Access to public safety institutions is crucial for leading safe and dignified lives, especially for marginalized and disrespected minority groups. Yet, the criminal justice system in Maryland, from police surveillance to trials and sentencing, discriminates against racial, sexual, and gender minorities and the poor. This leads minorities to feel unsafe seeking their right to public security, especially when the state is the primary perpetrator of violence against their bodies.
Why is this important?
Police and the justice system are supposed to maintain security and uphold justice in our communities. However, too often, they are a main cause of violence against the minorities, particularly black and transgender people. Black communities in Baltimore have been particularly targeted by the systematic and implicit biases in policing, trials, and sentencing. And Maryland has the country’s most disproportionate prison population, with black Americans making up 75% of the prison population. Following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in April 2015, the Maryland Office of the Attorney General issued a guidance memorandum on “Ending Discriminatory Profiling in Maryland,” which detailed the State’s commitment to equal protection by elaborating if, when, and how race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability and religion can be used in different policing scenarios. In addition, the city of Baltimore accepted a sweeping consent decree with federal authorities in 2017. These reforms include developing community oversight mechanisms, establishing new recruitment policies, and instituting additional training, including trauma-informed approach to investigations concerning gender violence. Many of these reforms are far from being actualized, and there is still a lot of work to be done.
These structural issues in our criminal justice also disproportionately impact the LGBTQ community in Maryland. In our 2016 Needs Assessment of LGBTQ Marylanders, we learned that almost 1 in 3 LGBTQ people consider street harassment and interactions with law enforcement to be urgent issues facing the community. Several participants shared accounts of requesting help from the police, only to be mocked or arrested. One respondent remarked: “My friends and I were leaving a bar one night and a car pulled up, about 4 guys got out of the car and started calling us names and throwing beer bottles at us. We took off running, called the police. When the police arrived, our response from the police was we should expect that to happen to us because of our lifestyle.” Moreover, the prevalence of street harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity and the actual or perceived lack of recourse to law enforcement significantly impacts the freedom and wellbeing of LGBTQ Marylanders. For example, some participants significantly alter their daily routines to minimize the threat of harm. One Black transgender woman in Baltimore noted: “I have to run all my errands at night, because as a trans woman, if I go out during the day, I get harassed by the police.”
Importantly, many LGBTQ people also belong to black and brown communities, working class and poor communities, disability communities, and immigrant communities. And the risk of police violence or lack of recourse to police for security is compounded for members who share many of these identities. So, the fight for LGBTQ justice necessitates fighting for racial, economic, and immigration justice. As such, FreeState’s clients and community members represent every geography, age, ability, income-level, level of education, naturalization status, language, gender, race, religion, and other form of identity. Our community’s, and specifically our clients’, identities are intersectional and perspectives from these intersections are especially valuable for informing our agenda, as well as helping us work in allyship with other organizations, communities, and movements.
What are the Issues and What Can We Do?
Prohibiting LGBT bias panic defense
Police training requirements for hate crimes
Repealing Maryland’s Sodomy Law
Easing ability to vacate offenses related to human trafficking