White people, particularly those who uphold white privilege and supremacy in their communities, have turned the police badge into an object symbolic of those who protect and serve, representative of honor and integrity for police officers and the larger institution of policing. Such propaganda has allowed for unfair legal privileges to time and time again be awarded to those hiding their massive abuses of power behind a small piece of meaningless metal.
Maryland was the first-ever state to enact a Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights (LEOBR), meant to “protect” officers and provide them with certain legal rights the majority of Americans never experience. Over the course of this month, Maryland has now become the first state to repeal it. Even with veto efforts by Republican Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, legislators have been able to pass three police reform bills, including the repeal of LEOBR.
While some believe this repeal to be a groundbreaking move against policing with fellow legislators applauding their efforts on the passing of this bill, the reality of this legislation is hardly deserving of praise. In fact, it hardly scratches the surface of the action required.
By repealing the LEOBR, Maryland has enacted the mandatory issue of body cameras for all police officers by 2025. They have also restricted the use of no-knock warrants to certain times of the day and have raised higher stacks for police officers who use excessive force. De-escalation tactics that minimize the use of force by police officers on a civilian are now highly emphasized. The bill also allows citizens to be a part of charging committees which determine what kind of accountability should be applied to an officer guilty of power abuse.
While these moves appear to be the first steps in the right direction, they are hardly the leap this country needs. The news of Black men, women and children being brutally murdered at the hands of police is constant. Thanks to smartphones and other recording devices, those who do not live in communities threatened daily by police presence now also have an understanding of this massive injustice.
The demand that has swept across this country for a dismantling of the white supremacist system patrolling American streets is hardly satisfied with changes like this. Reform must not only involve checks to keep police power use in place, but it must get rid of police entirely.
This past week has solidified this truth.
A couple of days ago, many of us held our breath while awaiting the verdict of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. Despite Chauvin’s conviction of all three charges against him, justice felt far from served. Even with a guilty verdict, without massive change to follow it, most Americans knew nothing would change. This became increasingly apparent during the trial as news of another murder spread — a young Black girl, Ma’Khia Bryant, just 16 years old, was shot by police in Columbus, Ohio.
Politicians like Maryland’s own Governor Hogan have long fought against police reform by claiming the safety of police officers would be threatened in the process. The completely false nature of this claim is more true than ever before. Maryland leadership can no longer buy into this narrative. Police officers have willingly joined into a violent, white supremacist system. Those killed by it had no choice.
So while we can agree that Maryland is certainly moving in the right direction, we must also agree there is still so much more the state and the rest of the country can do.
There needs to be more effort put in by local and federal government in order for long-lasting and effective reform to occur. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which aims at addressing issues of police misconduct, needs to be passed by the Senate and signed by President Biden. Money spent on militarizing the police could be better placed in community support programs and in education on substance abuse disorder and mental health. The more reforms pass, the closer this country can move towards ending the police system entirely and towards supporting the communities targeted.
The origins of our modern policing system came out of slavery. No “good” police officer can erase that history and turn the institution into something meant to serve and protect all Americans. Maryland has been an important place in these early stages of reform but has yet to make historic, leading action against the policing institution.