Article17 Farajii Muhammad-001

Farajii Muhammad, of Young Leaders for Peace, emceed a rally in support of law enforcement reform bills in Annapolis March 12. (AFRO/photo by Roberto Alejandro)

Advocates and residents from around Maryland gathered in Annapolis March 12 to rally in support of a slate of bills aimed at reforming law enforcement practices.

With an important House Judiciary Committee hearing on a number of efforts to increase transparency in policing set to take place later in the day, advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, American Friends Service Committee, CASA de Maryland and Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle used their grassroots muscle to bring together a diverse group of people to the state capital for a bilingual rally that called for greater justice for marginalized communities in the state.

“Whether you’re talking about Black youth, whether you’re talking about any community of color, whether you’re talking about our Latino brothers and sisters, there has been a lot of marginalization of many communities,” said Farajii Muhammad, a community organizer with the American Friends Service Committee and co-founder of Young Leaders for Peace, during a press conference prior to the rally. “And so today, we’re deciding to stand together, to come together, to show our support for various bills that are going to be in both the Senate and in the House here, and we want to make sure that our voices are heard.”

After activists from CASA de Maryland, which advocates on behalf of Latino immigrants, led the familiar chant of “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now” in Spanish, the Rev. Dr. Heber Brown III of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church said, “What I love about this is that justice . . . is a universal language. I feel a little bilingual right now.”

Brown then sought to place the day’s efforts within the context of the historical arc of justice, a strong current in the Baptist civil rights tradition from which Brown hails.

“We never want to put all of our dependency on elected officials to do what’s right.  We’re here doing them a favor; we’re giving them a chance to do what’s right, because at the end of the day, the history books will record and write down, whose side did you stand on?” Heber said. “We want to give them a chance to stand on the right side, the side of justice and righteousness, the side of truth, the side of love, the side of well-being.”

A number of survivors and mothers of victims of police brutality recounted their experiences of dealing with police violence, including one mother who said, “We need accountability. Rogue cops need to get off the force. How many times you kill and continue to be a police officer?”

Muhammad, who emceed the rally, told those gathered that they should expect legislators at the hearing to ask a lot of questions about numbers and statistics and emphasized the importance of voices, like those of the mothers who spoke, over pages of figures.

“I know legislators don’t like to hear about the personal, they want to get down to the nuts and bolts,” said Muhammad. “But last time I checked, in government, the nuts and bolts of government is people. It’s the experience of people. It’s not pushing papers, it’s not data, it’s about governance in the interest of people.”