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The 'People' Seek a Voice in Police Reform

Ray Kelly wasn’t surprised when the Justice Department discovered that the Baltimore City Police Department had been violating the rights of black and brown Baltimoreans. He had been hearing about the abuse from his neighbors in Sandtown-Winchester and elsewhere in West Baltimore.

“Two days after the riots, we set up a listening campaign to hear the people’s concerns,” Kelly, a leader of the No Boundaries Coalition, explains. “They felt they had no voice and were being forgotten by the representatives meant to look out for them.”

This listening campaign, held at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church just days after the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, was not just minor town hall meeting. A court stenographer, members of the press and about 100 residents were ready to provide testimonies about police discrimination in the city.

“There were 57 incidents of police misconduct reported that day,” Kelly says. “We had to ask the press to leave because some people didn’t want to speak on the record.”

Since the release of the 164-page report in August, Kelly and No Boundaries – mentioned on Page 18 – have been on another campaign: to develop what is being called The People’s Decree of Central West Baltimore that will be presented to elected officials with the recommendations of ordinary men and women for instituting change in the police department.

The decree’s main focus is reform within the Baltimore City Police Department and its policies, stating: “Without structural change and civilian oversight, the civil rights violations detailed in the DOJ report will continue and as a city we will find ourselves in a similar crisis 5 to 10 years from now.”

Councilman Eric Costello of District 11 has already signed on. He thought long and hard about every aspect of the decree before signing.

“There were three things that jumped out at me,” he explains. “I don’t agree with everything in it, but I agree with the training portion for police, the community policing aspect and definitely the transparency.”

Decree Gains Support

Costello feels that training for the police department is the most important part, but that the petition can only go so far. “It’s just a piece of paper; it’s a plan,” Costello says. “It’s all about how the city implements what’s in it.”

So far, three other City Council members have signed on — Brandon Scott, District 2; Sharon Middleton, District 6; and Nick Mosby, District 7. Two City Council candidates —Leon Pinkett, District 7, and Shannon Sneed, District 13 — have also supported the petition. Most recently, former mayor Sheila Dixon dramatically signed the petition just days after she announced a write-in campaign to challenge Democratic nominee Catherine Pugh in the mayor’s race.

At the October 8th press conference held at St. Peter Claver, at nearly 40 individuals and representatives of organizations publicly signed the decree, adding to more than 100 names previously collected. Over 30 notable organizations are also pledging to support the decree, including Catholic Charities, Campaign for Justice Safety and Jobs (CJSJ), CASA de Maryland, Out for Justice, Maryland Disability Rights, Baltimore Commission on Veteran Affairs and Empowerment Temple A.M.E. Church.

The People’s Decree includes resident recommendations such as creation of an Office of Police Accountability (OPA). It details exactly who should serve on the board, who they report to and what the proposed budget will be ($500,000 annually).

“Public safety should be the main focus. We need to work together and hold everyone accountable, that includes the BPD,” Kelly says.

Kelly Looks to Future

Kelly believes this will place a higher priority on transparency within the police department and its training policies. He also hopes that this will restore the trust between civilians and officers.

“We don’t trust them, and they don’t trust us,” Kelly explains. “This is a problem we cannot ignore and it begins with changing the paradigm in the community.”

Anyone can sign the decree on the No Boundaries Coalition’s website; however, the sole purpose is to get the City Council members and community organizations on board.

“We wanted something that we could use to get the elected officials to commit to reforms in West Baltimore,” Kelly says. “There has to be policy changes in order to move forward. This is putting exactly what we want in black and white.”

Although Kelly supports community growth and development, he feels that Port Covington Project — a $660 million proposed a plan to redevelop Port Covington over the next 20 years — overshadowing the issues with “over-policing” in Central West Baltimore. He says he is not upset about which elected officials took which side, but he is dismayed that elected officials so quickly “jumped on speaking about Port Covington.” He says, “No one speaks about the dysfunction of the city and the police so quickly.”

He believes that there’s hope that the Port Covington deal will create better jobs for the working class. But right now, Kelly is focusing on the People’s Decree of Central West Baltimore and getting the reforms in place for better service to that community.

“Let’s not build a new needy neighborhood,” he says. “Let’s fix the ones we already have.”

Ray Kelly of No Boundaries Coalition and other community leaders gathered to drum up support for "the People's Decree" on October 8.

A woman signs the decree.

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