Dear Fellow Marylanders,
On Wednesday, Tyre Nichols was laid to rest in Memphis, Tenn. He was a father, son, brother. He enjoyed skateboarding and photography. Tyre Nichols should be home with his family. He should not be dead.
In early January, this 29-year-old was a few houses away from his mother’s house when he was stopped by police, pulled from his car for an unknown reason and beaten to death by local police officers. To her credit, the Memphis Police Chief released body camera footage of this inhumane incident. The video was gut-wrenching. For three minutes, these officers gave contradictory commands and repeatedly attacked this young man, even though he was clearly incapacitated and as far from a threat to these officers as anyone could be. Other officers stood by while this was happening, along with emergency medical personnel who were delayed in delivering any kind of aid. Five officers have been fired and charged with murder. EMTs and others have been fired. Justice should ultimately be served in these cases by holding accountable and prosecuting criminal actions to the fullest extent of the law. But it will not change the fact that Tyre will never again hold his young son or feel the embrace of his mother.
When something like this takes place, I ask myself how this could happen and why it keeps happening. I find it incomprehensible that one human could treat another with such brutality. I understand that law enforcement officers have difficult jobs and put their lives on the line every day. They are given awesome responsibility as they swear to protect and serve communities. They should not be seen as a threat. Yet they are for so many. I mourn for the victims and their families. But as a white man, I recognize that I have the privilege of not thinking something like this might happen to me or my family members.
When something like this takes place – police abusing their authority and another person of color caught in the crossfire of rage and power – Black and brown mothers and fathers in Maryland and across the country are asking these questions and more, including how can they keep their child from being the next victim. While the burning pain of losing a child is universal, the conversations and the reaction to the latest episode of police brutality is inherently different because they have heard it all before.
Like Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others who have lost their lives to a biased and broken policing system, Tyre Nichols did not need to die.
How many times, as a nation, do we need to see a senseless murder before we say enough is enough? And what of the victims of police violence who are not caught on camera? How will their families ever find peace or justice if their local community or the nation never have a chance to hear their story or share their tears?
In Maryland, it is important to know that we have enacted police reform legislation that will limit police officers’ use of force and restrict the use of no-knock warrants. Nationally, President Joe Biden recently issued an executive order aimed at overhauling use-of-force policies for federal law enforcement agencies, and creating a national registry of officer misconduct. The president also asked the U.S. Justice Department and U.S. Department of Homeland Security to review and strengthen their guidance prohibiting discriminatory profiling, as I have urged the agencies to do so.
However, we need Congress to engage. Police reform should not be a partisan issue. It is a moral one. We must demand better from those in law enforcement.
I have long spoken out about how federal, state and local law enforcement officers need to change how they interact with our communities through increased training and higher standards. Only by shifting their mentality from a combative warrior to a guardian or protector will police across this country regain trust and be widely welcomed as they work to keep communities safe.
I am proud to have authored the Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act and the End Racial and Religious Profiling Act, both of which are included in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. This federal legislation could be a game changer for our communities by ending discriminatory profiling, holding officers accountable for misconduct and creating better nationwide standards for training and the use of force.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act will not stop every incident of inhumanity, but it will save lives and provide the tens of thousands of law-abiding police officers around the country with the tools they need to fulfill their responsibilities appropriately and rebuild trust.
Congress needs finally to act and make this happen. Partisan gridlock will not keep communities safe. We cannot be bystanders; too many lives are being lost.
Thank you for your time. Please feel free to reply to this email with your thoughts on this issue or any other topic. I appreciate your notes and opinions.