Dear Fellow Marylander:
April 19 will mark seven years since the tragic death of Freddie Gray, who was grievously injured while in the custody of the Baltimore City Police.
Within days of his death, as unrest enveloped our city, I wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder, with other members of the Maryland congressional delegation, asking for a federal investigation into the events leading to the death of this young man.
“While the vast majority of police officers act within the law to serve and protect their communities, incidents like this degrade the trust necessary to maintain the relationship between law enforcement and communities. We urge the Department of Justice to swiftly conduct all necessary investigations. We need the facts to restore the public confidence in the Baltimore Police Department,” we said.
Shortly after, newly confirmed Attorney General Loretta Lynch, whose first official trip after being sworn in as our nation’s highest law enforcement officer was to Baltimore, opened a federal “pattern or practice” investigation. This led to a formal consent decree agreed to by Department of Justice (DOJ) and the City of Baltimore to address systemic civil rights violations. This ongoing federal partnership aims to ensure that policing in Baltimore is both constitutional and effective by ending discriminatory profiling and the mistreatment of the African-American community.
Important steps are being taken towards rebuilding the necessary trust between Baltimoreans and the men and women of the Baltimore Police Department. Key to this process is identifying and implementing best practices to renew public safety and help all officers better serve our community.
We still have much work to do to heal our city. Despite the concerted efforts of so many to reverse the tide, daily violence continues. A critical lack of trust remains between our police and local communities.
Is it any wonder why? Five years after Freddie Gray’s death, the world watched in horror at the video of the homicide death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis in May 2020. The death of George Floyd and subsequent trials and convictions of the officers involved set off a national reckoning on police violence and systemic racism.
In Congress, I joined with my colleagues to introduce the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. This proposal takes a comprehensive approach to hold police accountable, change the culture of law enforcement, empower our communities, and build trust between law enforcement and our communities by addressing systemic racism and bias to help save lives.
The legislation includes two of my bills on police reform – the End Racial and Religious Profiling Act (ERRPA), and the Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act (LETIA). ERRPA is designed to enforce the constitutional rights to equal protections under the law by eliminating racial and religious-based discriminatory profiling at all levels of law enforcement by changing the policies and procedures. LETIA takes steps to mitigate police violence by designating resources for community development and the transformation of public safety practices.
Unfortunately, while the George Floyd legislation passed the House, it has not yet passed in the Senate, as bipartisan negotiations failed to bear fruit. However, the Biden Justice Department has continued to move ahead in several important areas to improve police-community relations. Attorney General Merrick Garland recently announced the creation of a Collaborative Reform Initiative, which would help enlist local law enforcement agencies to voluntarily accept federal help in reducing officer-involved shootings and excessive-force incidents.
In 2021, I was pleased that the Maryland General Assembly enacted some of the most sweeping police reforms in the nation. They included historic accountability measures with an emphasis on de-escalation tactics. Maryland raised the bar for officers when officers should use force; gave civilians a role in police discipline for the first time; restricted the use no-knock warrants; mandated body cameras; and opened up some allegations of police wrongdoing for public review.
At the federal level, President Biden recently outlined his goals for police reform and improving public safety:
“We need more social workers. We need mental health workers … We can’t expect [police] to do every single, solitary thing that needs to be done to keep a community safe. It’s time to fund community policing to protect and serve the community.”
Over the past year, I worked with the Biden administration, the entire Maryland Congressional delegation and local leaders in the Baltimore metro region to bring new, substantial investment in public safety programs in Baltimore, as part of the Fiscal Year 2022 omnibus funding legislation, which President Biden signed into law last month. This includes over $7.5 million for public safety initiatives, such as the new Baltimore 9-1-1 Diversion Pilot Program, the Maryland Violence Prevention Coalition, the South Baltimore Peacemaking Project, the Stop the Bleed Program, LifeBridge Health’s Center for Hope Violence Cessation Program, the Living Classroom Foundation/Safe Streets’ Crisis Management and Workforce Development System, and the Baltimore Police Department’s Neighborhood Policing and Community Collaboration Plans as well as their records management and early intervention systems.
The White House also has selected Baltimore as one of 15 jurisdictions nationwide to participate in its Community Violence Intervention (CVI) program, which has been shown to reduce violence by as much as 60%. Such programs effectively utilize trusted messengers who work directly with individuals most likely to commit gun violence, intervene in conflicts and connect people to social, health and wellness, and economic services to reduce the likelihood of violence.
A young man, Freddie Gray, died while in custody of our local law enforcement. This never should have happened and we should all want to make sure that it does not happen again.
Protecting Marylanders from harm should not come at the expense of civil rights or treating individuals with dignity and respect. We are working at all levels of our community to do better in Baltimore City and across our great state.