Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF), and member of both the OSI-Baltimore Advisory Board and the Open Society Foundations Global Board, penned an op-ed that appeared this weekend in the Baltimore Sun. In “After Freddie Gray: looking to the future,” Ifill suggests community engagement in law enforcement reform is crucial to lasting change in Baltimore.
“[W]e are precisely at the moment when community engagement in the future of law enforcement in Baltimore is most critical and has the greatest potential to result in lasting change,” she writes. “If we are to find a way forward, community groups and leading institutions in our city must prepare now to marshal resources and strategic engagement on several key fronts.”
She goes on to outline several suggestions for strategic community engagement including police reform, prosecution reform, and an overall commitment to change.
OSI-Baltimore supports many of the kinds of reform Ifill outlines, like the need for independent investigations of police misconduct. We recognize more must be done to reform law enforcement while emphasizing community policing, de-escalation, and sensible approaches to people who pose no real threat to public safety.
Like Ifill, we believe the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice “pattern and practice” investigation into the Baltimore Police Department will provide an opportunity for Baltimore residents to participate in the proposed consent decree. In February, 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.
Much has changed in Baltimore in the 16 months since Freddie Gray died in police custody–and the change is ongoing. Our grantees Baltimore United for Change, Baltimore Action Legal Team, No Boundaries Coalition, and the Campaign for Justice, Safety and Jobs, among others, are helping to lead many reform efforts in the city, we developed initiatives like the Baltimore Justice Fund to improve police accountability and police-community relations and the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program to direct drug users into treatment instead of the criminal justice system.
In November, Baltimore City will have a new mayor and 8 new city council members. On December 10, Ifill will give the keynote address at the Solutions Summit, a free full-day public event hosted by OSI to create a consensus blueprint that we will encourage Baltimore’s leadership to adopt and against which we will monitor their progress.
OSI understands that real change requires persistence and a concerted effort across the city. As Ifill writes, “we must channel our anger, our grief, our frustration into a collective and urgent commitment to make real change happen.”