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Advocates Apply Pressure As Lawmakers Talk Policing Reform

Christopher Connelly/WYPR
Rev. Todd Yeary, president of the Maryland chapter of the NAACP, flanked by Benjamin Jealous of the Southern Elections Fund and CASA de Maryland's Lydia Walther Rodriguez.

A workgroup made up of Maryland lawmakers met today in Annapolis to start exploring potential policing and accountability reforms that can be done at the state level. It was a largely organizational meeting, but advocates ranging from the ACLU and the NAACP to Amnesty International and CASA de Maryland used the date as a chance to make it clear that advocates are ready to put pressure on lawmakers to make change happen.

The General Assembly's leadership convened the workgroup on public safety after protests against police use of force erupted across Baltimore following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray from injuries sustained while in police custody.

The legislative session that ended in April saw several police accountability bills wither in committee. Lawmakers did pass some measures, including legislation that requires law enforcement agencies to track deaths of people in police custody and another that creates a legal pathway to put body cameras on police officers. But other, more substantive measures – such as efforts to reform the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights, which governs administrative disciplinary procedures and a bill that would put the state prosecutor in charge of investigations into police-involved deaths – did not advance.

An ACLU report found more than a hundred deaths in police custody in Maryland within the last four years.  Rev. Todd Yeary of the Maryland state chapter of the NAACP says a broad coalition of faith, community and advocacy groups have come together to put pressure on lawmakers to act.

"There should not be and there must not be some passive assessment that somehow or another protecting the rights of people comes against the interest of law enforcement," he said. "It is crazy at its face, it is a sign of just wanton insanity in the public square, and we must address it."

The panel of lawmakers – ten from the House and ten from the Senate – heard from legislative analysts and the police training commission about current practices and the laws that govern policing in the state. The workgroup will continue to meet through the summer and report to the general assembly before the next legislative session.

Christopher Connelly is a political reporter for WYPR, covering the day-to-day movement and machinations in Annapolis. He comes to WYPR from NPR, where he was a Joan B. Kroc Fellow, produced for weekend All Things Considered and worked as a rundown editor for All Things Considered. Chris has a master’s degree in journalism from UC Berkeley. He’s reported for KALW (San Francisco), KUSP (Santa Cruz, Calif.) and KJZZ (Phoenix), and worked at StoryCorps in Brooklyn, N.Y. He’s filed stories on a range of topics, from a shortage of dog blood in canine blood banks to heroin addicts in Tanzania. He got his start in public radio at WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, when he was a student at Antioch College.