As jurisdictions across the country work to implement policing reforms in response to last year’s nationwide protests against police killings of African Americans, lawmakers in Maryland are fighting an uphill battle in pushing for transparency into law enforcement misconduct.
As reported by the Washington Post, state legislators on Tuesday will hear arguments regarding a bill that would repeal some protections under Maryland’s notorious Law Enforcement Bill of Rights, which allows police officers in the state to have a five-day waiting period before having to cooperate with internal investigators probing incidents of misconduct and also stipulates that only other cops—not civilians—can access complaint records against officers.
The bill to challenge these extensive allowances for officers is called Anton’s Law, in honor of Anton Black, a 19-year-old Black man who died in 2018 after police from the Greensboro Police Department in Maryland tased him, pinned him to the ground and laid on top of him for several minutes, according to a lawsuit filed by his family against the officers involved in the incident. The state medical examiner, whose autopsy found there was no evidence that Black’s death was caused by his detainment by police, is also named in the family’s lawsuit, according to the Post, as is Thomas Webster IV, the former Greensboro cop who led the chase after Black.
Previous efforts to challenge the many protections offered to Maryland cops who are accused of misconduct have failed. But the revelation that Webster had 30 use-of-force reports against him prior to being hired by the Greensboro Police Department—including kicking an unarmed Black man in the head and breaking his jaw, according to the News Journal in Delaware—has prompted another attempt to open up the disciplinary records of officers in Maryland to civilian review, especially in the aftermath of last year’s racial justice uprisings.
But Maryland’s Fraternal Order of Police has levied a major pushback against the proposed legislation to increase the public’s understanding of how their officers operate, including by launching a PR campaign that prominently features Black cops.
From Washington Post:
FOP President Clyde Boatwright said his members are telling legislators to not let “the things that are happening nationally affect our policy.” Giving civilians a role in investigations of police conduct, he said, would be akin to allowing members of the public to take part in a soldier’s court-martial.
“We need to have a right where our police officers are not unfairly treated,” Boatwright said.
The Keep Maryland Safe website frames its pitch around the need to protect the “good officers” — and guaranteeing fairness for Black and Latino officers.
“If the due process rights disappear . . . Maryland is likely to see an exodus of good officers,” the website says. “A lack of a statewide due process standard for officers has the potential to put minority officers at risk — allowing police commanders to remove officers from the line of duty and fire them without cause.”
According to testimony FOP recently submitted in opposition to Anton’s Law, which was reported by the Capitol Gazette, the union contends that the measure would unnecessarily expose private, confidential and personal information of police officers. It’s quite a leap in logic to frame police behavior while on duty, and their actions toward members of the public, as “personal information” in order to deny the public’s ability to evaluate it for themselves.
The progress of this bill will indicate just how much change the renewed movement initiated by George Floyd’s horrendous killing can really affect, against the might of a nationwide policing culture used to investigating itself and escaping external accountability.