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Councilwoman Michele Gregory: Police reform is not anti-police
Recently, in Ocean City, video recordings of encounters between the Ocean City Police department and members of the public once again brought the important issue of criminal justice and police reform into the spotlight.
Unfortunately, every time one of these events occurs, the calls for police reform are met with the false narrative that reform is anti-police or an attack on our brave first responders. This faulty thinking could not be more detrimental to the safety of our community and our public servants.
The truth is that police reform is beneficial for both the community and our law enforcement officers. Our current policing structure is not working and in major need of reform. To combat crime, we need a complete toolbox, and that is what reform can give. Law enforcement is necessary to protect society, but they are tasked with too broad an undertaking with the tools provided.
The actions of a few representatives have resulted in brutality or tragic loss of life. These events have caused the fear and distrust of police in many communities and have made the job of our law enforcement officers much more difficult.
Police reform is good for the communities because it will help prevent these types of encounters from happening in the future, keep unprofessional officers from being hired again, continue the cycle, and rebuild trust in the community. The objective of police reform is that no matter what we look like or where we come from, we all want to know we can make it home to our families at the end of the day.
In the current debate over this issue, it is often overlooked or not discussed how police reform is also good for the police officers for several reasons.
There can be no doubt that the actions of a few bad actors have harmed the community's perception of the whole profession. These feelings of fear towards police and overall distrust make it, so our communities are less likely to cooperate with police and create an unsustainable tension between the community and our police departments. These effects make the already difficult job of our law enforcement even more complex and contribute to many of the issues we see in policing today.
Establishing accountability and providing access to new training and techniques to improve how we police our community. The majority of police officers are decent people who provide a valuable service. They risk their lives every day to serve our communities and keep us safe. These officers agree that those who don’t follow protocols or abuse the community are bad for the profession and need to be held accountable. Police reform would create the necessary mechanism to hold bad actors accountable and ensure that when they get in trouble for not upholding the standard of law enforcement, they cannot just move elsewhere and continue their mistreatment of the community.
Police reform would also provide additional education in de-escalation and implicit bias. The greater the variety of tools we provide for law enforcement, the more likely it becomes possible to create positive outcomes for situations like these.
Police reform would also help police officers by reducing the overwhelming burden we put on them. In our society today, we ask our police to investigate crime, address poverty, do traffic stops, solve mental health issues, work in schools, and pretty much every societal failure we face. We need a more holistic approach to our society, one in which we don’t task just one group with implementing.
We must also give police the tools to prove they followed the correct protocols and procedures. Introducing body cameras for on-duty officers is one such policy initially perceived as an attack on law enforcement. In actuality, it gave our officers the ability to defend themselves when they were accused of wrongdoing but had followed the proper protocols and procedures. In theory and practice, police reform isn’t “anti-police”; it is a tool to provide accountability, transparency, and allow police officers to show how they serve the community in a positive light.
In politics today, many of our elected leaders and special interests are resorting to catchy slogans and inflammatory rhetoric to mislead the public and create fear about police reform. Instead of implementing policies that address the issues raised by their constituents, they are focused on scoring political points with their base while dividing our community and blocking meaningful reform in the process. The problem with this approach is that slogans and inaction won’t address the issues nor help our police. At the end of the day, until we have serious conversations about police brutality and the need for reform, we will continue to exist in an endless cycle that is getting worse by the day. Both the community and our police can’t afford to stay in this cycle because our elected leaders refuse to put in the hard work required to create legislation, educate the community about the legislation, and then turn it into law. We need local leaders who are willing to address these issues and not “virtue signal” in an effort to be popular or pander. It’s time to expect more, to expect our elected officials to put in the hard work.
I am running for State Senate here in District 38 to overcome the hyper-partisan divides and address issues just like this. My plan includes diversifying our resources that will improve community interactions, ending "broken window" and for- profit policing, and creating community oversight. We can better support the police when we don't ask them to shoulder society's failures. We can do better for all of us.
Salisbury City Councilmember and Candidate for State Senate District 38
2021 New Year's Message From The Chair
2021 has been a challenging year on many fronts for our movement and organization. However, because of you and your belief in our cause, we not only survived by thrived.
Here are 21 things the Lower Shore Progress Caucus accomplished in 2021:
1. Helped pass 27 pieces of Progressive legislation in Annapolis.
2. Successfully defended our first seat by helping re-elect Councilmember Todd Nock in Pocomoke.
3. Hosted an educational Town Hall on Off-Shore Wind.
4. Testified in support of the second round off-shore wind projects before the Maryland Public Service Commission. The new projects were approved.
5. Worked to get more competitive congressional and state maps giving us more chances to win seats in 2022.
6. Used our Political Action Committee to raise over $15,000 to help elect Progressives up and down the ballot in 2022.
7. Endorsed Heather Mizeur for Congress.
8. Helped overturn Governor Hogan’s veto on School funding, collective bargaining for community college staff, and closing the ICE detention center in Worcester county legislation.
9. Held our local state representatives accountable by launching our third year of legislative score cards.
10. Launched #MedicareForAllMondays, which has become a national trend.
11. Prevented the Mayor of Pocomoke from overturning the 2021 municipal election results.
12. Worked to help pass the American Rescue Plan providing Covid-19 relief to working families.
13. Hosted a town hall with Delegate Shelia Ruth on Universal Healthcare.
14. Helped override Governor Hogan’s veto on the Prescription Drug affordability board.
15. Helped to fight vaccine disinformation and get residents vaccinated.
16. Brought Gubernatorial and other statewide candidates down to the Shore for town halls.
17. Testified before the Salisbury City Council in support of new affordable housing plans to reduce homelessness.
18. Joined national progressives from across the country to help get Build Back Better passed in the House.
19. Represented the Eastern Shore in Our Revolution’s Green New Deal town hall.
20. Launched our education committee to help fight back against right-winged attacks on our school system.
21. Unveiled our brand new logo.
These achievements show the art of the possible when it comes to our movement here on the Lower Shore. However, heading into the important 2022 midterm election now is not the time to get complacent. We hope you will join us at our first monthly meeting of 2022 Thursday January 6th at 6:30 p.m. We will be discussing our priorities heading into the Maryland Legislative session starting the second week of January.
RSVP For Your Link To The Meeting Here:
2021 Holiday Message From The Chair
When you saw Joe Manchin on the news yesterday proclaiming that he would not vote to pass the Build Back Better Act that we have been working on for so many months, I’m sure that you were as angry as I was. I am not going to sugarcoat this or insult your intelligence by telling you that you didn’t vote or work hard enough and that everything will be fine. At the very least, this was a major failure by both the Democratic Leadership in Congress and President Biden.
Speaker Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Schumer, and President Biden promised the Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, the progressive movement, and the American people that if the Congressional Progressives ended their effort to keep Build Back Better and the Bi-partisan Infrastructure Bill linked together and passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, they would get 50 votes in the Senate and pass Build Back Better too. In all likelihood, their political miscalculation of trusting Senator Joe Manchin, one of the most corrupt and greedy senators in United States history, has cost us the ability to pass Build Back Better as we know it.
I understand many might feel hopeless right now. However, I want to share with you two pieces of information that offer a ray of hope as we deal with this difficult news moving forward. Try to remember that while the current version of Build Back Better is dead, there will be a reconciliation bill in the coming weeks that will address several of our progressive legislative priorities.
Progressive Senator Ron Wyden has released a new framework for the Build Back Better Bill which focuses on the following progressive policies: expanding the Child Tax Credit, Prescription Drug Affordability, and provisions to fight Climate Change. In spite of the Democratic leadership’s failure to deliver on their promises, all signs point to some version of Build Back Better passing early next year. This revised bill is still being written; as soon as I have information, I will share it. Then we can begin lobbying for our priorities. As soon as I have it, I will share the information with you so we can lobby for and get as many of our priorities in the final bill as possible. Please remember the Congressional Progressive Caucus has been and still is fighting hard to deliver for working people.
I realize at this point we should be deeply concerned about future elections and the implications from the possible results of those elections. It's easy to feel hopeless after witnessing a supposedly Democratic Senator on Fox news. But the lesson here is that we must all focus on electing more Progressives to Washington D.C. Throughout this entire process, elected Progressives like Jaime Raskin, AOC, Bernie Sanders, Pramila Jayapal, and all the other Congressional Progressives have fought tooth and nail to deliver for working people and get the Build Back Better Act to President Biden’s desk. It is the Blue Dog Democrats (Conservative Democrats) and the Republican Party funded by Special Interests groups who have worked around the clock to kill the Build Back Better bill and obstruct our progress. Regardless of that, we members of the Lower Shore Progressive Caucus still have the power to change the system and return power to working families. By carefully vetting our endorsed candidates, the Lower Shore Progressive Caucus, with our endorsements from other political groups, can be instrumental in the election of progressive officials. Our Caucus isn’t a member of the “BlUe No MaTtEr WhO” group. Because every candidate we endorse will represent the movement as an elected Progressive, committed to progressive ideas, there will never be a Joe Manchin endorsed by us.
While there is much suffering in the world right now, we do have a golden opportunity in 2022. We are all tired of corrupt and greedy politicians selling out to billionaires and blocking progressive legislation. Let’s turn that anger and passion into action. The Lower Shore Progressive Caucus is the vehicle in which that action can be used to create the change we need. Have a wonderful holiday season with family and friends and hope you will consider signing up to be part of the change coming in 2022. I truly believe change will come by supporting Heather Mizuer and the other progressive candidates that we will endorse in March. Looking forward to seeing you in 2022!
Congressman Andy Harris has a White Nationalist and Anti-Semitism problem
Congressman Andy Harris has been representing us in Congress for well over 10 years. Throughout his time in office, Andy Harris has had a major problem with ties to White Nationalism and Anti-Semitism. In this letter I will discuss in detail Congressman Harris problematic ties to these extremist and hateful ideologies. Make this word plural?
On January 16th 2017, Congressman Andy Harris joined Congressman Phil Roe for a meeting with White Nationalist activist Chuck Johnson. Chuck Johnson is nationally known for his hateful and dangerous ideology including being a Holocaust denier, believing that Muslims are “genetically different in their propensity for violence or rape”, and linked to stories about how African-Americans “possessed a ‘violence’ gene.” These views have been proven to be debunked pseudoscience? from as far back as 1920. Yet our congressman took time out of his day to meet with such a radical extremist.
Read more about it here.
This is not the first time that Andy Harris has openly worked with someone with anti-Semitic and white nationalistic views. Since taking office Congressman Harris has been a major collaborator with Hungarian Dictator Viktor Orbán. Andy Harris has assisted Viktor Orbán in his efforts to erode democracy and seize power in Hungary. Prime Minister Orbán, during his power grab, was is famous for using anti-Semitic imagery around his nation, claiming that “powerful Jewish financiers are scheming to control the world.” He has also led smear campaigns that openly ran Jewish leaders, businesses, and institutions out of the country. Orban’s anti-semitic horror show doesn’t end there. Throughout his time in office, Orban has started efforts to revise history in order to “sanitize” the record of Hungarian participation in the ghettoization and deportation of the country’s Jews to concentration camps during WWII. During this period, Hungary was an ally of the Nazis. Despite these several authoritarian and openly anti-semitic actions, Congressman Harris still proudly promoted and supported anti-Semites in their effort to rewrite history, harass the Jewish community in the country, and seize power in the nation.
Read about Harris’ collaboration with Viktor Orbán here.
Read about Viktor Orbán’s anti-Semitic views here.
Andy Harris’s efforts to support foreign anti-Semites don’t stop in Hungary. In 2018, the congressman attempted to secretly meet with the leader of the Czech Nazi Party (Svoboda a přímá demokracie) Tomio Okamura in Prague. Not only was this meeting going to be paid for by U.S. taxpayers, this party is by far the most extreme that Czech Politics has to offer. You might be asking yourself why is this party so bad? The party has a long history of advocating for the violation of human rights and extremism like anti-Semitism. The Secretary of the Party Jaroslav Staník openly called for the gassing of “Jews, gays, and Roma”, which would be nothing short of a modern-day Holocaust. The party’s leader, Tomio Okamura, has called on the Czech people to walk pigs and dogs in Muslim neighborhoods and mosques (Muslim religious doctrines call for practicing Muslims to avoid interaction with these animals). To have people walk pigs and dogs in their community would be nothing short of harassment and open terrorism towards people just trying to live their lives like you and I. Tomio has also advocated for the end of religious freedoms and wants to ban Islam and other religions he views as undesirable. The fact that our congressman would set up a meeting with such an extremist that openly goes against American values of freedom and peace is disgusting and a clear sign he holds these beliefs himself.
Read about Andy Harris’s planned meeting with a political party calling for the mass murder of Jews, Romas, and members of the LGBTQ community here.
In the simplest terms, the situation with our sitting congressman is untenable. The first time Andy Harris met with or attempted to meet with an Anti-Semite and or White Nationalist leader or organization, there it was at least somewhat believable that maybe Andy Harris and his staff were incompetent and didn’t know how to vet people before setting up meetings. Not even Harris could be THIS incompetent. There is no reason not to believe that he holds these anti-American and anti-Eastern Shore views himself. There is a saying for people like Andy Harris: if there’s a Nazi at the table and ten other people sitting there talking to him, you got a table with eleven Nazis. We can’t afford to continue electing a congressman who holds sympathetic views towards White Nationalism and anti-Semitism.
Chair, Lower Shore Progressive Caucus
The Case for Todd Nock
“As a local community leader and as an educator, Todd Nock has worked to improve the lives of Pocomoke residents his entire life. Councilmember Todd Nock is deeply rooted in Pocomoke’s vibrant community and committed to bettering the lives of the families who call the city home. Councilmember Nock’s work to reach across the political divide and build consensus with people of all backgrounds has resulted in him being selected to serve as Vice President of the Pocomoke Town Council and the District Vice President representing District 1 at the Maryland Municipal League. Since being elected the youngest representative to the council in City history, Councilmember Nock has brought the community together to address racial injustices, improved community safety, and has improved the city’s economic conditions. These achievements show exactly why Councilman Nock is in a good position to be reelected on 4/6. I have seen the enormous good Councilmember Nock has done for his community first hand, and I look forward to continuing our shared work on behalf of the working people of Pocomoke.” – LSPC Chair Jared Schablein
During his first term in office, Councilmember Nock is already fulfilling promises and working hard for Pocomoke. As an educator, son, and community leader with deep roots in Pocomoke, Councilmember Nock has spent his career listening to and helping solve problems with hundreds of constituents and their families from Pocomoke and across the entire Lower Shore.
Since being elected to the City Council, He has brought that same dedication and understanding to his work in City government, hosting and participating in events across the district and championing legislation to bring the community together to address racial injustices, creating a safer community, and improving the economic conditions of the city.
As a young black man in America, Councilman Nock knows firsthand the systematic racism in our society. After George Floyd's death this past summer, millions of Americans, including many in Pocomoke’s 4th district, were hurting and demanding change in our broken criminal justice system. Understanding the pain of his district and the City at large, Councilmember Nock showed that he was a great unifying force by springing into action and leading a peaceful march and vigil alongside members of the Pocomoke Police Department. George Floyd's death led to hyperpartisanship and no sustainable action to address the issue in many communities around the country, yet Councilmember Nock’s event successfully brought the community together to grieve and work with local authorities to start developing policies to prevent future acts of brutality.
Over his first term, Councilmember Nock has been laser-focused on addressing racial injustices both in the city and at the state level. Councilmember Nock introduced an ordinance to make Juneteenth an official holiday in Pocomoke, lead the effort to create a youth advisory committee to empower the city’s youth, and built local support for criminal justice reform bills in Annapolis.
As the only black man on the City Council, Todd brings a critical voice to issues related to racial justice. And as a community leader who has worked to bring the community together to create a more just society, Todd understands what changes need to be made to make our city and community work better for people of all backgrounds.
Public safety is a top concern for any municipal government and during his first term, Councilmember Nock has worked to drastically improve public safety in Pocomoke. In addition to promoting policies to ensure that the city of Pocomoke is a just place for all, Councilmember Nock has also worked tirelessly to create a safe community for all residents
One way Councilmember Nock has created a safer community for Pocomoke is by serving as a liaison to build trust between the police department and his district. Bringing the community and local law enforcement together and giving an effective way for the community and the department to communicate with each other has resulted in the increased trust from the community-at-large in the local police department, given the police a way to give information more effectively to residents, and given the community a way to address concerns with the department in a manner that can result in those concerns being addressed. Through his work as a community liaison, Councilmember Nock has built a close relationship with Pocomoke City Police Chief Lee Brumley and other leaders within the department. This relationship has resulted in a better serving department and the ability to create local programs to improve public safety in Pocomoke.
In addition, Councilmember Nock has created a safer community by assisting in the effort to restart the City’s Neighborhood Watch Program. By restarting this program, Councilmember Nock has helped to bond the community together through service to the community and the shared goal of keeping the community safe. The joint service and shared values create a more unified community that works together to get things done.
Another benefit of Councilmember Nock restarting this program is the training it provides to Pocomoke’s residents and the city’s local law enforcement. The neighborhood watch program helps to unite the law enforcement officers, private organizations, and individual residents in Pocomoke to reduce crime and improve the local community through cooperation and communication.
Finally, Councilmember Nock has created a safer community by leading the effort to create a Safe Place Initiative for the City of Pocomoke. Living in a rural community where everyone knows each other is fantastic. Unfortunately, it has its drawbacks especially when it comes to reporting crimes. Living in a community where everyone knows each other like Pocomoke makes it more difficult to report a crime in a safe and discreet manner. When community members see a crime or could provide tips helpful to the local police but do not feel they can safely report it knowing it will be confidential, they are unlikely to report what they know. This is devastating to local law enforcement because it keeps them from vital information they need to effectively do their job.
Councilmember Nock’s Safe Place Initiative brought local businesses and the Police department together to address this problem by allowing residents to report crimes at downtown businesses. Through this program, residents can safely report crimes in the community without the fear of having it be traced back to them ensuring that vital information to prevent and solve crime makes it to the police.
Councilmember Nock knows that a strong local economy is vital to improving the life of residents and the overall quality of the city. That is why Councilmember Nock has created and served on multiple commissions and committees in Pocomoke to promote economic growth and support the local economy. Under his leadership, Pocomoke has made efforts to beautify the community, create new recreational activities for the city, and find new ways to create economic growth. Councilmember Nock is focused on using these committees to help build a more robust local economy post-covid and bring more good-paying jobs and business to the 4th district and city at large.
In 2018, the Pocomoke City Council was in desperate need of new ideas and a new generation of local leaders. Councilmember Nock fulfilled those needs and offered the residents of Pocomoke’s 4th district a better path forward. It was because of this new vision that Councilmember Nock was able to win a hotly contested election. Councilmember Todd Nock has strong prospects for re-election and should be elected for a second term by the voters of Pocomoke’s 4th district in order to build upon his good work.
A Progressive Love Letter to Somerset County
So I have been reading Obama's The Audacity of Hope.
Based on what is going on right now, I'm having a hard time seeing where the hope fits in. From what I can glean from history, once LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 this pissed off a whole segment of our country (the white supremacist God, guns & country segment) who had previously supported the New Deal vision of fair wages and benefits, patronage and public works, and an ever-rising standard of living for Americans. Suddenly, this segment of America decided that the New Deal vision of fair wages and benefits, patronage and public works, and an ever-rising standard of living should be for only some Americans, not all Americans.
I live in an area where the majority of the population represent the God, guns & country vision of America, one where minority folks do not enjoy the same privileges as many, if not most, of their white counterparts. Although I vote and campaign for progressive ideals, I live in Trump country.
Interestingly enough, this area and specifically Somerset County, used to be economically successful and a bright spot in Maryland. Yet, decades of keeping certain people in charge, not adapting as the market changed, not allowing for new growth, calling people who migrated to the area 'Come Heres', and keeping things the same, has resulted in economic decline for Somerset County, specifically for Crisfield, MD. Many people in Crisfield have tried to bring new business, arts, tourism, etc. to the community. Over my 15 years living here, although there have been small successes, the community is still just hanging on.
I am a true believer that the outward appearance of a community is a big deal when people visit Crisfield. If you provide a welcoming appearance to all visitors, and treat all newcomers with open arms (regardless of their color, race, sexual orientation, religion, previous geographic home), you are more likely to see economic circumstances improve.
Instead, when you are driving into Crisfield by the main route (Hwy 413) , tourists and would be newcomers must pass a business that not only openly supported Trump, but also has maintained a political statement displaying an actual wreck with a Trump truck driving over a 'Dems' economy car. Not only does this business, Southern Connection, have this hateful eyesore, but since Trump lost the November 3rd presidential election, the business now displays a message on it's electronic sign for all visitors to see on their way into town & on their way out of town.
What is the message, you ask? It is a message urging the community to fight for Trump and it reads: TRUMP 2020-Free men don't ask permission -- Fight for TRUMP.
I can tell you that anyone who truly cares about America and ALL of her citizens would not want this to be the message that visitors see on the way into their community.
Don't get me wrong, the owner of this business is free to display this and he has displayed it for several weeks now. I can tell you that people who really want Crisfield to improve economically, socially, and spiritually, should speak out against this type of sedition.
Sedition is the act of encouraging rebellion against the government, or an action that promotes such rebellion, such as through speech or writing.
A rebuke to MD-01 Rep. Andy HarrisMay 2, 2020Congressman Andy Harris, M.D.2334 Rayburn HOBWashington, DC 20515Representative Harris,Here we are in May 2020; Let me start by saying that your behavior on 05/02/2020 was reckless. This COVID-19 pandemic is an ever-growing tragedy. Being as though you are a physician, I would honestly expect more from you. (I am not sure why) YOU are a disgrace to every single elected official across this state. Governor Hogan has set measures in place to protect the citizens of Maryland, and you do not care. Let me explain something to you, opening this state will KILL us! How dare you take part in a rally to reopen the state, you’re not dependable!As of yesterday, we had 1,730 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in the state of Maryland. I realize even with the stern guidelines; this state is becoming more ill by the day. I have so much more to say, but you will not care. YOU ARE AN IDIOT! There have been many instances where we needed your help, and you did not show up. However, you did today; you showed up in a big way.Back in 2011, I met you at the J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake; I remember it like it was yesterday. My boss encouraged me to stay away from you, yet I still took a picture with you. I did not understand at the time why Jim did not like you. Over the years, I have grown to understand. In March 2019, The National League of cities set up a meeting with you and I. When I showed up to your office, they treated me like a second-class citizen. THEN you never met with me. I was extremely disappointed, I thought you would want to interact with officials from the Eastern Shore.You are not concerned with the well-being of Marylanders; you are concerned with life-risking labor. YOU are corrupt, and WE WANT YOU TO STAY AWAY FROM THE EASTERN SHORE, just like you normally do.Todd J. NockDistrict 4 Council MemberCity of Pocomoke City
The Voice of Stability during Covid-19: Salisbury's Mayor Jacob Day
The Voice of Stability during Covid-19: Salisbury's Mayor Jacob Day
The outbreak of Covid-19 has caused significant stress on all aspects of life. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs and struggle to operate what many would consider a healthy daily life. In addition to new daily stressors is the anxiety that comes from trying to figure out how we will continue to pay bills and avoid getting sick during these trying times. While millions struggle, the federal government has failed to put forth any meaningful response to provide aid to working-class people or slow the spread of this deadly disease.
Fortunately for us here on the Lower Eastern Shore, we have had a voice of stability and guidance in Mayor Jacob Day of Salisbury. Since this outbreak started, Mayor Day continues to relay crucial information that we need to stay safe and flatten the curve and to answer questions asked by the community via a daily video briefing on Facebook live.
Mayor Day has worked around the clock with our state and federal representatives to address things such as getting relief aid for our communities and ensuring constituents still get the state and federal resources they need.
Finally, Mayor Day has stepped up by implementing an emergency declaration to fight the spread of Covid-19 here. His orders include:
- limiting the number of occupants who can be in retail or commercial facilities at one time;
- prohibiting all self-serve foods and product sampling;
- ensuring that cleaning guidelines set by the CDC and MDH are followed;
- requiring a minimum of six feet of distance in lines, outside and inside stores; and
- establishing 1 to 2 exclusive hours per day for high-risk populations, such as senior citizens and other high risk populations.
These measures will establish the conditions needed to reduce the spread of the disease and help keep the community safe. While the world around us exhibits instability and chaos due to the Covid-19 outbreak, it is reassuring to know that our community is taking action to fight this disease, and that we have the stability to overcome this all from the calm leadership of Mayor Jacob Day.
Written by Jared Schablein
Chair of the Lower Shore Progressive Caucus
On migrant workers in Maryland
Just past midnight on a Saturday morning twenty-eight year old Melva Guadalupe Vázquez of Ciudad del Maíz, México wakes up to her phone alarm in a cramped bedroom she shares with five other women in Woolford, Maryland on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay. She puts on her work uniform, which despite washing still reeks of crabs, and heads out into the darkness to walk a quarter-mile to Lindy’s Seafood, where the graveyard shift is due to begin at 2 a.m. A half hour later she is part of a team of a dozen women on the picking line as crabs are wheeled in on a huge dolly and put in piles on a long, stainless steel table. Vázquez puts on her fingerless blue gloves, picks up a crab and cracks the shell. She then quickly maneuvers her two small knives to extract the meat and puts it into a small plastic container labeled #9. A supervisor will record how much she has produced during the shift, so she works fast, deshelling roughly two crabs per minute. No one speaks while working. Spanish music plays on one of the women's iPhone. Most of them spend the time thinking of their children back home. At 7 a.m. Vázquez takes an hour for lunch, when she puts a Band-Aid on a self-inflicted cut to a finger on her right hand, which burns painfully from the salt. She works another 4 hours for a total of 10 -- there are a lot of crabs to process that day. Now it’s 1 p.m., and exhausted she walks back home in the bright midday sun. She is looking forward to tomorrow, Sunday, the one day she usually gets off, when she plans to attend church and do grocery shopping.
* * *
Like the Jim Crow laws of the 19th century that enforced racial segregation in the U.S., there are ways in which our modern day temporary immigrant visa system resembles the historical institution of slavery. There are differences of course. Workers come to America of their own free will, and they are in principle afforded equal protection under the law, both in the workplace and as visitors to our country. For instance, they are entitled to enroll in the ACA if they choose while they are here. However, they are effectively segregated from the general population and take up the kind of low-paying, manual labor that occurs out of the sight and mind of most people. They are also subjected to not-so-subtle forms of racial discrimination that is inspired these days directly from Washington. “A lot of the Hispanic people are afraid of going to certain stores because there are some people who look at them disapprovingly,” said Margarita Marquez, an outreach worker. “But they know how to avoid those situations.”
Over the past four years the Trump administration has painted a consistently black and white, absurdly demonizing portrait of immigrants, particularly Mexicans, as degenerate criminals and rapists threatening American society at home and amassing at our borders, poised to take jobs and good fortune away from the average flag-waving Joe. The ideology is dead wrong and leads to miserable, unfair relations with our immigrant population. On the contrary, immigration is a complex issue, which demands nothing less than rational, compassionate consideration from citizens and legislators alike. The full picture regarding immigration in any nation should fairly encompass all the nuances of the host and the needs of a diverse set of emigres seeking entry for various reasons, from desiring temporary work to full blown political asylum. As is common in any serious debate, for every reasonable argument in favor of a position, there tends to be a valid counter argument -- up to a point. Logic is not everything in human affairs; sympathy and compassion should be given equal weight. That is, every controversial socio-political-economic position in the end should be subjected to a common sense ethical standard and moreover grounded in a valid, generally accepted set of facts (which in today's bifurcated political environment is easier said than done). We're in a crisis at the moment, because the distinction between fact and falsehood is being deliberately blurred for political ends. Not only must we do a better job respecting the facts (immigrants are not taking away jobs Americans want), but we should abide by the Christian golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Above all, in the end, the freedom and welfare of ordinary human beings, at home and abroad, must necessarily be insulated from the cheap political rhetoric that is meant to arouse nationalist, xenophobic and racist sentiments for political gain. In particular, it is so difficult right now in America to settle any argument concerning immigration at the local, state or national level that meets the overall needs and concerns of the majority, because the issue is so polluted out of the gate by political dogma of the most offensive kind issuing from Donald Trump’s incessant Twitter bully pulpit. The latest threat from Washington to invade sanctuary cities with the military arm of ICE follows right on the heels of a heartless, criminal policy of separating immigrant children from their families. The president has moreover insisted that we must build a wall and that he might shut down the border with Mexico altogether, particularly now that we are combating the Coronavirus, a pandemic that the administration will likely try to convert into a win for America first nationalism.
We need to get beyond the Trump administration’s absurd racist policy and consider the human side of the issue, namely the perspective of the refugee, the concerns of the underdog. We must try to imagine what it is like being in the shoes of these struggling people, fleeing poverty and/or civil strife in their native countries to seek refuge in America, or doing more or less the same holding temporary visas in order to sustain the lives of their children and families back home. We should respect these poor, hard-working people as we do our own workers and afford them the wages, dignity and civil rights that we take for granted ourselves; instead the current government encourages us to treat them with contempt like the invisible slaves of our colonial past. These immigrants do the hard, subsistence work that almost no Americans want to do themselves in a relatively healthy economy, such as agricultural, food processing, landscaping, construction, housekeeping and amusement park labor.
A good example of this troubling international crisis exists right here in Maryland’s eastern shore; crab meat processing plant workers, all women and mostly mothers, who travel here for stints of up to eight months at a time from central Mexico under the government’s H-2B visa program. In September of 2019 The Baltimore Sun ran an exceptional article with an accompanying short video documentary on the situation. The piece was in contrast to most of the other recent news stories on the topic, which have focused mainly on the difficulty of crab processing industry owners in recent years to garner sufficient cheap labor south of the border, despite logging consistent annual profits in the tens of millions of dollars. (see: ‘I’m not here to take anyone’s job’: Mexican crab pickers quietly work in Maryland as immigration debate rages https://www.baltimoresun.com/politics/bs-md-crab-pickers-20190925-vpgfhcq4uvfvvomgseru64dody-story.html) In the video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0JqyHVY5G8), two women from Mexico interviewed in Spanish share their thoughts on the tough, thankless, isolated life they endure on the remote Hoopers Island during their multi-year stints in the U.S. So many communities across the nation have situations which mirror in microcosm our national crisis like this one. The bottom line here on Maryland's shore is that crab meat processing companies make less of a profit selling whole crabs to restaurants and supermarkets, because Americans don’t like the trouble of extracting the meat themselves, so they sponsor migrant workers and pay them subsistent wages to do that undesirable labor under slave like conditions -- yes, this has been happening since the 1980s right in Maryland’s backyard. “We cannot find [domestic] workers,” said Jay Newcomb, owner of Old Salty’s Restaurant in Fishing Creek. “We’ve done job fairs, we’ve contacted the detention centers, run ads all over the East Coast. We’ve tried colleges and temp agencies.” The local people are just not there, and you can’t relocate and/or force them to take these jobs. “I feel like I’m not here to take anyone’s job, says Vázquez. “On the contrary, I’m here to do a job that Americans don’t want to do. Latinos make economic life in this country grow. And I don’t accept or agree with the ideals of the president we have here in the United States, but I also respect the decisions that are made here, good or bad. As long as we are offered visas, I think we are going to be here. Whether it’s for many months or just a few; either way, we are grateful.”
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It’s Sunday morning, and Vázquez gratefully attends mass. Religion is the racial equalizer here, at least on the surface. Church is the sole outlet where immigrants are superficially welcome in Dorchester County, a conservative community where the abolitionist leader Harriet Tubman was born and struggled to free fellow slaves. It provides a brief respite from the incessant, grueling work she endures week-to-week, year-to-year, but sometimes she has to work Sundays too. In the eyes of God, for an hour or so, she feels like she is an equal here, and she feels at peace. Later she will go to a grocery store where she feels welcome and is not treated with suspicion.
* * *
The federal temporary visa system works overall for both local economies and the guest workers, but the working conditions and quality of life for the latter is just short of appalling. The current restrictive immigration law not only hinders domestic commerce, but also makes life painful for the migrant workers who depend on this work to address the basic needs of their families back home. The system should be expanded and liberalized, not curtailed and made more stringent; anything short of that is plainly counter-economic. Furthermore, legislation should guarantee foreign workers’ wages and human rights on a par with American citizens. As already mentioned, people need to appreciate the human toll of the processed crab meat they enjoy on the backs of honest, hard-working Mexican mothers. In the words of Melva Vázquez, “There are a lot of sacrifices made here. You leave your family, your home, your country. You see new faces, hear a new language. I’ve been coming to Hoopers Island, to the company, for three years now. It’s something really nice, because it helps me financially, and I think we help the company financially. This is the life of a crab worker. Every single day. The work is heavy. Difficult.”
So what can ordinary people do to help? Well, we can start by not following the president’s lead in being racist and insensitive to these workers, who are in the majority good, law abiding, church-going people slaving away doing work that most consider beneath us. When we treat them like sub-humans doing our dirty work, it makes life that much harder and more difficult for them. Surely God is watching us and is not pleased.
Call to Action in Wicomico County
We at the LSPC strongly encourage you to take the same path as Mr. Ben Rayne has and contact the 3 county council members listed below in an effort to garner attention to accurate information regarding the legality of proposed actions, as well as to let your elected officials know exactly what the citizens of Wicomico County desire regarding the proposed restrictions on consumption of medical cannabis within our county.
Letters, emails, and phone calls are wonderful ways to let county council members know the wishes of the community they serve.
Wicomico County Council
125 N. Division Street, Room 301
Salisbury MD 21801
Dear Mr. Cannon, Mr. McCain, Mr. Davis:
My name is Ben Rayne and I have lived in Wicomico County my entire life, save for a brief 6-month period during which I lived in Dorchester, after which I came bounding back to Wicomico.
I am writing the three of you today in protest of Sheriff Lewis and SA Dykes proposal to increase the severity of punishment with regards to public use of cannabis. I myself am a registered patient with the MMCC and I can’t begin to tell you the life changing benefits of legal cannabis use for the treatment of certain medical conditions from which I have suffered from most of my life. I am bipolar, I have ADHD, I suffer from PTSD, I have a panic/anxiety disorder, and I am on the autism spectrum. In case you were unaware, these are not curable conditions, only treatable with therapy and medication. Medical cannabis has helped me overcome much of the anxiety of daily life that had left me unable to work after a series of traumatic moments in my life.
But even if we forgo the usual anecdotes about how much good this plant is facilitating, we can find massive faults in the arguments put forth by Sheriff Lewis and SA Dykes. Their entire plan hinges upon something known as preemption. Preemption is a legal concept that sets forth the idea in strong State Government models, like The State of Maryland is set forth in its constitution, that when the State passes a law, that law is THE law of the land. No local laws may be made that supersede the State or Federal Government’s authority.
Now, I can explain this visually as well. Imagine you have a clear plastic tube and in the middle of it there is a disc with several holes in its surface that would allow sand to easily pass through. Now, the State laws are like marbles that perfectly stop up those holes. Local laws are like the sand and they have no way to pass through the disc without there being a clear hole, one representing a lack of a State law.
There has been much said about “open container” and the need to regulate public use of cannabis as harshly as we would alcohol, but there is another place where the tube metaphor is useful. The State regulates all alcohol sales in the State via a regulation that allows for each county to decide and legislate their own rules once they have an established and State approved liquor board. Now that board has a lot of leeway in deciding what the county’s rules on liquor would be and as you know, the Council works with the WCLB to regulate the sale of alcohol and distribution of licenses to do the same.
This is only possible because the State of Maryland passed laws allowing the county this authority. Had the State of Maryland voted to, they could have set up a system similar to liquor distribution and allowed the counties to regulate as they saw fit.
The difference is, they did not give local municipal and county governments the authority to do so, but not for any nefarious reasons. They kept the authority to themselves because Medical Cannabis is not a recreational drug, it is a very highly regulated medicine that the State created an entire commission to regulate.
As a TAXPAYER, I don’t want my tax money being used in a legal defense fund that WILL lose upon its first challenge and every subsequent appeal. There simply is no hole for Mr. Lewis to crawl through. If he wants to continue to move forward with society and the law, he will have to find a new reason to create probable cause. Otherwise, he’s not only going to find himself in violation of the Constitution of the State of Maryland but of the 4th amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America.