The social justice agenda has broadened over the past four years. While we improved gun control laws, the toughest in the nation, along with repealing the death penalty, earlier this decade, the election of an organized crime family and their Congressional patsies has fueled the work of those building on the Movement for Black Lives and #MeToo, which arose in 2014 and this past year.
Talking about racism is a start, but after Ferguson, in the state where Freddie Gray was killed without justice being awarded to his family, we must act to build equity into our system. Talk is cheap; lives are at stake and the black community needs to have hope for a better future. As the Vice Chair of the Civil Rights Coalition of Maryland, I’ve come to know many of our state’s civil rights leaders, and I pledge to work with them to institute real change.
This year has brought a sexual revolution, as women’s voices are suddenly being heard and believed, and the culture of sexual misconduct and predation exposed. This is a monumental change, one which needs to be promoted in a manner that provides justice to the victims, power to all women, and fairness to all involved. We can radically reorganize our lives if we pursue these changes with integrity. I will work with my colleagues to ensure that the Maryland legislature is a harassment-free zone; currently there are only ten female Senators. That, too, needs to change. When women have equality at the top, the harassment will be greatly reduced.
More needs to be done, starting with the full decriminalization of marijuana possession and planning a move towards legalization, regulation and taxation similar to that used for alcohol. The entire “War on Drugs” effort needs to be reviewed, focusing on its subversion of black lives, with the goal of not only making Maryland safer but setting a national example. An effective revision will help us significantly reduce our prison population, one of the highest per capita in the world, and one which is predominantly populated by persons of color, who are disproportionately targeted in our misguided efforts to control drug use. Drug use should be viewed as a public health problem, and a “harm reduction” protocol instituted, rather than applying “law & order” policies as the first line of response. This is all the more important with the explosive growth of the opioid crisis, much of which is due to negligent actions by the pharmaceutical and medical industries.
We must devote more efforts to the care and treatment of those who are diagnosed with mental illness, and assist their families in that care. Many persons who should be hospitalized or in intensive outpatient treatment end up in jail, because that’s the only place they can obtain their medications. Money needs to be spent on housing for those who cannot manage on their own. I have personal experience with the philosophy that views the mentally ill as less than others, as trans people were considered mentally ill until we revised the American Psychiatric Association’s guidelines in 2011. I’m proud to have been part of the team writing those revisions that liberated and empowered a community.
Similarly, transitional housing is needed, along with adequately financed substance abuse and mental health treatment programs for ex-offenders. Re-entry into society is a complex issue which needs attention from the top level in our government, with a Deputy Secretary responsible for re-entry programs. We cannot expect ex-offenders to reintegrate into society unless we allow them to redeem themselves, so efforts must be made to shield non-violent ex- offenders from intrusive background checks which perpetuate the stigma they already carry.We need to stand by our commitments to help those with developmental disabilities and their families. Tax dollars pledged to their support must o be funneled into those programs and not diverted elsewhere, as has been occurring since the introduction of the increased alcohol tax in 2009.
Finally, we must implement the basic LGBT civil rights agenda by ensuring that our state legislation is followed across the board. We should be proud of our comprehensive legislation – Virginia, for instance, still has none. Education is necessary to help businesses understand their legal and social responsibilities, so that members of the LGBTQ communities can lead safe and productive lives.