NAACP, ACLU, other groups call for police reform in Maryland

Several dozen activists from civil rights groups, churches and unions rallied Thursday in Annapolis to demand reforms of police training and discipline to protect the rights of minority communities.

Organizations that included the ACLU of Maryland, the NAACP, CASA of Maryland and the Empowerment Temple held an outdoor news conference hours before a legislative work group gathered to take public testimony on how the General Assembly should respond to allegations of police misconduct.

Marion Gray-Hopkins
Marion Gray-Hopkins, left, whose son was shot and killed by a Prince George’s County police officer in 1999, compares a list of speakers with CASA organizer Elizabeth Alex before a news conference. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)
Speakers, including relatives of African-Americans who died after encounters with police, set an angry tone in demanding substantive changes in how officers are held accountable.

The Rev. Heber Brown of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church brought a message for Gov. Larry Hogan, House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller: “You better get something done this time around.”

Brown expressed frustration that activists came to Annapolis repeatedly during the 90-day session but it did not, in his view, lead to the passage of any substantive legislation. Among the bills not passed was one supported by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake that would have overhauled the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, a state law that critics say makes it difficult to discipline officers.

The General Assembly referred that proposal and others to the work group on policing.

Tawanda Jones of Baltimore said city police “brutally murdered” her unarmed brother, 44-year-old Tyrone West, during an altercation after a 2013 traffic stop in Northeast Baltimore. “The only thing he did wrong was driving while black in a Mercedes that was mine,” she said.

Sun Investigation: Undue Force
Sun Investigation: Undue Force
The Baltimore state’s attorney’s office, then led by Gregg L. Bernstein, did not indict any of the officers involved in West’s death, which the state medical examiner attributed to a heart condition aggravated by the struggle and the heat. West’s family and City Councilman Warren Branch recently asked State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby to reopen the case. She has not issued a response.

Marion Gray-Hopkins, whose 19-year-old son was shot to death by Prince George’s County police in 1999, called for independent investigations and prosecutions in officer-involved killings.

“They are investigating their own,” she said. “There is something wrong with this picture. There’s a blue wall of silence.” She said the officer who shot her unarmed son was indicted on manslaughter charges but acquitted after what she characterized as an incompetent prosecution.

During the work group’s town hall-style meeting, citizens were invited to make brief statements on police practices in Maryland. Some used their two minutes to express their pain and sense of humiliation after encounters with police. Others presented specific recommendations for reform. The bipartisan, 20-member work group is charged with recommending reform legislation the Assembly should consider when it reconvenes.

Michael Scott, whose Equity Matters in Baltimore advocates for best practices in organizations, called for focused anti-racism training to help officers recognize their implicit biases.

The Rev. William Wallace of Union United Methodist Church in St. Michaels recommended training police to experience cultures other than their own and to “explore their own cultural baggage.”

The Rev. Stephen A. Tillett, president of the Anne Arundel County NAACP, called on lawmakers to ensure that civilian review boards oversee police conduct and that independent prosecutors take on cases involving killings by police.
Several witnesses called for changes to the police bill of rights law, including scrapping a provision that gives officers 10 days before they have to give a statement about an incident that raises questions about their conduct and another tossing out brutality complaints that are not made within 90 days of the incident.

The American Civil Liberties Union reported in March that 109 people died after encounters with police in Maryland from 2010 to 2014.

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