By David S. Fishback
For more than three decades, Temple Emanuel in Kensington has held services celebrating the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the beginning of MLK Weekend. It is an opportunity to remind ourselves of what still needs to be done to effectuate Dr. King’s
vision of creating a Beloved Community, locally, nationally and globally, and to advance the Jewish value of tikkun olam, repairing the world. To quote our prayer book, “Let us learn in order to do.”
This year, we invited Toni Holness, public policy director for the ACLU of Maryland, to speak on important human rights and civil liberties issues in this Maryland legislative session, and provide opportunities for action.
Holness, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Temple Law School, has spent her entire career in public service. She said that her own immigrant experience and mixed roots drive her commitment to social justice.
A Jamaican immigrant who initially arrived in the United States to study, Holness told us that she became acutely aware that the immigration legal system was designed “about me and around me, but absolutely not for me or with my interests. These are laws that are designed to control the movement of immigrants in our country. They are not designed to
Any benefits that do come, she explained, often are dependent on “aggressive advocacy by allies, folks who have been born native to the U.S.” Holness said that chief among the ACLU’s 2020 statewide priorities is Trust Act legislation, which would disentangle local law enforcement activities from the misguided, draconian immigration policies that we are seeing coming from the federal government.
“Our local law enforcement resources and personnel who are sworn to serve our communities have no business enforcing federal immigration law or giving credibility to the Trump administration’s oppressive policies,” she said, calling it a matter of public safety and asking, rhetorically, if people living in immigrant communities will call local officers if they don’t know if the result will be to bring ICE authorities to their doorsteps.
She also discussed legislation to reverse a court decision allowing police departments to withhold information about officers’ misconduct. The ACLU is urging the General Assembly to change the law to let people know what happens to their complaints: As she explained, “Transparency is the threshold to accountability.”
She noted that many law enforcement officers support such legislation, and stressed that “we have really good officers, but there is often a culture discouraging accountability.”
Transparency will help improve the culture, she said, and will enable us all to better know the nature of the problems so that they can be remedied.
Holness described the ACLU’s efforts to provide meaningful access to the ballot to incarcerated persons who still have the right to vote — those who are held pretrial or whose most serious conviction is for a misdemeanor. Another ACLU initiative is to require that children undergoing questioning by law enforcement be provided an attorney, explaining that children are particularly vulnerable to influence by authority figures.
At the end of the talk, a 10-year-old member of the audience asked how to volunteer for the ACLU. Holness invited him to stay connected.
David Fishback, a longtime member of Temple Emanuel, has organized its MLK services since 1986.