In Wake of Setbacks, Newly Elected MoCo Progressives Must Persevere

Newly-elected Maryland Delegate Gabriel Acevero (D-39) has introduced a bill designed to try to remedy the epidemic of police shootings of young black men and women in Maryland. The bill is named Anton’s Law in memory of Anton Black, who died in police custody in 2018, and requires that local police forces in Maryland implement a complaint process that would notify individuals when their complaints were resolved. It also requires that Maryland police departments inform people who file complaints against a police officer about all other complaints filed against that particular officer.

This bill comes as part of a flurry of reforms being proposed by Democrats from Montgomery County. Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando introduced a bill to reform the way Montgomery County Police shootings are investigated. In addition, Delegate Vaughn Stewart (D-19) has introduced legislation to create social housing in Montgomery County.

However, these efforts to reduce police violence and remedy economic inequality in Montgomery County have not been without pushback from the Democratic establishment. Delegate David Moon’s (D-20) bill to tax country clubs with property valued at $500,000 or more was narrowly defeated at a meeting of the Montgomery County delegation to the state legislature. The bill, which was already watered down from its original form, was still too harsh for it’s opponents. Delegate Marc Korman (D-16) was particularly concerned with “targeting a few specific clubs.”

This defeat should show a clear path forward for Maryland’s progressive and democratic socialist legislators: don’t dilute your message just to score a legislative victory. There are at least twelve country clubs in Montgomery County that are only required to pay substantially reduced property taxes. Del. Moon’s bill would have only affected four of them, and the MoCo delegation still didn’t vote for it.  

Had Moon not watered down his legislation, progressive and democratic socialists could have been rallied. Establishment Democrats could have been forced to go on record saying that they don’t believe country clubs that cater towards the wealthy should have to pay the same taxes levied on other property owners in the county. But instead of forcing the establishment to vote on an issue that would come to haunt them in the next Democratic primary election, Del. Moon’s bill went down with a wet thud. Establishment Democrats were given ample room to claim that they only opposed the bill because it went after a few clubs, and the bill was compromised enough that its defeat did not inspire righteous anger among the Democratic Party’s base.

Del. Acevero’s bill to reform police complaint processes has the potential to run into the same problem that Del. Moon’s bill did. A police complaint process might allow somebody victimized by police abuse to obtain some degree of closure, but any action beyond that would require that person to act of their own initiative. Anton’s Law does not include a mandatory timeline that police departments must adhere to when resolving complaints. It also does not require that police complaints be publicly posted, nor does it require that the police complaint process be clearly posted on a police department’s website. Theoretically, a police department could hide the complaint process behind several pages of unrelated information, or could make the text linking the public to information regarding the complaint process difficult to find.

Perhaps Del. Acevero is concerned that a bill with more clearly defined requirements would not be adopted by the MoCo Delegation, or that it would not pass in Annapolis. This fear would be reasonable, but the defeat of the bill to levy a fee on Montgomery County’s country clubs shows the folly of pre-compromising with the political establishment. Maryland’s left-leaning delegates  won primaries by holding the establishment’s feet to the fire. They shouldn’t forget the efficacy of that tactic now that they’re in office.

By Frank Dalca

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