Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
At the beginning of the month, I wrote about the severe lack of progressive, tangible changes to policing, specifically from leaders in deep blue states. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey expressed his opposition to defunding police, and the momentum the city council had gained when it pledged to dismantle its police force after George Floyd’s killing has been surrendered to half-steps and incrementalism. In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot described the defunding movement as “a nice hashtag,” while noting that “not a single person” had told her they wanted to cut police budgets and reduce their neighborhood presence. Here in Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser made a point to display the lovely “Black Lives Matter” street mural, while proposing a 3.3 percent increase to the D.C. police budget, stating “we fund the police at the level we need it funded.”
It doesn’t take very long to realize that the status quo on policing is irredeemably flawed. Police officers continue to harass, abuse and kill Black and brown people with virtually no accountability, and their unions are able to strongarm lawmakers into granting them systemic protections.
However, representatives of the communities most negatively impacted by the current nature of policing have been putting in work to ensure its nature is maintained — even reinforced — as Bowser has done. I think this further demonstrates that we, and in particular the Black community, can’t depend on the leaders we wait hours in line to vote for to act in our own best interests. In fact, the only legislator who has shown an interest in challenging the status quo has been Maryland’s “most powerful Black politician” — House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones.
Jones has been pretty busy since she was elected almost two years ago. As speaker, she has introduced a bill that would require Gov. Larry Hogan to give $580 million to unfairly funded state HBCUs over a decade after Hogan initially counteroffered only $200 million. She removed a plaque commemorating Confederate Civil War soldiers from the Maryland State House and wants to nix that awful “Maryland, My Maryland” song written by a Confederate sympathizer (yes, the one the band used to play). While these changes are positive, they aren’t anything more than symbolic.
But Jones’ most actionable proposal is her stated support for the repeal of the Maryland Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, which stipulates that complaints against officers could be voided after a certain time; ensures only fellow officers, not civilians, can investigate police misconduct; and grants officers a formal five-day waiting period before they have to respond to an internal investigation into their conduct — longer than any other state’s.
This is the same bill that former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake blamed for blocking further investigation into the 2015 police killing of Freddie Gray. Jones and her working group proposed multiple other reforms in addition to supporting this repeal.
The Maryland Fraternal Order of Police has been fighting this change for decades, and I haven’t really gotten my hopes up for its success. However, if implemented, I do think they would present the state with new ways to avoid holding officers accountable for the crimes they commit.
Ultimately, this should only be viewed as a first step. While holding officers to higher standards of punishment after they kill Black people would be a positive change to the status quo, they shouldn’t be put in position to kill with impunity in the first place.
Reforms such as chokehold bans, use of force standards and early warning systems aren’t new ideas — they have been tried and have failed time and time again. The only way to directly stop police killings is to reduce their power by cutting budgets, decreasing police force sizes and getting rid of military-grade weapons.
I applaud Speaker Jones for her efforts, but I sincerely hope for the sake of Black people in this state that she doesn’t stop there. Defunding and demilitarization are the only real ways to stop police violence in the long term.
Malcolm Ferguson is a senior English and government and politics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.