
JANIS: The group, which included former NAACP president Ben Jealous and Pastor Jamal Bryant say they plan to be active participants in Annapolis as a workgroup convenes this week to take up possible reforms that didn’t even come to a vote earlier this year.
TALIA FLOYD, YOUTH ADVOCATE, EQUITY MATTERS, INC: And as a young person, I can say–I told my friends I was going to a press conference. I was like, what would you want me to say? And this is the most important thing to us. We don’t feel like the police are there to protect us; we feel like they’re there to arrest us.
JANIS: But at the heart of their efforts were real consequences, specifically the political consequences for elected leaders, who they say have done little to hold police accountable since the death of Freddie Gray in police custody two months ago and the subsequent indictment of six police officers in his death. A lack of oversight, they say, only heightens the poverty and isolation in Baltimore’s poorest communities.
GUSTAVO TORRES, EXEC. DIR., CASA DE MARYLAND: Since the moment that Mr. Freddie Gray was killed, we make it make a decision that is very important, that we come together as community organizations to make sure that we send a strong message, that we are not going to tolerate these kind of crimes in our city and that we are going to go to the roots of the cause of this problem.
JANIS: To that end, Dayvon Love, executive director of the Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle and one of the critical organizations pushing for reform earlier this year says he plans a renewed push for an overhaul of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, which protects officers who are under investigation but, Love says, goes too far.
DAYVON LOVE, PUBLIC POLICY DIRECTOR, LEADERS OF A BEAUTIFUL STRUGGLE: The importance of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights is huge, because in order to engage in the types of investigation that you need to hold people accountable, you need to amend or even repeal the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, ’cause that gives license then to agencies outside of law enforcement to directly engage in the process of accountability.
JANIS: Jealous also warmed that if reform isn’t taken seriously, there could be consequences come April, when Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will face voters for the first time since the death of Gray and the protests that subsequently consumed the city .
BEN JEALOUS, FMR. PRESIDENT, NAACP: It is incumbent upon the mayor in this moment to lead. Mayors historically are very concerned that if they don’t fix potholes, people not might not vote for them. There should be no less concern about how their children are treated by the cops.
JANIS: Reporting for The Real News Network with Megan Sherman, Stephen Janis in Baltimore.
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