Left to Right: Damon Hewitt of Open Society Foundations, Somalia Samuel of Bertha Justice Institute, Iris Roley of Cincinnati Black United Front, Kevin Malone of San Diego Organizing Project, DeRay McKesson of Campaign ZERO, and Mari Mari Narvaez of Espacios Abiertos discuss consent decrees.
On Saturday, OSI-Baltimore convened a strategy session that brought together local activists and stakeholders with their counterparts in other cities to discuss the role of community engagement in consent decrees. The Department of Justice is expected to negotiate a consent decree with the city of Baltimore as a result of its Pattern and Practice investigation of the Baltimore Police Department.
Among the local community groups represented were Baltimore Bloc, No Boundaries Coalition, ACLU Maryland, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and groups representing Baltimore United for Change and the Campaign for Justice, Safety and Jobs. Among the visiting organizations that shared their experience having been through a consent decree or similar process in other cities and territories were the San Diego Organizing Project, Cincinnati Black United Front, the Bertha Justice Institute of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Campaign ZERO, Espacios Abiertos, and Louisiana Justice Institute. Three representatives from the Department of Justice also attended.
Several of the Baltimore-based activists questioned how a consent decree, which must ultimately be negotiated with the police department, could bring about real police reform in Baltimore. Those who worked on decrees in other cities acknowledged that while a consent decree is not a panacea for the many challenges facing their communities, it could be an effective tool to make change.
Baltimore-based national activist DeRay McKesson, who worked with Campaign ZERO on a consent decree in Ferguson, Missouri, suggested that the Baltimore consent decree might be used to expand the length of time citizens have to submit complaints against officers or to create a youth advisory board, among other things. “Consent decrees can be incredible levers but people don’t necessarily know where to push,” he said.
In the second half of the session, Baltimore activists met as a group to discuss how to leverage the consent decree to make the changes they’d like to see in the Baltimore Police Department. Representatives from the groups are planning follow-up meetings to create an action plan.