More Than a Hashtag

June 1, 2020

Friends and Neighbors,

I had an email planned for today – the day before Election Day in Maryland – but after the tragic and horrific murder of George Floyd last week, and the national protesting – it is important for me to say more than just “Go vote!” Voting is necessary, but it’s not nearly sufficient.

As a white woman who has grown up with privilege, and as an elected official, it is my job not only to vote but to speak up. That means on a personal level, teaching my children about race and racism, supporting my Black friends who are themselves engaged in racial justice work, and being a strong ally. I do this work as a human being, as a representative, and also because I fundamentally believe that our country cannot reach its potential if we do not embrace our differences and make it possible for every person – including especially our Black brothers and sisters – to reach their full potential.

My heart aches knowing that my friends and family members have to explain to their Black children that the world will not always see their beauty and brains, but sometimes only their skin color. This is not an inevitability. We can change. It will take personal and collective work to do so. We have to have tough conversations and take strong actions to dismantle structures that continue to oppress people of color and hold our communities back: the school-to-prison pipeline, a medical system that results in higher mortality rates for Black mothers, environmental regulations that don’t adequately protect under-resourced communities, transit that doesn’t connect low-income neighborhoods with high-opportunity jobs, inequitable education funding, and policing laws that protect and sometimes may even favor racist policing tactics. Even as we battle COVID19, we see the effects of decades of racism take hold as the disease disproportionately kills Black Americans. We also have to change societal norms on what is and is not acceptable to ensure that we are not subjecting people of color to micro-aggressions at every turn.

This is our work, and this is our charge: to ensure that a hashtag is not the only epitaph for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Dominique Clayton, Atatiana Jefferson. That instead, we build a better and more just world, in the short time we have here, for future generations.

In Maryland, we have work to do at the state level. I am pleased that Speaker Jones has created a policing workgroup that will immediately examine some of the deep problems plaguing our own police laws. This is an urgent problem and we must have solutions ready for the next time we meet in Annapolis. We also need to recommit to overriding the Governor’s veto of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future to ensure equitable funding for schools. And the list of actions we must take goes on and on. I will be keeping a close look at the spending that our Board of Public Works does in the coming months – where our money goes now matters more than ever. I hope you will be there to stand up over the long-term to make these policy changes – I promise to do all I can as well.

As individuals, white people also have work to do – this is not just a moment for people of color to speak up. I’ll be organizing a “Brooke’s Briefing” in the coming weeks for parents to help us all do a better job at talking about race and racism with our kids. And, here is a good list of 75 ways that white people can stand up for racial justice. Take a look and let me know what you think. Let me know if you have ideas for ways I can do better, as a representative and as a human being.

One thing is certain: the reaction to George Floyd’s murder may start with nationwide protests but it should not end there – it should end with legislative solutions addressing long-term systemic barriers and creating a more equitable & just state and country. We need to use this moment to ensure that we make changes in the long-term for our state and our country. And the best way to do that is to organize locally and get involved politically – for the long haul.

The lack of leadership at the federal level has been apparent throughout the COVID crisis – and it has been even more stark this week – and even today as our President has demanded Governors take totally inappropriate steps to confront protesters. We must defeat Donald Trump in November so I hope you will join efforts that I and others are leading to elect Joe Biden. Please fill out this form if you’d like to join Maryland Women for Biden and this form to join Baltimore City for Biden.

Below you will find more information on voting and this week’s briefings (with special guests!).

Be well, stay safe, and keep in touch. We have work to do, together.

My best,

Brooke

JUNE 11, 2020 UPDATE

The past few months have been incredibly difficult for the country and our communities – particularly for communities of color where death rates from COVID-19 are much higher and systematic oppression continues to take its toll. And then, the murder of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd at the hands of the police reminded us yet again that we have failed to take adequate action to stop police violence and to support our communities of color from the systemic racism that they face on a daily and ongoing basis.

In follow up to my initial post on June 1, I wanted to share some of my initial thoughts on some of the policy ideas floating around and to share some of the work we have done to date in Maryland – many people have inquired about both.

First I’ll say that it is clear just from looking at the budget that Baltimore City police department takes up a troubling and disproportionate amount of our City’s funds. Yet, they don’t have access to needed technology upgrades required by the consent decree, and they are chronically short-staffed. This points to the larger issue that America’s current policing model is broken and we have come to rely too heavily on police for things that do not require someone with a gun to show up. We must begin to imagine a long-term move toward a safe City and safe society model where we make the long-term investments in schooling, housing, rec & parks, counseling, and violence prevention models based on health principles that will allow us to move confidently away from a large police force. 

I am very supportive of the policing workgroup that the Speaker of the House Adrienne Jones announced. This group will address reform and accountability in policing. I trust that this will be an important piece in the puzzle of policy change required to dismantle racism, violence, and inequity. Further, we have a consent decree with strong and forward-thinking policies to implement.  I think that Campaign Zero and the “8CantWait” campaign also provides useful, evidence-based tools to reform policing. I am pleased that Baltimore already meets 7 of the “8CantWait” campaign ideas, and that we should ban shooting at a moving vehicle and meet all 8 criteria. 

That being said, changing policy in an attempt to reform is definitely not enough, and if we focus only on police reform we may inadvertently take attention and resources away from the root causes of police and community violence. I believe that we need to reprioritize the way we think about and invest in public safety if we expect different outcomes.

American’s policing model is clearly broken. We attempt to have our officers police poverty and respond to crises outside of their scope. This practice is frustrating and unfair to them, and does not work. We’ve begun to experiment with models like LEAD – law-enforcement assisted diversion – where law enforcement simply does a warm hand off to health care providers who can then take care of drug abusers. These types of models have demonstrated success in ways that policing often does not. 

We create safe communities when we invest in families and children, education, housing, and healthcare. Focusing on ending poverty and dismantling systems of oppression and inequity far upstream will lead to better outcomes for people of color and for our society as a whole.

What have we done in Maryland so far? In past legislative sessions, I have championed bills to end cash bail, eliminate the school to prison pipeline, direct funding to community-based public health oriented violence prevention programs (like Safe Streets), prohibit discrimination in housing (the HOME Act), stop school police from carrying guns, and prohibit law enforcement from engaging in sexual acts with people in custody (crazy that this is even something we have to pass a law about…!). 

Much can be done at the state level to create safer and healthier communities. I am committed to championing evidence-based public health programs that get at the root of violence and inequity. For example, over the past 6 years, I have authored or championed legislation to:

  • Invest in public transit
  • Invest and equitably fund our public schools (Blueprint for Maryland’s Future)
  • Fund violence intervention and prevention programs (ex. Safe Streets)
  • Increase access to affordable housing (the HOME Act)
  • Disrupt the school to prison pipeline by ending suspension and expulsion for Pre-K through Second graders at all public schools in Maryland
  • Allow certain convictions to be expunged to enable Marylanders to access housing and jobs (Second Chance Act)
  • Reform the bail and bond system (I wrote a letter that prompted the issuance of an Attorney GeneralInvest opinion in 2016 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/md-politics/bail-reform-in-maryland-clears-major-hurdle/2016/11/18/374c5340-ac22-11e6-8b45-f8e493f06fcd_story.html) that led the Court of Appeals to implement a major rule change on cash bail)

Further, I’ve voted for legislation to invest in kids and classrooms to address disparities in educational outcomes, reform the criminal justice system, improve public transportation and increase access to jobs, including:

  • Justice Reinvestment Act (2016) SB 1005
  • Ban the Box (2017) HB 694
  • Criminal Record Expungements (2018) SB 101
  • Drug Testing Kits No Longer Paraphernalia (2018) SB 1137
  • Improving Policing and Community Relations (2016) HB 1016
  • Public Safety and Violence Prevention Act (2018) HB 432
  • Repealing Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Drug Crimes (2015) HB 121
  • Reducing Solitary Confinement for Juveniles (2019) HB 1001
  • Inside The Walls Opiate Use Disorder Treatment (2019) HB 116
  • Parole Reform (2017) HB 723
  • Sexual Assault Evidence Kits (2019) HB 1096
  • Expungement & Maryland Judiciary Case Search Record Removal (2019) HB 13

You can check out my annual “end of session letters” on my website for more information. www.brookelierman.com.

Thank you for your advocacy in the streets and online – come January, we’ll need you in Annapolis as well!


An opinion piece by Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow” really resonated with me and sums up many of my thoughts on where we are as a country and where we need to go from here – https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/08/opinion/george-floyd-protests-race.html.