By Dayvon Love
We are in a moment where social justice issues are being commodified by those who are political and economic elites who have been drivers of oppressive systems.
Joe Biden has attempted to style himself after FDR, in an effort to appear sympathetic to social justice issues. We all remember the ridiculous picture of speaker Pelosi and Democratic Party leaders in congress kneeling draped in kente cloth. This trend is concerning because there are people that will emerge and claim to want to fight for justice, when in actuality they are appendages of the political machines that conspire to destroy Black people and reproduce oppressive systems.
One of the biggest challenges with current political conversations is that there is too much focus on individual personalities and not the political machines and major industries behind a candidate. No individual person can go into elected office and actually stand up to oppressive systems without a machine behind them. Furthermore, when individuals come before us and espouse social justice as a value, when in fact they are an extension of oppressive political regimes, we have to be sure not to be bamboozled. One of the candidates for Attorney General of the State of Maryland, former Judge Katie O’Malley is an example of this.
Whenever the political record of her husband, and former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley comes up, I have heard the argument made that women should not be reduced to, or made responsible for the actions of their spouses. I agree with the underlying premise of this perspective, but this doesn’t apply to my criticism of former judge O’Malley.
When Martin O’Malley was mayor of Baltimore he presided over a zero tolerance policy that resulted in 757,000 arrests between 1999-2006. This policy destroyed the lives of many Black people who were swept up by these illegal arrests. This also destroyed the ability for law enforcement to actually develop the skills needed to collaborate with the community to address gun violence. Mayor O’Malley was not alone, his policies are an extension of a Democratic Party political machine that used the criminalization of Black people as a political stepping stone.
It is not a secret that Martin O’Malley’s networks and political connections are being deployed to support his wife’s bid for Attorney General. Her platform vows to reform the criminal justice system, which is ironic given the fact that she is a political beneficiary of policies she is committing to address. This is not a case of making her responsible for her husband’s actions, but of holding her accountable for the political machine that was (and in some ways continues to be) responsible for the denigration of Black life. A machine that, during her campaign, she has never denounced or challenged, but in fact is a co-conspirator.
This is not to say that Anthony Brown has demonstrated that he is a champion for racial justice and that he has challenged the Democratic Party establishment in any meaningful way. In fact, as Martin O’Malley’s lieutenant governor, he was certainly a part of this establishment. In these situations we have to make tactical decisions. The questions we should ask ourselves is which of these candidates can be more effectively pressured to deliver for our community. In this case Anthony Brown does not have the kind of political machine behind him that judge O’Malley does to protect him from community pressure the way that his opponent does. And given her complicity in the political machine that produced the mass arrest policy that did so much damage Black people, we can not afford to give this machine power in Maryland.
Voting against Judge O’Malley for AG is not about a rejection of her as an individual, but of the political machine that she represents that has a history of reproducing oppressive systems.
Don’t be bamboozled.
Dayvon Love is director of public policy for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, a grassroots Black think tank.
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