Christopher's Law was passed by the Maryland General Assembly and is awaiting the governor's signature. The legislation requires police officers to be trained in CPR, cultural sensitivity, the proper use of force, and interacting with the physically and mentally disabled. "This is an umbrella of protection," said Chris Brown, 40, for whose son the bill (HB0294/ SB0542) was named.
"This bill will ensure that police officers are trained in life-saving techniques. They already know how to take lives, and they've been trained to do that," she added. "So, we are providing the balance by teaching them how to save lives."
Brown's son Christopher was killed in a June 2012 altercation with a Baltimore County police officer. The officer put the 17-year-old in a "choke hold," ultimately asphyxiating him. Brown believes if the officer knew CPR and had administered it in time, her son could have been saved.
Dayvon Love, director of Research and Public Policy for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, a for-profit advocacy group based in Baltimore that was involved in lobbying for the bill, said it was created in response Brown's death and the slaying or mistreatment of other Black teens by police officers.
"In light of the incidents with Trayvon Martin, Vernon Jordan, Marissa Alexander and Christopher Brown and looking at the way racism and White supremacy is embedded in the law enforcement system, it seemed like a good step to make more tools available to protect our communities," Love said.
The think-tank director said he hoped this bill would combat the innate "anti-Blackness" and the militaristic paradigm that is entrenched within U.S. policing.
"People think that when we talk about police brutality we're talking about officers who hate Black people. But we're talking about a society that socializes everyone to have a disregard for Black life," he said.
Brown and Love said the bill – which failed last year – was "undermined" by law enforcement because they felt it was an indictment against individual officers and because, they argued, they already had the discretion to initiate such training without a legislative mandate. It took unrelenting lobbying in Annapolis and in the community – Brown and others visited all the state legislators, unions, schools, parent interest groups and others – and the stalwart support of lawmakers such as Del. Jill Carter, who initiated the legislation, to move this bill forward, the advocates said.
"It was not some foundation that came down and gave us money to advocate for this legislation; there were no lobbyists or interest groups, it was [the] people in the community who were most affected that worked to get this bill pushed through," Love said of the grassroots effort.
Brown, who left her job as a stylist to free up her time, was crucial to those efforts, Love added.
Said the still grieving mother, "I was so angry when my son died, but then anger turned into movement. I want to show other mothers that good things can come out of bad incidents, but you have to fight for it."