ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Baltimore protesters chanting “Black lives matter” gathered in the Maryland State capital Jan. 15 to demand that the legislature enact laws to end the plague of police killings in Maryland.
The big, multiracial crowd, mostly youth, gathered in “Lawyers’ Mall” under a statue of the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, a native of Baltimore.
They held a banner with a photo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Would Dr. King Be Celebrating?” the banner asked.
Tre Murphy, a leader of the Algebra Project, a high school youth group in Baltimore, told the crowd that if the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive he would not appreciate churches and established civil rights organizations that have remained silent. “We are at a critical time in history, a time to create a better future,” Murphy said, urging an outpouring of protests against the killing of innocent, unarmed Black men by racist police officers.
“Stand with us,” Murphy said. “Support community-based groups that are speaking out and taking action. Get off the fence and join the revolution. Be on the right side of history.”
The Rev. Heber Brown, pastor of the Pleasant Hope Baptist Church in Baltimore, that filled a bus to attend the rally said the movement is broad-based and will not go away., “Look to your left. Look to your right. We are all leaders,” Rev. Brown said. “We are here today bringing together all the leaders to address a question that affects all of us: police violence.”
The Rev. Stephen Tillett, pastor of Asbury Broadneck United Methodist Church in Annapolis told the crowd it is false that the movement to end police violence is “anti-police.” He added, “We are not against police. We need the police. This is an ‘excessive force’ protest. What do we want? Equal protection under the law. Equal treatment under the law. Equal justice under the law.”
Tillett listed the specific legislation the Maryland lawmakers should enact: Take advantage of an offer by the Obama Administration to help pay for “body cameras” to be worn by every police officer; legislation to require that an independent prosecutor deal with any case of death or bodily injury caused by a police officer.
Tillett also urged the legislature to enact legislation to require every municipality to create police civilian review boards to curb police use of lethal force.
Tillett said a law requiring the appointment of a “special prosecutor” is urgently needed to end the “conflict of interest” warning that “no one is going to believe the decisions rendered” by a Grand Jury named by any prosecutor who works hand-in-glove with the local police.
He cited the death of Eric Garner on Staten Island last year. “Even the coroner called it a homicide. Yet the Grand Jury did not indict the police officer.”
While it is true that most victims of police lethal force are Black men, police violence is a threat to everyone, Tillett added. “Dr. King was correct when he said ‘An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'”
Rev. Tillett told the People’s World that African Americans have endured police violence for centuries, including under chattel slavery yet he said, the movement to end the violence is “a new civil rights movement, a human rights movement. This is a movement that seeks a change of heart, to recognize our common humanity.”
Ameerjril Whitlock stood in the crowd holding a placard that listed the names of 26 men, all but one of them African American, killed by police in one year in Baltimore. She drew the names from a report “Stolen Lives” that lists the more than 400 people killed by police each year in the U.S. “I was one of the people who fought to establish the first civilian review board in Baltimore,” she said. “That was 15 years ago. What has happened since?” She said the death of James Quarles killed by a police officer at Lexington Market sparked the movement for that first civilian review board. Years later came the police killing of Tyrone West. “It is mostly Black men but as the Hispanic population has grown, the numbers of Latino men killed is growing.”
The Stolen Lives project documents “that there is a police killing every 28 hours somewhere across the nation.”
The crowd then walked to a legislative meeting room in a nearby building where the Judiciary Committee was holding its first meeting of this session. The crowd packed the room with a standing room crowd that listened in silence as the lawmakers introduced themselves. Rep. Jill Carter, a delegate from Baltimore said, “I want to welcome the guests we have here from Baltimore.” She vowed that her “first priority” as a legislator would be to address the legislation the crowd was demanding.
The brief meeting adjourned. Rev. Brown then told the crowd, to get accustomed to this room because this is where hearings will be held on legislation to end police brutality. “We will be coming back,” Brown said.
Photo: Tim Wheeler/PW