xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Until Md. lawmakers act, stories like Freddie Gray's will continue

The story of Freddie Gray is an all too familiar one. Another young black man dead after an interaction with police, another black life cut short unnecessarily. It's a story that is eerily similar to the story of Tyrone West. West too died in the custody of Baltimore police, and the details surrounding his 2013 death were not immediately clear.

Whether it's Freddie Gray or Tyrone West in Baltimore, Michael Brown in Missouri, Eric Garner in New York, Tamir Rice in Ohio, Walter Scott in South Carolina or countless others, stories of black men and youth losing their lives at the hands of police are becoming much too commonplace.

Advertisement

For those of us in Maryland, one thing is abundantly clear: police accountability is a Maryland issue, contrary to Gov. Larry Hogan's claim that problems like the failure to indict the officer who killed Brown don't "impact Maryland." A recent policy paper published by the Maryland Chapter of the ACLU found that at least 109 people died during encounters with police in Maryland between 2010 and 2014. The study also revealed a more problematic statistical reality: Although African-Americans make up only 29 percent of Maryland's population, 69 percent of those who died during an encounter with police were black.

The failure of Maryland lawmakers to address police accountability during the 2015 legislative session suggests that state Democratic Party leaders are much more aligned with Mr. Hogan on this issue. Despite thousands of Marylanders attending marches, testifying before sub-committees and contacting their legislators demanding that something be done, the Democrat-led General Assembly opted to thumb their noses at their constituents. Voters in communities of color and people of good will all across Maryland said they wanted their elected officials to address this problem. But instead, state leaders decided to place the will of the special interests over the people.

Advertisement
Advertisement

The Democrat-led Maryland General Assembly did not allow any of the 17 police accountability measures that were introduced during this legislative session to even come up for a vote. They were all tabled by committee chairs who were more influenced by the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police than by the will of the people who elected them. It is a disturbing tale of the undue role of money in Maryland politics and another prime example of the way in which Maryland politicians prioritize the will of the special interests over the public interests.

The interim report of President Barack Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing released by the White House last month produced a number of recommendations to state and local law enforcement agencies and governments. These recommendations include establishing a culture of transparency and accountability, allowing some form of civilian oversight of law enforcement and reinforcing the importance of community engagement in managing public safety. For one reason or another, Maryland's Democratic Party leadership not only ignored the sensible recommendations of the White House commission, but also the people they serve who asked for this kind of legislation. The people who marched, testified and called their legislators were asking only for accountability, transparency and for their voices to matter.

As long as Maryland Democrats continue to ignore the political will of the people who put them in office they will continue to struggle in winning the hearts and votes of Marylanders. The handwriting is on the wall. Giving lip service to the public policy priorities of voters who elect Maryland Democrats is an unsustainable course.

The city of Baltimore mourns in part today because of a failure of leadership in Annapolis during this legislative session. The terrifying scenes of police brutality that appear with increasing regularity on the evening news were not enough for our legislators to act, the rallying cries of protesters demanding justice were not enough to compel them to provide leadership, the travails of grieving mothers in death-weary communities were not enough for them to implement common sense reforms to address this pernicious problem in our society. Only a change in political will or political leadership will provide the public with the kind of governing they so desperately deserve.

Advertisement

Delman Coates is senior pastor at Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton and former candidate for lieutenant governor of Maryland. His email is officeofthepastor@mtennon.org.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement