The road ahead for our country, our state and our community is a difficult one — a steep and rocky climb from protest to change. But it is a journey we must begin to end racism in the criminal justice system.

Attitudes are beginning to change, in large part because of cell phone videos of attacks on unarmed blacks by police officers. The scene of a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd for almost nine minutes has shocked the nation.

The Washington Post reported this week that its poll showed 69 percent of all Americans say the killing of Floyd represents a broader problem within law enforcement, compared with just 29 percent who say it is an isolated incident. An amazing 74 percent of all Americans say they support the protests which have been staged under the banner of Black Lives Matter across the country and even here in Frederick.

“That finding marks a significant shift when compared with the reactions in 2014 to police killings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., and New York,” the Post reported. “Six years ago, 43 percent described those deaths as indicative of broader problems in policing while 51 percent saw them as isolated incidents.”

The protests have convinced a large majority of Americans that the criminal justice system must be changed. Now, leaders of the protests and elected leaders at every level must come together to start the hard work of reforming policing in this country.

In an interview with the radio program “On Point” that was broadcast Tuesday on our local public radio station, WYPR 88.1, Yale history professor David Blight made the point that change may begin with rage but it takes political action to transform institutions.

Blight, who won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in History for his book “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom,” said that Douglass started as a protester but found that he had to work within in the political system to end slavery.

The process of converting changing attitudes into political reality is already underway in Congress. House Democrats have unveiled a proposal to impose new restrictions on police behavior. It would ban chokeholds, mandate body cameras and curtail the transfer of surplus military equipment to police departments.

The legislation is not likely to pass during a divisive presidential campaign, but it sets out goals for future action.

At the state level, Maryland lawmakers have formed a workgroup to address issues concerning police accountability and make recommendations for next year’s legislative session.

At the local level, Frederick Mayor Michael O’Connor and acting police chief Pat Grossman condemned the killing of Floyd and promised to reassess local standards.

Grossman said the officers in the video showed a “callous disregard for human life” and said he and the other leaders of his department have discussed the video with their officers as an example of improper arrest techniques.

At the county level, Sheriff Chuck Jenkins is facing calls for changes in his department as well, and protesters confronted him Monday night outside his office. They made their point with signs, shouted questions and chants at him, including criticism over specific cases handled by the department. Jenkins has been a target of activists for several years because of his department’s aggressive enforcement of immigration laws.

We have criticized the sheriff in the past, but it is to his credit that he did not barricade himself in his office but went out to see the protesters. He stayed calm in the face of the verbal abuse and in fact offered to meet with leaders.

The protesters were not in the mood to talk Monday, but the time is coming when they should. Jenkins is the elected sheriff, and he is likely not going anywhere for at least the next two years.

Having raised public awareness and solidified public support, protest leaders need to start pushing elected officials at every level to make meaningful change. And that begins by talking to those elected officials, even if you do not agree with them.

As Professor Blight said in his interview, no change ever came about just because it was the moral thing to do. And Douglass said: “Without a struggle, there can be no progress.”

(17) comments

lewisantq

Your pat on the back for Sheriff Jenkins is hard to stomach. When asked by protestors about the killing of Abraham Arellano in Thurmont, by a sheriff's deputy Sheriff Jenkins said it was still being investigated. Really? Arellano was killed nearly 14 months ago. Why do we let this guy continue to stonewall? Bob Lewis

Lemmy

Ask the Maryland State's Attorney's Office.

gabrielshorn2013

The case is in the hands of the Maryland States Attorney Mr. Lewis. No law enforcement officer may say anything except for what the Sheriff said. No lawyer would ever allow discussion of a pending or ongoing case until it is settled. You can always do a FOIA request if you are interested. https://www.frederickcosheriff.com/public-information-requests

mgoose806

The States Attorney's office is holding up the investigation not the Sheriff. Before you go after Sheriff get your facts straight.

sfhaydel

The racist response to this movement is "All Lives Matter" and "What about Black on Black Crime". They are two statements used to dismiss the real issue of police brutality and uneven policing against people of color. If you don't want to be identified as a racist, stop saying this! It's a first step.

mr_twist27

So the thousands of African American's that are murdered every year isn't a real problem?

CheetoBenito

Probably not in your opinion.

Dwasserba

Focus

mgoose806

Not if murdered by African Americans..

caspiansails

I suppose it would come as a big surprise to you to learn that in the most recent year, 2019, more than twice as many white unarmed men were killed in police custody than black unarmed me then. And thank for letting us know who the real racist is in your opinion, it is anyone who may have an opinion that is not 100% in line with your. To say any life matters more than any other life is itself racist but you fail to see that, All lives do matter, equally and any loss of life at the hands of the police while in custody is abhorrent. Nice try but I refuse to be defined by any movement no matter how politically correct the members believe they are.

DickD

It does take understanding to understand the full meaning of Black Lives Matter. Sure, All Lives matter, but not all have been systematically discriminated against. Sure blacks aren't perfect and yes, they do kill each other, mostly because they are desperate to make a living. Now there are exceptions to that too, you cannot let the exceptions to control your understanding.

Reader1954

black lives matter - except to each other. If they feel the police are so raicest then why don't these people join the police and make a real difference. Nope, it is easier to enjoy the thug life and complain

HurtingAngel

https://www.cnsnews.com/commentary/walter-e-williams/walter-williams-mass-police-brutality-isnt-true-plight-black-americans

HurtingAngel

https://www.nowtheendbegins.com/chicago-has-18-murders-in-24-hours-most-violent-single-day-60-years-black-lives-matter/

HurtingAngel

What about the black on black crime?

https://www.cnsnews.com/commentary/walter-e-williams/walter-williams-mass-police-brutality-isnt-true-plight-black-americans

Francine

I saw a Steve Harvey show several years ago that took place in Chicago and the audience was made up mostly of blacks from high crime areas. The BLM movement was one of many topics of conversation. At one point a black woman stood up and announced that her son had been killed during a gang attacked. The last thing she said was "if black lives matter, then why are we killing each other?" The crowd cheered. I am not saying that whites are not responsible for holding back an entire race because we are, but we don't solve the problem without looking at how it is manifesting in high crime areas.

DickD

Crime is common in low income areas. The way to combat that is to do more in education to prepare them for better jobs. The real problem is low wages and the Republlcan refusal to raise the minimum wage to a living wage.

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