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Civil Rights

Tom has fought for civil rights, racial justice and police reform his entire career, and will continue to deliver for Maryland.

Protecting the civil rights of Marylanders is of the utmost importance in ensuring that our state is just and equitable for all people. As the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic and a longtime civil rights advocate and attorney, Tom understands the inequities that still exist within our state, and he is dedicated to fighting against discrimination of all kinds. Tom is committed to promoting equal justice and ensuring equitable access to health care, education, employment, and housing in our state.  In the wake of the killings of Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and countless others, America is facing a racial reckoning. Tom will bring an anti-racist perspective as a bold, courageous leader who will fight to secure a just and equitable future for all of us.

Generational inequalities start at birth – infant mortality rates are higher for Black babies, and Black mothers face a higher rate of maternal mortality.  Those inequalities are compounded  over time, with inequitable access to health care, high-quality schools, job opportunities, recreational spaces, broadband internet, and so many other factors that contribute to health, wealth and overall quality of life.  These inequities fuel a school-to-prison pipeline, where youth of color face an often unjust criminal justice system .  This generational impact affects lifelong employment opportunities, housing access, as well as the ability for one to build wealth.

Tom’s entire career has been dedicated to expanding opportunity and fighting to advance civil rights.

As an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division beginning in 1989, Tom prosecuted some of the country’s most high-profile civil rights cases, including a hate crimes case in Texas involving a group of white supremacists who went on a deadly, racially motivated crime spree. As Special Counsel to the late Senator Edward Kennedy, Tom served as the principal adviser on civil rights, criminal justice, and constitutional issues. President Obama later appointed him to lead the Division where he began his career, serving as the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. He continued the fight against discrimination by protecting voting rights, taking on system discrimination by police departments, prosecuting the first cases under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act, protecting students from bullying and harassment based on their race, gender, and sexual orientation, fighting against employment discrimination, and taking on other issues in order to advance equity and justice.

As Governor of Maryland, Tom would use his experience in fighting against injustice to ensure our state is one where zip code does not determine destiny, and every person has access to equal opportunity and equal justice.

Police Reform:

Tom knows that we need a full-scale, nationwide reform of our police departments.  In the 2020 legislative session, Democratic lawmakers put Maryland at the forefront of police reform by recognizing a call to action and passing landmark legislation that has the potential to transform policing in Maryland and address longstanding, deeply rooted trust gaps that have catastrophic consequences.  Our Democratic leaders in the legislature, along with the advocates who brought about the passage of these far-reaching measures, understand that they will help restore public confidence in law enforcement, and will make an officer’s job easier and more fulfilling, because they will work together with the community. We can restore public faith in law enforcement. We can reduce crime while respecting the Constitution.

Early in Tom’s career, he spent the better part of a decade as a career prosecutor in the Civil Rights Division at the United States Department of Justice, where he prosecuted police misconduct cases. When President Obama was elected and appointed him to lead that same division, he made systemic police reform cases a top priority, because Tom strongly believes that the role of the police in American society is critical to the effective function of our democracy, and because he understands that the vast majority of police officers want to diligently and faithfully carry out their oath to serve and protect.

Through Tom’s experience prosecuting officers in Los Angeles in the days before Rodney King, and working with local leaders and law enforcement officials across the country to address systemic policing issues decades later, he learned that accountable, Constitutional policing and safe communities are inextricably intertwined.  Safe communities flow from positive relationships between those communities and their law enforcement officers. A police officer’s most important tool is not a gun or radio – it is the trust of the people they serve. Building trust means investing in best-practice hiring, training, early warning systems, use of force standards and meaningful accountability. It means building a community mental health infrastructure, and investing in the mental health needs of officers, who work in very stressful circumstances. It means putting rules in place that will allow people to feel that a police officer on their street or at their door is there to protect them, and not to do them harm. It means ensuring members of the community can feel confident that officers who violate those rules will be held accountable.

Voting Rights:

Protecting voting rights has been a central priority for Tom throughout his career. Our democracy is stronger when more people can make their voices heard.  Tactics such as voter ID laws and voter rolling are discriminatory, they disenfranchise our communities or color, and they have absolutely no place in our democracy.

Fortunately, we haven’t seen the heavy-handed tactics here in Maryland that have occurred in some other states.  Maryland has made significant strides in protecting voting rights through implementation of same-day voter registration, passing automatic voter registration, providing early voting opportunities, and restoring voting rights to some previously incarcerated individuals. But there are still many barriers to voting that continue to disenfranchise minority voters in particular.  Long voting lines have always been a problem on election day, but during the 2020 election, a reduced number of polling locations led to long lines and raised concerns about accessibility, especially for those with disabilities or transportation barriers.  Maryland can work to further protect voting rights by fully funding our election process so that we can have more accessible voting centers, more accountability, and more voting resources distributed.  Investing in our election system is a direct investment into our democracy.  Voting is the most important civil rights issue of our era — because the right to vote preserves all other rights. As Governor, Tom is committed to doing everything he can to protect that right for all Marylanders.

Marijuana Legalization:

Maryland has already decriminalized recreational marijuana and the medical cannabis industry is growing rapidly. With full legalization of recreational marijuana Maryland will be able to regulate the industry, creating good jobs, helping small businesses, and generating significant revenue. As more and more states take this step, Maryland is leaving money on the table.

Legalizing cannabis is also an important step towards addressing social equity and racial injustices. Any measure that legalizes recreational marijuana must also allow for expungement and release for individuals previously incarcerated for marijuana-related charges.  Even as medical cannabis became legal and possession of less than 10 grams was decriminalized, Black residents made up 96 percent of all marijuana-related arrests in Baltimore from 2015 until 2017.  We must recognize this injustice and use a portion of recreational marijuana revenue to reinvest in the most at-risk communities – those communities hit hardest by historic cannabis prohibition.

Gender Equity:

Maryland has made considerable advances in the fight for gender equity compared to other states, but there are still significant inequities that often prevent women from reaching their full potential.  Women in Maryland typically make just 86 percent of their male counterparts earnings, which is higher than the national average of 82 percent.  For women of color, the pay gap is even wider. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that in 2018, Black women only made about 88 percent of what white women made, and the rate was even lower for Hispanic women in the state, at just 59%.

At the current rate, it’s projected that it will take until the year 2043 for women in our state to receive equal pay.

In addition, the growing costs of childcare is often a barrier for women entering the workforce.  Today, many mothers are forced to make a choice between paying a significant amount of their income on childcare, finding a low-quality option for supervision of their children, or leaving the workforce altogether to become caregivers.  Working parents need support to help them juggle work and family. Too often, quality child care is only accessible to the wealthiest and best connected. Over 300,000 Maryland children under the age of 6 require regular child care, and we owe it to those children and their families to eliminate barriers to the care they need.

This issue has been exacerbated by the pandemic, as child care closures and remote learning forced parents – and mostly mothers – out of the workforce to care for their children.

As Governor, Tom is committed to breaking down the barriers that women, and particularly women of color, face in entering the workforce and achieving equity once they get there.