Dozens of bundled-up protesters, holding unlit candles in their gloved hands, walked to the center of Lawyer’s Mall in the bitter cold Monday night as the names of victims of police brutality in Maryland were read.
“Tom, Prince George’s County, white,” a woman read. “Eric, Baltimore City, black.”
One by one, the protesters lay down on the frigid pavement. A statute of Thurgood Marshall stood above. The demonstrators said they staged a “die-in” on the grounds of the Maryland State House to call on lawmakers to enact “strong” police reform during their 90-day session.
“In 2016, I want people to look back and say that this was the year that Maryland made . . . rebuilding the trust between communities and the police . . . a priority,” said Larry Stafford Jr., executive director of Progressive Maryland.
Stafford, one of the event’s organizers, said he chose Martin Luther King Jr. Day to hold the rally, calling it the “perfect” day to kick off efforts to push for police reform in the state.
“It’s a day that we take to reclaim the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King,” Stafford said. “To reclaim his message of equality and justice for all people, standing up for black people in this country and demanding respect and justice.”
Similar die-ins have been held over the past year across the country — including St. Louis and New York City — to protest the deaths of Michael Brown and other black males at the hands of police officers.
In Annapolis, the protesters stood for more than 45 minutes in sub-freezing temperatures, listening to advocates and chanting “No justice, no peace” and “Can’t stop, won’t stop until killer cops are in cellblocks.”
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) created a panel last year to find ways to improve the trust between the community and police, after riots erupted in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray. Last week, the panel endorsed 21 recommendations for police reform.
The recommendations include giving officers periodic psychological evaluations, allowing the public to attend police trial boards and providing residents more time to file brutality complaints.
The panel also called for the creation of an independent Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission that would focus on setting standards and training for all police agencies.
The police training commission would develop and require antidiscrimination and use of force de-escalation training for all officers. It would also set up a confidential early intervention policy for dealing with officers who receive three or more citizen complaints within a 12-month period.
The panel suggested that the commission require annual reporting of “serious” officer-involved incidents, the number of officers disciplined and the type of discipline that was given.
Other recommendations include developing a police complaint mediation program; creating recruitment standards that increase the number of female, African American and Hispanic candidates; and offering incentives, including property tax credits and state and local income tax deductions, to officers who live in the jurisdictions where they work.
The Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability has called the recommendations “a good first step,” but says additional changes are needed.
Sara Love, the public policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said Monday that the coalition disagrees with a proposal that says people who file complaints against officers must identify themselves.
“There is a role for anonymous complaints,” Love said, arguing that there could be instances where a person faces criminal charges and would be worried about retaliation.
Advocates also are pushing for civilian review boards. They say they are seriously concerned about a provision that would give the police union more input on who sits on a trial review board.
Trial boards currently consists of three law enforcement officers appointed by the chief who have the same rank as the officer under review. The panel suggested that the board consist of one person recommended by the chief, one recommended by the police union and one recommended by the chief and union.
“If this went into effect, it could undo all of the good that these recommendations are trying to do,” Love said.