Op-EdOpinion

AMANUEL: Reimagining Policing to Save Black Lives

We remember Emanuel Oates, Anton Black, Leonard Shand, Korryn Gaines, Manuel Espina, William Green, Tyrone West, Christopher Brown, Gary Hopkins Jr., Robert White, Finan Berhe, Freddie Gray, and too many more. These are the names of just a few of the Black Marylanders killed by police.

One victim of police killings, William Green, is the cousin of Nikki Owens, who is a strong advocate against police violence and for reimagining policing.

“This has to stop happening,” Owens said. “There are people left behind when you kill someone. These police officers don’t understand this.”

It is a terrible shame that over many years, and many killings, the General Assembly has yet to pass a reform to policing that has actually saved Black lives. Legislators owe it to the victims of police violence and their families to move their Black Lives Matter tweets and posts into action in the next legislative session. A coalition of more than 90 organizations across the state has five demands:

• Repeal the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR).
• Revise the Maryland Public Information Act to make records of police internal investigations and misconduct records transparent so that we can hold police departments accountable for how they police their own.
• Statutory limits on police use of force.
• Get police out of our schools.
• Give Baltimore control of its police department.

On Oct. 29, community members came together for a People’s Hearing on police reform, where they discussed why these five demands are important. Even though they are only the first steps to begin to address all the ways in which policing needs to be reimagined to stop Maryland police from terrorizing Black and brown communities, these five demands will start to shift power over law enforcement into the hands of the community.

A Bill of Rights is meant to protect people from the government, not police from accountability.

During the People’s Hearing, Dorothy Elliott, mother of Archie Elliott III, who was killed in 1993 by police officers Jason Leavitt and Wayne Cheney, said: “Our loved ones should have equal justice, equity under the law. We demand to have our voices heard.”

LEOBR shields officers from discipline by stating that a police officer can only be disciplined after a mini-trial is conducted, with fellow officers as the judges. It’s an absurd way to run a workplace.

It is precisely because law enforcement officers have so much power over people they are supposed to serve — including legally killing them and depriving people of their liberty — that we cannot shield them from discipline. If LEOBR is repealed, officers would still have the same employment rights as any other state or local government employee.

As for a use of force policy, the statewide coalition agrees that a good one should have clear definitions of lethal and non-lethal force. Statistics have shown police are twice as likely to threaten or use force against Black and Latinx people than against white people, which is why creating an enforceable use of force policy for Maryland is so necessary.

This same systematic racism that pervades our policing system also trickles down to school police, called school resource officers. In Maryland, Black students make up 56% of school-based arrests statewide, even though they are only about a third of the student population. This is a gross disparity.

Getting the police out of our children’s schools is just one way we can curb the over-policing of Black and brown children. Children shouldn’t be treated like criminals for doing immature, childlike acts.

Fortunately, we can do better by our children and provide them with counseling and restorative approaches — all methods that have been proven to foster better behavior. To move closer to a better future for Black children in Maryland, police should no longer be walking the halls of our children’s schools.

McKayla Wilkes, a leader and activist in the community, spoke out against school resource officers. She has personally been affected by SROs while she was in school.

“I was put on probation for skipping school,” Wilkes said. “Instead of them offering me an ear, resources or someone to talk to, I was taken to jail. … What is it going to take to get these resource officers out of our schools? It’s only a matter of time before a situation that happens on the streets happens in our classrooms. These officers are armed. These are the same officers from the same police departments that are killing Black people.”

Policies that don’t fundamentally change the institution of law enforcement are simply Band-Aids on a corrupt system founded in white supremacy. Impactful steps are urgently needed to protect Black communities from police violence. Together, we can reimagine policing and finally begin to repair the decadeslong harm the police have done to Black communities.

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