Advocates Say Baltimore Police Won’t Change Without Civilian Oversight
Members of Leaders of Beautiful Struggle plan to push the city council to require civilians on police disciplinary boards, while Maryland State Delegate Jill Carter seeks restorative justice for victims of racist policing
TAYA GRAHAM, TRNN: This is Taya Graham reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.
The fallout over the Department of Justice’s blistering indictment of Baltimore City Police Department’s racist policies continues today, as the Maryland Black Caucus convened outside City Hall to express their outrage. But like Wednesday’s press conference when the DOJ announced its finding, the question lingers over who is responsible for allowing police to target African-Americans with illegal and unconstitutional tactics. And even more important: how is the city going to enact real reform?
These are just some of the questions we posed to the gathering of delegates and state senators who say the time for change is now.
JILL CARTER: Our sincere apologies to the people of Baltimore, because everybody knows that we’re guilty. If we’re part of the political establishment that allowed these practices, we’re guilty.
GRAHAM: That was State Delegate Jill Carter, offering what has been left unsaid since the report characterizing policing as a racist, unconstitutional enterprise was released: an apology.
CARTER: If you’d been the mayor of Baltimore, or a member of the city council, or a member of the legislature while all this was going on, you’re guilty. But now we’re ready to make reparative measures.
GRAHAM: But Delegate Carter, who called attention to racial injustice in policies like mass arrests and ignoring victims of rape decades before the report was issued, also set forth new goals for reform. Proposals she says will address the systemic and illegal targeting of African-Americans that the DOJ concluded defines policing in Baltimore.
CARTER: We will seek a review of all questionable police stops and arrests by the Baltimore Police Department and provide a vehicle for restorative justice for unconstitutional acts committed against individuals by the Baltimore police. We will dismantle all impediments to civilian investigation, review, and oversight of police action, whether those obstacles are contained in police union contracts or the Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights, or other. There will be civilian control and oversight of internal investigations and administrative disciplinary trial boards.
GRAHAM: It was a theme of the need for serious reform, echoed by others. Former Baltimore NAACP president Marvin “Doc” Cheatham says the focus needs to be on civilian control, specifically reforms to the civilian review board, which is supposed to independently investigate claims of excessive force, but has little power.
STEPHEN JANIS, TRNN: What type of things have to happen for real reform at this point? You sue them, you won, you got a consent decree coming. What really has to happen now?
MARVIN “DOC” CHEATHAM: Two significant things have to be improved. One, the civilian review board must be a viable entity. You can’t expect citizens to be beaten up in one district and go to the same district and expect to be able to file a report and get justice done. The civilian review board is a great entity, but it has been a failed entity for the last 20 years. We need them to be actively involved in the community so the community will not only know where to file complaints, but feel that justice can be done.
GRAHAM: And Dayvon Love, longtime reform advocate and co-founder of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, says the DOJ report will have little impact if city leaders don’t follow through and put civilians on the internal trial board, an administrative body which metes out discipline for police.
JANIS: You’ve been talking about before, specifically, you’re trying to get something actually done. Do you think that that’s possible–tell us about what you’re trying to do and if it’s possible.
DAYVON LOVE: Well, one of the things we wanted to do is, when we were in Annapolis, we got enabling language that allows civilians to serve on the police trial boards to determine discipline for the officers alleged to have engaged in misconduct. So what we want to do is try to pass an ordinance in our local city council that will require civilians on the trial board, that would outline the process by which civilians are put on the trial board, so it’s not just the commissioner selecting who they want. And also, taking it off the table for collective bargaining, because that’s another obstacle. [Inaud.] some things on the trial board that said the FOP treats it as a personnel issue as opposed to an accountability issue, so we need to take it off the table for collective bargaining.
GRAHAM: Which is why his organization will be pushing the city council to pass a law requiring civilians be involved in displacing officers. For him and others, the report is just the beginning: a frank assessment of a serious problem of racist policing that now requires action.
LOVE: We don’t need to improve police-community relations. We need to improve community control over policing so that community has ownership of the way that public safety is rendered in their communities.
GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a
recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.