Months after George Floyd’s death sparked a national demand to overhaul policing, Maryland lawmakers are launching a historic effort to get rid of police protections such as the bill of rights, a decades-old statute that was the first in the country to codify workplace protections for officers accused of misconduct, reported the Washington Post.
The law was a blueprint for at least 15 other states, including Wisconsin, where Jacob Blake was paralyzed from the waist down after a police-involved shooting this summer; Minnesota, where Floyd was killed after an officer knelt on his neck for over eight minutes; and Kentucky, where police stormed into Breonna Taylor’s home on a no-knock warrant and fatally shot her.
Repealing the protections might seem relatively easy in Maryland, a state where both legislative chambers have supermajorities of Democrats, who have tended to be sympathetic to calls for police accountability and social justice. But prior efforts have failed, including after Black’s death and the fatal injury of Freddie Gray — another unarmed young Black man — in Baltimore police custody three years earlier.
Some blame systemic racism and the disparate treatment of Black people in the state’s justice system, noting that 70 percent of Maryland’s prison population is Black — the highest percentage in the country. Others point to the influence of the police union, which argues that police work exposes officers to special risks and, therefore, requires special protections.
“All I hear is a bunch of adults giving illegitimate reasons for why they can’t do the right thing,” said LaToya Holley, Black’s sister.
“I am not someone who hates the police,” Jones the first Black House speaker in Maryland, said during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. “But over the years, I have had my own experiences with law enforcement, as have my brothers and my sons, that have called in to question the way that we as a state and as a society have empowered law enforcement officers to execute their duties.”
Holley has traveled to Annapolis numerous times since her brother’s death to push for a reform bill that Acevero named in her brother’s honor. She was scheduled to testify before lawmakers remotely Tuesday night.
Maryland’s laws must change “to protect the Antons to come,” she said in an interview. “How many more of our brothers and fathers and sons have to die before you do something?”
Protecting the 'good officers'
Since Floyd’s death, 36 states and D.C. have introduced more than 700 police accountability bills. Nearly 100 have been enacted, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
They range from mandating use-of-force training to creating civilian review boards to requiring departments to report when their officers use their service weapons or other force.
But experts say they are not aware of any state that has repealed the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. In addition to making disciplinary records public, Maryland lawmakers are also weighing bills that would require independent investigations of officer-involved killings; a statewide use-of-force standard that includes a ban on chokeholds; and a restriction on no-knock warrants.
“Just because it hasn’t been done doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done,” Jones said. “This is the time and place to do it.”
Samuel Walker, an emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska Omaha, described Maryland’s police bill of rights, enacted in 1974, as one of the “worst” in the country because it contains a provision that makes it impossible for civilians to investigate an officer’s conduct. It also gives an officer five days instead of the normal 48 hours to appear before internal investigators.
“It’s really disastrous,” Walker said.
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