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A man who identified himself as Shaka Zulu (in neon-green vest) stands with protesters near the State House on Thursday to demand justice for victims of police violence [Capital News Service photo, Nate Rabner]
A man who identified himself as Shaka Zulu (in neon-green vest) stands with protesters near the State House on Thursday to demand justice for victims of police violence [Capital News Service photo, Nate Rabner]

Protesters rally against police violence at House Judiciary Committee hearing

ANNAPOLIS — About 100 protesters raised signs, banners and their voices near the State House on Thursday to call for police accountability.

The Day of Action Against Police Violence, whose schedule also included a rally in Baltimore, was organized by the American Friends Service Committee, the Baltimore Algebra Project and Pleasant Hope Baptist Church. The event coincided with the first week of the legislative session and the 86th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth.

“They thought we’d sit down and shut up! They thought after a few marches, after a few rallies, they thought that we’d just calm down again,” said the Rev. Heber Brown III, an organizer of the protest and pastor at Pleasant Hope Baptist Church in Baltimore.

“We’re tired of the scandal in our community, where black and brown people are being brutalized and terrorized by those who are abusing the powers afforded them.”

Tawanda Jones and a man who identified himself as Shaka Zulu carried signs memorializing Jones’ brother Tyrone West, a Baltimore man who died in police custody in 2013. Jones and other protesters compared West to Michael Brown, who was fatally shot by Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9.

The protest’s leaders called for several measures to make police more accountable, including amendments to the state Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights and a stronger civilian review process for officers accused of misconduct.

Nakia Brown, also known as Fire Angelou, a self-described “spoken-word artist, freedom fighter, healer, revolutionary” who oversees the Louder Than A Bomb Baltimore youth slam poetry festival, recited a poem to the crowd gathered on Lawyers’ Mall across the street from the State House. She said the protest should remind lawmakers to consider the interests of people of color.

“I really hope that it awakens people that are here,” Angelou said. “I feel like we’re awake and we’re going to shake up this space until it is, until they know that we’re not going to be quiet.”

Protesters marched to the House of Delegates Office Building and attended the House Judiciary Committee’s first meeting of the 2015 legislative session, packing the room to the doors. Afterward, protest leaders presented their demands to Judiciary Chair Joseph Vallario, and three committee members encouraged the protesters to communicate with lawmakers in pursuit of reforms.

“I can’t thank you enough for being here, and I hope that you will be here throughout the session as we testify on bills,” said Delegate Jill Carter, D-Baltimore.

Speaking in the committee room, Brown encouraged the protesters to persevere.

“Get real comfortable with this room, ’cause we’re going to be here all session,” he said.

In a separate rally, about 40 churchgoers from around the state assembled on Lawyers’ Mall to pray for state legislators as the session began.

“This is our first year doing this,” said Paul Arcand, the pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church in Pasadena, Maryland, who organized the event. “We just come down really just to pray here, publicly, and show our support to all the delegation — y’know, the senators and the delegates — and let ‘em know that we care.”