Maryland’s two senators are embarking on a campaign for legislation to address tension between police and black communities in the wake the death of Freddie Gray this year and the protests that followed.
Before a closed-door meeting with Baltimore clergy Monday, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D) touted criminal justice additions to the appropriations bill that have been approved in committee.
She met with a group of local clergy in the basement of the First Mount Calvary Baptist Church, in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood where Gray lived and was arrested. He died several days after being arrested.
“The people of Sandtown-Winchester, the people of Baltimore, the people of the United States of America needs to know they have a government on their side,” Mikulski said. “It is a Baltimore problem and it is a national problem that there is a trust gap between the people and the police department.”
Her proposals focus on sharing of information from local law enforcement agencies with federal authorities. She would make the disclosure of training information a requirement of any grant, encourage sharing of crime data with the FBI, and make the Justice Department responsible for upgrading local police departments’ computer systems where such transmission is not technologically possible.
She noted that, with her urging, the Senate budget released by committee also includes $98 million for working on police-community relations and $295 million for juvenile justice programs.
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D), meanwhile, is planning to introduce this week the Baltimore Act (Building and Lifting Trust In Order to Multiply Opportunities and Racial Equality), which would prohibit racial profiling, restore voting rights and jury service for nonviolent former felons, reclassify some low-level drug felonies as misdemeanors, eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, and encourage the White House to “ban the box” when hiring federal contractors.
Like Mikulski, he would encourage sharing training and crime data with Justice. Both would put more money toward grants for body cameras for police.
“I thank my colleagues who have contacted Senator Mikulski and me offering their help and willingness to work together to deal with the issues that have been raised in Baltimore and other cities, around the country,” Cardin said in a statement.
All of these ideas have precarious futures. The House Appropriations Committee has voted to eliminate most funding for juvenile justice. Cardin has previously tried, unsuccessfully, to ban racial profiling and restore felon voting rights.
House Republicans have agreed to put $30 million toward community-oriented criminal justice initiatives and $15 million toward body cameras, far less than the White House and Democrats would like. The Justice Department has already launched a $20 million pilot program to distribute cameras across the country. And there has been bipartisan interest this year in restoring nonviolent felons’ voting rights.
Both Maryland senators, along with the mayor of Baltimore and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D), met with White House officials this month to discuss financial support for the city in the wake of the rioting that destroyed hundreds of businesses in West Baltimore.