Black Caucus, NAACP set state agenda for Baltimore police
Representatives of Maryland’s Legislative Black Caucus and the NAACP announced Friday a set of policy proposals in response to the scathing Justice Department report on discriminatory practices by the Baltimore Police Department.
Among the legislators’ proposals are hiring practices that bring in more African American and women city residents, protections for police whistle-blowers and opportunities for civilians to review police actions.
The report released Wednesday described a systematic pattern of civil rights violations and discrimination by Baltimore police officers.
Del. Jill Carter, a Democrat who represents northwest Baltimore, said state and local officials owe the city’s African American residents an apology for not putting a stop to the abuses.
“If we're part of the political establishment that allowed these practices, we're guilty,” she said. “If you've been the mayor of Baltimore or member of the city council or member of the legislature while all of this was going on, you're guilty. But now we're ready to make reparative measures."
Carter and other state legislators laid out a list of those proposed measures, beginning with calls for administrative or criminal repercussions for the wrongs named in the Justice Department’s report.
They called for changes to training practices, new protocols for police officers in schools, and the removal of restrictions against hiring officers who have a past history of marijuana use.
“We want to dismantle racism and implement a zero tolerance policy for discriminatory policing,” Carter said. “We will exercise the fullest extent of our collective legislative power to do it.”
Tessa Hill-Aston, president of the Baltimore City branch of the NAACP, emphasized a need for community involvement in the changes.
“What is so significant about this whole report is that it is what the citizens have been saying and crying out for help for the past 15 or 20 years,” she said. “So now we have to go back to the drawing board and make this work."
The lawmakers said they plan to convene a workgroup to tackle the changes. A similar workgroup convened last year resulted in legislation addressing police training and discipline issues.
However, many activists who pushed for those changes say the final reforms were significantly weakened — such as legislation that would have required civilians have voting seats in police disciplinary boards. The final version of that measure gives local jurisdictions the power to decide whether civilians can sit on the boards.