Former attorney general: Now is the time for police reform | COMMENTARY
By Douglas Gansler
For The Baltimore Sun|
Sep 08, 2020 at 12:52 PM
I will belt out the lyrics “Just as every cop is a criminal …” as loud as the next guy when "Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones comes on the radio. Maybe louder, but I do not believe that statement. Nor do I believe that we should defund the police. I do, however, believe a racial bias reckoning of our criminal justice system is long overdue.
Thankfully, events in the wake of George Floyd’s murder while being arrested in Minnesota have sparked a very healthy conversation and public enlightenment into issues of police brutality that have stained our country for centuries. It is the kind of public discourse that just might enable this reckoning.
We are at a moment of historical urgency that has created the very real possibility for paradigmatic shifts in how police perform their duties that could vastly enhance police accountability and transparency without compromising public safety. Curing institutional racism and bias in policing, and our judicial system as a whole, will take time and will evolve over time as we peel back the systemic layers of bias, but many thoughtful immediate solutions have become part of the discussion. Banning chokeholds, abolishing no-knock warrants, prohibiting shooting at a moving vehicle, establishing a duty to intervene and other thoughtful concepts beg for immediate action.
In an effort to identify the bad apples in a particular police department, a dialogue about the transparency of police personnel records and the time in which a police officer involved in a police shooting or serious assault must provide a statement are worthy of consideration as well.
Still, we need more. We need solutions that stare racism directly in the face. In my 22 years as a prosecutor, I instituted several changes that intended to do just that, including setting up the first civil rights section at the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, instituting community focused prosecution, putting any and all police shootings before the grand jury, and significantly increasing diversity.
Where do we begin? Before any meaningful reform may take place in a police department, there needs to be a bias and racial justice review of every Maryland police department. That review must be truly independent and not an internal review, since a police department conducting an internal review of itself is akin to asking the elephant to pass the peanuts. These independent reviews would mirror the way in which consent decrees were implemented in many American cities under the Obama administration. An independent monitor would be selected, along with his or her team of law enforcement, community activists, scholars and other experts to review complaints, organizational structure, diversity and cultural training and minority recruitment and promotional access. Every police department is unique and problems cannot be identified without undergoing an open, transparent and in-depth independent review.
People of color have lived with racism and bias in our justice system for centuries. With judicial decisions like Plessy v. Ferguson and Jim Crow laws, we actually codified racism. Undoing that and its impact on how we think does not change overnight, but it can change one quick step at a time and without a minute more of delay. When it comes to the police it starts with an independent rigorous review of each police department, detailing specific findings, specific solutions and specific milestones upon which we measure progress.
This work is essential to assure communities of color and all citizens that our police officers (that our country) are committed to treating and protecting all people equally under the law.