ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — If Trump’s campaign was any precursor to his administration, the president-elect could threaten criminal justice reform underway in Maryland, some civil rights advocates say.
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Following a U.S. Department of Justice report that revealed potentially unconstitutional practices in the Baltimore Police Department, the American Civil Liberties Union has pushed for accountability and transparency from the Baltimore police.
The Department of Justice released its findings months after Freddie Gray, in April of 2015, died as a result of injuries sustained while in police custody. Gray’s death turned Baltimore into an epicenter of racial unrest in Maryland, specifically between African-American communities and police.
According to the report, “The death of Freddie Gray and ensuing unrest … underscored the critical lack of trust between (the Baltimore Police Department) and a significant portion of the City’s residents, especially African Americans.”
Baltimore City and federal officials are working on a consent decree that would mandate reforms to policing in Baltimore, but their deliberations have not yet been finalized.
“The long and short is any hope that a DOJ investigation…would spur reform (is) lost if there is no consent decree before the Trump administration takes office,” Toni Holness of ACLU Maryland said.
President-elect Donald Trump, throughout his campaign, repeatedly referred to himself as the “law and order candidate,” advocating for stop-and-frisk policies and increased police presence in vulnerable communities.
“Those peddling the narrative of cops as a racist force in our society, a narrative supported with a nod by my opponent, share directly in the responsibility for the unrest in (many) places within our country,” Trump said in a speech in Wisconsin in August.
Many of his comments stem from unrest in areas where the community has reacted to police relations with violence or protest, such as Baltimore.
“In Maryland, of course, we have been advancing a very strong agenda of reform of the criminal justice process and of policing,” Congressman-elect Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery County, said. “We’ve also been investing in reform of policing, and that’s where we need to go…I don’t think that the phrase ‘law and order’ contributes much to public dialogue in terms of reforming and improving criminal justice.”
Maryland’s most prominent reform took the shape of the Justice Reinvestment Act, which passed in the spring 2016 General Assembly session. The act provides a plan for funneling money previously used for incarceration into crime prevention efforts. It also steers drug offenders toward rehabilitation programs rather than imprisonment.
Most of the act’s provisions will go into effect in October 2017.
“(As someone) who has managed law enforcement officers 23 out of my 25 years, what I hear Mr. Trump saying, law and order to me means that he’s going to enforce the laws,” said David Grogan, a retired Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal at United States Department of Justice.
Although the Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Trump after a nationwide vote of chapters, the Maryland chapter of the FOP voted not to endorse either candidate after being given the option of voting for either Trump, Clinton or neither.
Trump’s stance, largely supportive of law enforcement in police-community disputes, comes as a complement to the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights, which governs state agencies and Baltimore City, and which civil rights advocates see as an avenue for perpetrating civil rights violations.
The policy largely dictates how misconduct investigations are handled within a police force, regulating the number of days in which a complaint must be filed and the process of responding to that complaint. Advocacy groups have begun working to make changes to the state law in order to involve the community in handling police misconduct cases.
“At a core level, Maryland needs to…reform the way it deals with law enforcement,” said Cheye M. Calvo, a member of The Constitution Project’s Committee on Policing Reforms. “I think the Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights puts in place some really dangerous safeguards for bad actors.”
However, without a record in a government position, citizens and legislators have only Trump’s campaign rhetoric to fall back on.
Some are concerned that Trump’s policy would lead to discrimination.
“The history has shown that there has been neglect in other administrations and that happened long before Mr. Trump,” Grogan said. “I don’t know that he can do anything any worse than the conditions already are.”
“As it relates to law and order I think that President-elect Trump’s message has been loud and clear,” said Dr. Rashawn Ray, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park. “(What) I see happening with the expansion of the law and order policy is police having more free range to actively discriminate against black and brown people.”
The president-elect is under further scrutiny after selecting Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general Nov. 18.
Ray called Trump’s potential appointments for attorney general “highly problematic” Thursday, when it was rumored that both Sessions and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani were under consideration.
Sessions, a former federal judge nominee during the Reagan Administration, was quickly denied the position because of his history of racially charged comments. He later was elected to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate.
CNS reporters Sydney Tonic and Maggie Gottlieb contributed to this report.