Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby on Saturday cited a flawed American criminal justice system as the single largest civil rights issue facing black residents in Maryland today, saying her office has taken strides toward reducing disparities but still has more to do.
“Black people are six times more likely to be arrested and become a part of the criminal justice system [than] whites," Mosby said at the fall symposium of the University of Baltimore Law Review, which was headlined, “400 Years: Slavery and the Criminal Justice System."
"You have an overmilitarization of police departments all across the country, racially unjust application of laws against poor black and brown people, [and] collateral consequences of these convictions that have kept black and brown people and communities [as] second-class citizens,” she said.
Her comments were just some of many Saturday — from prosecutors, defense attorneys, law students, academics and other community stakeholders — that sought to center the legacy of racial injustice in a conversation on how best to move Baltimore and Maryland forward.
As some of the most influential stakeholders in that system, Mosby said prosecutors like her have an obligation to reduce disparities by providing opportunities for young people before they come into contact with the system, alternatives for returning felons who are too often sidelined economically because of their criminal records, and means for seeking redress for those wrongfully accused or convicted.
Mosby cited efforts by her office to do all of the above, including her hosting of youth events, her decision to stop prosecuting marijuana possession in Baltimore, her successful push to vacate convictions that hinged on the word of corrupt police officers and her office’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which reviews past cases thrown into question by new evidence.
She said her approach differs from that of many other prosecutors in the country, but that addressing racial inequities built into the system is something all prosecutors should be doing, in part because it will ultimately contribute to public safety.
The Democrat’s comments were in contrast to a tough-on-crime platform Mosby ran on when she first sought office five years ago, and came as Baltimore nears the end of its fifth consecutive year with 300 or more homicides.
At the law school forum, Mosby was joined on a panel — titled “Collaborative Methods to Reduce Mass Incarceration” — by Baltimore Public Defender Kirsten Downs, Democratic Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy and Brianna Ford, who is deputy director of the university’s Innocence Project Clinic. All agreed they must work together to erase the legacy of racism in their field.
Across town at Morgan State University, a separate forum — “Lynching in Maryland: The Journey from Truth to Reconciliation" — was hosted Saturday by the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project. The effort is aimed at assessing and dismantling the entrenched legacy and ongoing impact of the lynchings of black people in Maryland, including 41 cases documented in the state from 1854 to 1933.
The issue of “restorative justice” was discussed, just as it was at the University of Baltimore. But also considered were the effects of racism on the health of black Americans, the need for restorative practices in Baltimore schools and structural racism and segregation that still exist in the state’s higher education system.
David Fakunle, the acting chairman of the Maryland Commission on Truth and Reconciliation, which is considering the best way for the state to address and make amends for its racist past, said in the months ahead, he intends to lead more tough discussions. He said that’s part of a needed “referendum on racism in our country" where “there is nothing off the table.”
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Fakunle at one point led the room of 150 or so attendees in a call-and-response exercise based on words printed on his shirt: “Respect my existence, or expect my resistance.”