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Sean Yoes

On Monday, I was speaking with Bobby Marvin Holmes, one of the senior producers of First Edition (also an outstanding young filmmaker and community leader) about show ideas this week. And he said, `We should talk about the open of the 2016 session in Annapolis on Wednesday.’

My response was a combination of genuine surprise, bemusement and mild panic. Damn. Could the 2016 legislative session in Annapolis be set to start already? I distinctly remember the beginning of the 2015 session; there was so much anticipation and (truth be told) anxiety in the days leading up to the open. We had reported consistently and in depth on First Edition about what seemed like the pervasive misconduct of the Baltimore City Police Department.

There was the now infamous videotape of Kollin Truss as we say in West Baltimore getting banked by now former police officer Vincent Cosom, while his thug buddies (who I believe remain members of the BCPD!) held Truss’ arms at a bus stop on the corner of North and Greenmount in June of 2014. When the video went public in September 2014, it sparked a firestorm of outrage.

The video of the beating also foreshadowed the bombshell investigative report by the Baltimore Sun, which outlined a phalanx of police brutality cases, accented by the bruised and battered faces of mostly Black people on the front page of the newspaper, that led to more than $6 million in payouts by the city to the victims of police officers.

Community leaders like Dayvon Love and Adam Jackson of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, Pastor Heber Brown of Pleasant Hope Baptist church, as well as political leaders like Del. Jill Carter, and the ACLU prepared for a battle to legislate significant law enforcement reform. However, after all the lobbying, rallies and testimony the seemingly insurmountable blue wall of the Fraternal Order of Police proved to be more than formidable. By the end of the 2015 session, not one piece of legislation aimed at law enforcement reform was passed.

A few days after the end of the session, Freddie Gray was murdered while in police custody and then the uprising erupted while the nation and the world watched. By the end of 2015 Baltimore witnessed our most murderous year ever. So, the 2016 stage is set in Annapolis. Yet, there is a reason for hope in the minds of some because of the efforts of The Public Safety and Policing Work Group (made up of Democratic and Republican members of the Maryland House and Senate), which convened over the summer and came up with a list of 22 recommendations earlier this week.

“These are recommendations that are going to turn into legislation according to (Delegate) Curt Anderson and (Senator) Catherine Pugh,” said veteran journalist Stephen Janis of the Real News Network and regular contributor to First Edition.

He spoke to both veteran lawmakers this week. “These are recommendations…that will be introduced as the Speaker and Senate President’s bill, their bills, coming from the two most powerful positions in the legislature. So, this is not just pie in the sky stuff, they’re serious about this,” Janis added.

Indeed, Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Bush appointed the bipartisan task force after April’s uprising and promised there would be law enforcement reform in Maryland. Among the group’s 22 recommendations are three suggested amendments to the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights (LEOBR), the strongest set of law enforcement protections in the country.

The proposed changes include cutting the waiting time for police officers accused of misconduct to speak to investigators from 10 days to five, alleged victims of police brutality would have a year to file a complaint, versus the current 90 day window, and striking down a state law that prevents citizens from serving on police trial boards.

Not surprisingly, the Fraternal Order of Police is opposed to the proposed changes. Ironically or in perfect alignment with the Universe (depending on your perspective) , the 2016 legislative session in Annapolis will end right around the same time as the one year anniversary of the death of Freddie Gray, the uprising and the trials of the police officers charged with his death. And all eyes will be on Baltimore once again.

Sean Yoes is a senior contributor for the AFRO and host and executive producer of First Edition, which airs Monday through Friday, 5-7 p.m. on WEAA 88.9.