Put judges and officers for yourself in all your cities that your God is giving you, for your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteousness. You shall not subvert justice; you shall not show favoritism…justice, justice shall you pursue…
– Deuteronomy 16:18-20
Law enforcement should serve and protect everyone, but Black and brown Marylanders are facing systemic violence and over-policing every day. Jewish tradition teaches us that destroying one life is akin to destroying the entire world. Police violence has destroyed so many worlds in our state, and Maryland laws prevent the public from even finding out about officers’ mistreatment of people. We must be able to hold police accountable to the people and communities they hurt.
The People: People hurt by police, particularly Black and Brown individuals, immigrants, LGBTQI+ people, and those experiencing mental health crises.
The Legislation: Under the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) disciplinary records of police may not be released, which prevents effective accountability and discipline for police officers.
- Remove legal barriers that prevent public access to records of police misconduct.
- Ensure public participation in holding police officers accountable for abuse and brutality.
- Bill sponsors: Delegate Luke Clippinger (Baltimore City) and Senator Jill Carter (Baltimore City)
“Anyone who destroys a life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed an entire world.”
— Midrash Sanhedrin 4:5
The concept of tzelem elohim — the idea that all people are created in the Divine image and therefore are equally precious and worthy — is central to Judaism. It is so central that our sacred texts declare that destroying even one life is akin to destroying a whole world. Unfortunately, we know that in Maryland, lives are destroyed every day, especially Black and brown lives, by our system of policing. And despite historic police accountability reforms passed by the Maryland General Assembly two years ago, community oversight of the police needs to be strengthened. Judaism’s ethic of mutual care calls us to reduce unnecessary police interactions, boldly rethink policing, and transform public safety in our region.
The 2023 legislative session has adjourned! We and our partners helped pass legislation to ban the racist and unconstitutional practice of cannabis odor searches. We also successfully prevented legislation to restore local control of the Baltimore City Police Department from passing in a harmful form. Unfortunately, however, the bill to empower jurisdictions to grant their PABs independent investigatory powers did not move. To learn more, click here.
- People harmed by the police, especially Black and brown Marylanders, and also immigrants, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and those experiencing mental health crises.
- Senate Judicial Proceedings (JPR), Chair: Will Smith (Montgomery County)
- House Judiciary (JUD), Chair: Luke Clippinger (Baltimore City)
2023 Legislative Details:
- Independent Investigative Powers for Police Accountability Boards (SB285):
- During the 2021 legislative session, the General Assembly passed historic police reforms, including mandating a Police Accountability Board (PAB) in each local jurisdiction.
- While a step in the right direction, PABs lack independent investigatory and subpoena powers. Clarification is needed to ensure local jurisdictions have the ability to grant PABs these powers so that they are not reliant on investigations done by the police they are supposed to be holding accountable.
- This bill was sponsored by Senator Jill Carter. Disappointingly, it did not get a committee vote, and therefore did not move forward.
- Reduce Unnecessary Police Interactions – Ban Cannabis Odor Searches (SB51/HB1071):
- While police are required to obtain a search warrant before conducting a search, the smell of cannabis is used as an exception to this constitutional right. Within the last few years, officers in several states were found to have lied about smelling cannabis, which is legal in Maryland, before conducting a search.
- In Maryland, Black drivers are more likely to be stopped and searched by police. For incidents involving Black drivers, probable cause (including the odor of cannabis) was used to justify 67% of searches, compared to 46% of incidents involving white drivers.
- Traffic stops disproportionately injure and kill drivers of color. Pulling drivers out of their car because of the lingering odor of a partially legalized substance adds further danger to these stops.
- Banning odor searches would reduce unnecessary, harmful interactions with the police and eliminate a gateway to the unjust criminalization of Black and brown people.
- This bill was sponsored by Senator Jill Carter and Delegate Charlotte Crutchfield. It passed out of the General Assembly in its strongest form, with an amendment to protect Marylanders’ constitutional rights and disincentivize officers from conducting illegal searches.
- Restore Local Control of Baltimore City Police Department (SB758/HB853):
- For 10+ years, advocates have been working to give City Council legislative oversight of the BPD.
- In 2021, the General Assembly passed legislation to reestablish BPD as a City agency provided that Baltimoreans ratify a ballot measure, which they did in November 2022. However, City Council still technically lacks legislative oversight. Further delay is unacceptable, as it limits representative democracy and police accountability in a majority-Black city.
- This bill was sponsored by Senator Jill Carter and Delegate Stephanie Smith. It passed in the House; however, most of Baltimore City’s Senate Delegation voted to support a weakening amendment that would leave the City Council unable to legislate anything related to the police. We and our partners successfully worked to prevent the bill from passing in this harmful form, and will work with the City Council to legislate reforms to the BPD, testing a legal opinion from Attorney General Anthony Brown’s office.
Key Partners: Maryland Coalition for Justice & Police Accountability, including: ACLU of Maryland, CASA, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, NAACP, PG ChangeMakers, Young People for Progress, and Silver Spring Justice Coalition
As we build on our organizing and advocacy from the past few years, JUFJ prioritizes deepening relationships with existing partners and coalitions and honoring the commitments we have made in past years. To maximize our effectiveness, we engage in a full scope of work on a limited number of campaigns, and impact other campaigns in a more limited way by submitting official JUFJ testimony and/or signing JUFJ’s name to a list of supporters.
For more information about our additional legislative positions, click here.
For more information about our agenda setting process for the Maryland 2023 state legislative session, click here.
Additional Legislative Positions:
In addition to JUFJ’s key legislative priorities, we support and will provide testimony on the following bills:
- Allow Montgomery County to move automated traffic enforcement from the Police Department to Department of Transportation (HB231) – This local priority must to be passed at the state level.
- Body Worn Cameras (HB429) – Clarify and strengthen legislation passed last year and add requirements for plainclothes officers to also wear cameras.
- Repeal Disruption of School as a Crime (HB84/SB119) – Disruption of school is a crime punishable by a fine up to $2,500 or imprisonment up to 6 months. This criminalizes normal childhood behavior.
- Reportable Offenses Statute (HB146) – End the current practice where students who commit or are accused of a crime outside of school can be reported to their school, and suspended or expelled.
- MD988 Fund campaign (HB293/SB241)- Create a mental health and substance abuse crisis response hotline.
We oppose SB31, which would interfere with police transparency, HB613, which would increase funding for school resource officers rather than mental health supports, and SB652, which would enact mandatory minimums.
December 5 | 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
All of us deserve a life with dignity, respect, and safety. But here in Montgomery County, Black and brown children in public schools are scapegoated as criminals rather than nurtured. Jewish tradition teaches that the Divine encompasses both justice and mercy — every child should have the chance …