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Dayvon Love, director of research and public policy for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle (LBS), speaks on the importance of community involvement in the legislative process at LBS’s recent Black Legislative Agenda Day.

In a country where Black, college educated men with no criminal records are less likely to receive call backs for jobs than White men with no college education and criminal records, it is essential for Blacks to become involved in the policy process and make their presence felt in the statehouse.  This was the underlying theme at the ‘Black Legislative Agenda Day,’ an event put on by Baltimore’s Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle (LBS), a youth-led, for-profit policy think tank, and kicked off by Adar Ayria of Associated Black Charities with some troubling data, like the racially disparate outcomes in call backs for job openings mentioned above.

The need for citizens to be fully engaged in the legislative process was a theme throughout the almost three hour meeting, held, Dec. 6, at Pleasant Hope Baptist Church.

“One of the things that I found important in helping Delegate Carter work on Christopher’s Law (passed earlier this year) was the issue of people showing up to hearings,” said Dayvon Love, director of research and public policy for LBS.

“They’re used to doing things in Annapolis without people watching, without people knowing, and usually they assume that because people aren’t there, that no one’s going to check on them.  So really, in many ways, if there are a bunch of people there during hearing days . . . this helps not only put pressure on the legislators that are asking the questions, but also helps our legislators who are fighting for us to demonstrate that it’s not just them saying it, but that they have a force behind them,” Love added later.

While a number of items were discussed, including reforms to the foster care system and issues related to school choice, the principal focus was on the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR) and expungement or shielding of criminal records so that past mistakes do not perpetually determine people’s life chances.

Tawanda Jones, sister of Tyrone West, the unarmed Black man killed in July of 2013 while being arrested by Baltimore police officers, argued forcefully that police are afforded too many protections by the LEOBR and that the Baltimore City’s State’s Attorney’s Office is too close to the police to effectively oversee investigations into potential misconduct.

“We will never give up until killer cops are in cell blocks.  We need to change the law—the system is crooked; it’s designed to kill us,” said Jones.  “Until we change it, we’re going to keep on getting brutally murdered. . . . So I said all that to say, please, please we need you in Annapolis.”

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Consultant Mark Matthews spoke on the need for former convicts to have their criminal records expunged or shielded so that they can move on with their lives.

Consultant Mark Matthews spoke about the issue of expungements for past criminal records.

“We, as a nation, believe in perpetual punishment,” said Matthews of the way we allow past criminal convictions to follow people around their entire lives, negatively impacting their ability to secure basic life necessities like housing and employment.

Matthews argued that when the formerly convicted cannot find jobs because of their criminal records, taxpayers who were once supporting those convicts while in prison, have to continue to support them through the funding of the social welfare programs—such as food stamps—that they must now rely on because they cannot find work.  This, Matthews argued, is a cycle that has to change and that Baltimoreans have the power to change.

“Everything that we’re talking about is governed by the law,” said Matthews.  “And at one time, yes, the law fell from the sky and a guy named Moses caught it, but now we determine legislation.”

Saturday’s event was a first step toward greater legislative engagement in 2015, with community members signing up to join groups working on specific issues in order to plan next steps and further involvement in the state’s capital.

ralejandro@afro.com