Jewish tradition teaches that “One must not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed” (Leviticus 19:16). Millions of us have witnessed the life of George Floyd end beneath the knee of a police officer as fellow officers stood by and ignored pleas to intervene, just one recent death in a long line of Black people abused and killed by police officers across this country — including right here in Baltimore County.
County Councilmember Julian Jones has introduced bill #73-20 to hold Baltimore County police accountable to the community, restrict use of force, and to make sure that officers who do the right thing are protected from retaliation.
JUFJ leaders submitted public testimony in support of this bill during the County Council work session on Tuesday, 7/28. Read below to learn why JUFJ leader Claire Landers supports this bill.
I am Claire Landers, a resident of Baltimore County. I am a board member and Co-Chair of the Baltimore Leadership Council of Jews United for Justice (JUFJ). JUFJ organizes Jews in DC and across Maryland to fight for racial, economic, and social justice. We have more than 700 members in Baltimore County. I am here to ask that you support County bill #73-20.
We can no longer accept the status quo in Baltimore County around internal police culture and the blue wall of silence. It’s become very clear it is time to make changes in how the system holds problem officers accountable. Randomly sampling body camera footage with the hope of finding a problem, as Prosecutor Shellenberger mentioned, is just not adequate in getting the full picture about what is happening 24/7 as officers patrol in our neighborhoods and interact with residents. It doesn’t matter “if a 1000 calls go well,” as someone earlier here stated, if you or your child is the one of 1000, who is unarmed and or in mental distress, yet is unnecessarily physically hurt or ends up dead because of bad policing. That should be utterly unacceptable to all of us today.
The testimony we just heard from Ms Rebecca Nelson and Ms Sharita Morrison and Ms. Jasmine Richardson underscore that bad things are happening within our County police force that we – especially white people – have no idea about.
In 2020, any fair-minded County resident should be able to expect that a County police officer who witnesses a fellow officer violating policies, committing acts of misconduct or using unnecessary physical or deadly force, would intervene to stop that violating officer and report that misconduct.
But we know the proverbial “blue wall of silence” among officers is real and that officers remain reluctant to actively intervene and report about misconduct by other officers.
This bill is reasonable and responsible by requiring that County police officers, who have the same training and work under the same conditions as every other County officer, will be obligated to intervene and report officer violations and misconduct to their supervisors.
That’s why this bill’s ‘whistleblower protections’ are urgently needed: The bill supports and protects those individual officers when they do step up and do the right thing about colleagues who are so-called ‘bad apples’ – Those same problem officers, whose misconduct and violations of their own Department’s training and policies, undermine public trust in the integrity of the entire Baltimore County Police force.
Perhaps the most critical component in the bill is the first step it takes in establishing actual public accountability. This bill appropriately puts in place some measure of public oversight by appointing two trained members of the public onto the disciplinary Hearing Boards that are deciding what action to take around an individual officer who has been accused of misconduct.
We will only be assured that all County officers do the right thing when they work in a department that has a system with the mechanisms in place to hold them accountable when they do the wrong thing.
No more hours in training or new policies will ever make a difference if there is no real accountability or transparency built into the system that our County officers work in – It is in your power, as our local elected legislative leaders, to put in place a system that truly works better than it does now.
I urge every Councilmember to support and pass Bill #73-20.