Last night, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) co-sponsored a community town hall on policing reform with the Honorable Elijah E. Cummings and the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law to begin to answer a tough question: how to reform the Baltimore Police Department in the wake of the United States Department of Justice’s (DOJ) blistering report. The town hall is part of the community input process ahead of the DOJ’s consent decree, a binding agreement outlining how Baltimore will change its broken policing practices.
Nearly 300 Baltimore residents filled Westminster Hall to share their experiences with the Baltimore Police Department and offer up suggestions on what reforms should be included in the consent decree. Many, including the family of Tyrone West, a young African-American man who died while in police custody three years ago, said that police should be held accountable when they violate the law. The anger and frustration in the crowd was palpable, and some residents expressed their skepticism that change was possible even with the abuses laid bare for all to see. However, there was also hope and a willingness from the community to be part of the process. Indeed, many of the calls for action emphasized the need for community involvement and voices every step of the way. In addition to the ongoing calls for accountability, community members also made suggestions including a review board comprised of civilians, better and more training for officers, a close examination of the relationship between the police and state’s attorneys’ offices, and the full inclusion of school policing in the consent decree.
“To transform a police department and public safety system this broken is going to require our engagement for years,” said LDF President and Director-Counsel, Sherrilyn Ifill, at last night’s event.
“The police need the community and the community needs the police. And so, hopefully this will open up the dialogue so that when the final agreement is made, it will have the input of the community,” said Congressman Elijah Cummings. “We must take this moment and turn it into a movement, and it can be done.” he added.
DOJ will continue to seek input from law enforcement and community members over the coming weeks. DOJ representatives said that while the formal community feedback gathering process was closing Friday, the Department would continue to listen to community members as they continue to negotiate their consent decree with Baltimore. Given the abuses rampant in the system, the DOJ wants to have a consent decree in place as quickly as possible to being to work to correct the injustices in Baltimore as soon as possible. DOJ representatives said that they were targeting early November to have the decree in place. Once the consent decree is implemented, it will be overseen by a federal judge to ensure compliance with its requirements.