Public Safety and Gun Control

Everyone deserves to live in a safe community, free of fear of violent crime. We all should feel free to walk about without fear of the police too.  When police abuse their authority it offends all our civil rights and lessens public safety by undermining the trust needed for effective policing.

Guns, seemingly everywhere, also have reduced our safety. They are in the hands of mentally unstable people, and gun accidents regularly take the lives of our children. I served on the General Assembly’s work group on guns and I co-sponsored Maryland’s ground-breaking gun safety legislation in 2013 that bans assault weapons and magazines with more than 10 rounds, and which requires handgun buyers to obtain a license from the state police and to pass a fingerprint-based background check.  We need to bring sanity to the national gun control debate, close loopholes in gun background check laws, and take assault weapons out of the hands of the mentally deranged.

After the Baltimore riots, I was selected to join the General Assembly’s workgroup on public safety and policing practices. I’ve been a prosecutor and a defense attorney, so I know both sides of the justice system.  Policing is a difficult job.  The police are asked to make split second decisions under confusing conditions when they may be (or feel) in danger.  But the police also have lost the trust of large segments of our population and that makes our communities less safe.

I recall how difficult it was as a prosecutor in Eric Holder’s US Attorney’s Office to prosecute violent offenses without the cooperation of witnesses who distrusted the system. Before working as a prosecutor, I represented criminal defendants and abused and neglected children.  I also counseled domestic violence victims.  I saw a criminal justice system being used to “fix” a broad mix of society’s problems ranging from drug abuse to mental illness.  But courts usually don’t do a good job with these problems.

I will continue to push fairer sentencing so that we can reduce the disproportionately higher rate of incarceration among minorities. As a member of the Black Caucus and the Governor’s Commission to Reform Maryland’s Pre-Trial System, I have seen the impact on minority communities. I don’t just talk about these principles.  I was the lead sponsor of a law that “banned the box” on state employment forms to give ex-offenders a better chance to find work and escape the cycle of incarceration.  Another of my bills improves the police procedures for suspect lineups which are notoriously inaccurate and lead to many erroneous convictions.

We also need to promote good police training, implement recruiting and hiring practices that take account of the population served, and ensure civilian oversight for investigations that involve possible police misconduct. In the General Assembly I pushed for police accountability, including ending race based traffic stops and promoted legislation for an independent state prosecutor to investigate deaths related to law enforcement.

Lastly, let’s remember that crime reflects other social ills. I support community revitalization programs that bring jobs and re-growth to our blighted cities.  As a member of the Regional Revitalization Workgroup for the Baltimore Metropolitan Area, I have seen the problems that breed where jobs are lacking and people feel disconnected from the broader society.  A year of incarceration costs us all more than a year of college tuition.  We must do everything we reasonably can to break the cycle of poverty and crime.