At least 109 people died in Maryland during police encounters between 2010 and 2014, 69 percent of whom were Black, according to a new briefing paper by the ACLU Maryland. 

Article6 ACLU Paper on Md Police Killings

Sonia Kumar, staff attorney with the ACLU Maryland and one of the authors of a recent briefing paper on police-involved killings in Maryland. (AFRO Photo/ by Roberto Alejandro)

The group also found that 41 percent of people killed by police over that period were unarmed, and that five times as many Blacks were killed as Whites. 

In order to collect this data, the ACLU had to rely on media reports, because there is no federal or state requirement that police agencies track police-involved fatalities. And not tracking that data “sends the wrong message,” said Sonia Kumar, staff attorney with the ACLU Maryland, and an author of the paper. 

“It sends the message that those deaths don’t matter enough to count.” 

While Baltimore City and Prince George’s County led the state in the number of police-involved killings between 2010 and 2014 (31 and 21 respectively), 17 of Maryland’s 24 local jurisdictions (23 counties plus Baltimore City) experienced these types of deaths over that period. 

“This is a statewide issue,” said Kumar. “This is something that affects communities across our state, not just one or two urban jurisdictions which has very much been the perception and the message that has been perpetuated by law enforcement and state officials.” 

The lack of reporting requirements in the state on police-involved killings make it possible to perpetuate this myth, and also has broader implications for law enforcement in the state. 

“Because there’s no reporting, or tracking, or systematic attention to these cases as a whole, we’re not identifying whether there are other reforms that are needed, what kind of disciplinary action was taken, what kind of policy reforms have been enacted in the wake of specific incidents, what kind of learning is happening each time an incident happens,” said Kumar. 

The ACLU Maryland is hopeful that this briefing paper will help highlight the need for a more comprehensive understanding of how often and why police-involved killings occur. For too long, says Kumar, highlighting that need is a burden that has fallen to the families of victims, who have done “an extraordinary job,” but who are only in a position to highlight individual instances of such killings. 

“That often brings the focus back to very specific incidents, and that’s okay, except that the perception that’s out there is that these are isolated incidents, and that there aren’t patterns, or that they’re unavoidable, isolated incidents rather than part of a systemic set of issues,” said Kumar.

 The ACLU Maryland is currently advocating on behalf of House Bill 954 in the General Assembly which would mandate that law enforcement agencies collect data on police-involved killings. As of March 19, that bill has yet to be voted out of committee, and if the bill has not been cross-filed in the Senate by March 23, it is unlikely to become law. 

“I hope our public officials really understand the urgency of the call to action that communities have made for why we need change, and I think that this briefing paper is one additional piece of evidence about how urgent that need is,” said Kumar.

ralejandro@afro.com