Prince George's CountyWilliam J. Ford

Parents, Advocates Plead for Police Reform in Maryland

Josette Blocker said her nephew Demonte Ward-Blake continues to receive treatment to realign his neck after a traffic stop in Prince George’s County in October.

Blocker said police officers removed Ward-Blake from a vehicle, handcuffed him and later slammed him to the ground on his neck.

“The narrative only depicts Demonte being hostile. It places no accountability on the actions of the police officer, nor is there any transparency of an investigation with any consequences for the role the officer played,” Blocker said. “I am not looking for sympathy, but my appeal is to your conscious bias to take action on bills that will protect the public.”

Blocker and 99 parents, relatives, advocates and others testified Thursday, Aug. 6 during a nearly 5½-hour virtual public hearing before a work group comprised of lawmakers in the House of Delegates to assess and possibly implement police reform policies.

The majority of testimony came from residents, advocates and a few attorneys who support changes in law enforcement such as limiting use of force, restructuring the public information act to release public documents on police incidents and policies to limit the use of force.

“Transparency creates accountability and trust,” said Jeffrey Harrison of Greenbelt. “Give the power to the people. Let’s end the police state in Maryland.”

One oft-repeated demand called for the repeal of the state’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, or LEOBR. The policy, first established in 1974 when Maryland became the first state in the nation to approve it, became sought as a way to protect a police officer’s constitutional rights.

The law revised in April 2017 prohibits a law enforcement agency from allowing an officer to have secondary employment. Another part: “before an interrogation, the law enforcement officer under investigation shall be informed in writing of the nature of the investigation.”

Advocates have argued this currently allows officers to prevent any interrogation for up to five days. Also, critics say LEOBR allows officers to investigate each other without outside entities such as a civilian review board.

“Unless and until we repeal the straight jacket that is the LEOBR, we cannot even to begin to address these problems on a local level,” said David Rocah, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland. “We cannot even begin to create alternate methods of police accountability that allow for greater civilian control.”

Del. Michael A. Jackson (D-District 27B), who represents portions of Prince George’s and Calvert counties and serves on the police reform work group, said an officer’s role has incorporated other methods of policing.

“Law enforcement over the years have been asked to step into roles more and more aligned with social services than law enforcement. That is a fact,” said Jackson, a former Prince George’s County sheriff. “As we look at this opportunity to transition to a serving and protecting mantra, versus protecting and serving mantra, we can only be working together as we move forward in this regard.”

In the meantime, some Maryland residents simply want change, including Marah O’Neal, who said her children’s father, Jamaal Taylor, was fatally shot in September by police in Hunt Valley.

“We have been marching until we can’t launch no more,” she said. “We want change.”

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William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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