TESTIMONY IN OPPOSITION OF SB-166
Crimes – Use of a Firearm in the Commission of a Crime of Violence or Felony – Penalties (The Repeat Firearms Offender Act of 2019)
TO: To the Honorable Robert Zirkin, Chair of The Judicial Proceedings Committee
FROM: Samantha Blau, Jews United for Justice (JUFJ)
My name is Samantha Blau, and I am an educator, a resident of Baltimore, and a leader with Jews United for Justice, an organization of 5,000 Jews and allies in Maryland who are working for racial, social, and economic justice. I am testifying today in opposition to SB-166.
My work as a classroom teacher has taught me a lot about conflict management. When you’re the single adult in the room, in charge of 30 emotionally developing human beings, you start to understand certain things differently. You learn how to handle conflict and manage behaviors. You hopefully figure out how to be strong and compassionate, so that those 30 developing people know they can count on you. You learn quickly that they will test you, and that if you are unprepared you can fall into a trap of setting up a classroom with arbitrary rules and no support for those kids who are counting on you. Mandatory minimum sentencing is a racist policy that doesn’t work in either the classroom or the criminal justice system.
Teachers who lash out with punishment are ineffective, they don’t have the trust or respect of their students. This in turn leads to an ineffective classroom where learning can’t happen. If, as a teacher, you make arbitrary declarations – “Jala, you’re getting detention because you spoke back to me, stop sucking your teeth,” then the students aren’t getting what they really need from you. They aren’t getting the compassion that they need: asking them about their sudden bad attitude. They aren’t getting the structure that they need: thoughtfully considered consequences for their actions that take context into account.
Mandatory minimum sentences make our judges as ineffective as teachers who do not consider compassion or context. This policy tells judges that they cannot provide structure to our society, that our justice system will be ruled by knee-jerk fear and anger expressed through the executive and legislative bodies. It’s like watching a bad teacher in the classroom, and I have to ask myself how much damage that one person is doing to those 30 kids. This bill makes my stomach hurt thinking about how many lives we are forcing our judges to damage, the accused and their families, by telling judges we don’t think they can do their job properly.
Do we want an unjust justice system that applies arbitrary rules to all people with no thought for circumstance or situation? As an educator and as a Jew, I want a system that is founded in compassion, that considers the individual context of each case, and that works toward real justice, not mass incarceration. That’s what our students need, and what our state needs.