The Maryland Legislative Black Caucus has a laundry list of items for state lawmakers to push when the General Assembly resumes in January, including the elimination of the cash bail system, eradicating pre-kindergarten suspensions and Incorporate blacks into the medical cannabis industry.
The Democratic caucus will explain the seven-item agenda listed on its website and seek public input from residents in Prince George’s and Charles counties at a town hall session at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 13 at Prince George’s Community College in Largo. The meeting stands as the second of four the caucus will host in the next two months throughout the state.
“The main thing is to introduce the community to the Black Caucus so they know who we are,” said Delegate Darryl Barnes of Upper Marlboro and the caucus’s first vice chair. “The goal is to go over what we did this pass session…and open it up to the public and [residents] share their ideas and concerns. We’re their advocates in Annapolis, but at the same time we need them to be our advocates right here at home.”
One contentious topic discussed this year in Annapolis focused on bail reform, which the caucus and opponents of the bail bond industry viewed that the traditional cash bail system mainly hurts low-income Blacks who can’t afford bail.
Another public safety topic of discussion is police practices, according to the caucus.
A study released in May by the University of Texas at Dallas highlights that federal consent decrees by the Justice Department may reduce civil rights lawsuits up to 36 percent. The study led by criminologists John Worrall, Michelle Bisaccia Meitl and Zachary A. Powell that looked at 23 jurisdictions that agreed to consent decrees used to reform police departments.
Prince George’s County Police Department went through the process in 2005 and its current chief, Hank Stawinski, helped restructure and rewrite the department’s policies during that time.
Stawinski, who was confirmed as police chief in February 2016 with 25 years in the department, said that work and other reforms have increased the current homicide closure rate to 80 percent and the closure rate on commercial robberies at 70 percent.
To build personal relationships, he started a “Chief on the Go” initiative in September to talk about the department and listen to any concerns from community leaders and residents. Another one will take place Friday, July 14 at the Centre at Forestville.
“What I am trying to do is organize this community against crime,” he said. “Having them know me as the leader of the agency [and] have them know the 1,700 men and women who serve them. If you know me, you know them. That fosters the kind of relationship and feedback that we get … with the community stepping forward.”
The town hall also plans to discuss education, which has become controversial with the county’s school board. State legislation didn’t get passed to restructure the board that includes the county executive being allowed to appoint the chair and vice chair.
Besides allowing school board members to select their leadership, Prince George’s County NAACP President Bob Ross also hopes lawmakers will seek an end to the state’s foreclosure crisis. Maryland ranks third in the nation behind Delaware and New Jersey with its foreclosure rate at one in every 997 units.
“Those are the kind of things I hope will come out in this forum on [Thursday],” he said. “The year 2018 is a big year and I am getting ready for it.”