Thinking Freely

ACLU of Maryland

Thinking Freely is a monthly political podcast, from the ACLU of Maryland, informing people about what's happening politically in Maryland from the courts to the streets. You'll hear from ACLU staff, our clients, and community leaders about the issues facing our civil liberties and how you can get involved.

All Episodes

Many Maryland children are heading back to school. After a year and a half of virtual learning, most students will go back into their school buildings. But what experience will they step back into? On this episode we speak with key ACLU experts, Justin Nalley, public policy analyst, Frank Patinella, senior education advocate, and Tierney Peprah, staff attorney, about the work we will be doing to ensure an education system that values and uplifts students’ humanity.

Aug 27

55 min 24 sec

On April 20, 2021, the jury in the Derek Chauvin trial issued a guilty verdict on all three counts for the murder of George Floyd. However, one verdict is not justice – it’s simply accountability. Over 5,000 people were killed by police in the U.S. since 2015, including George Floyd and Anton Black, who were killed by police in eerily, terrifyingly similar ways. We talked to LaToya Holley, the sister of Anton Black, Dayvon Love, Director of Public Policy for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle and Sonia Kumar, Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Maryland about the Derrick Chauvin verdict, the work being done to get justice for Anton Black and what we must do to reform policing the create a system that values and protects Black lives. Watch: Assessing the Claim or "Movement" to Defund the Police with Lawrence Grandpre, Director of Research for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle: Read: Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle’s "When Baltimore Awakes" publication:

Apr 30

55 min 48 sec

Immigrants in Frederick County have been fighting for their rights for years. We’ve seen some great victories this year. Immigrants have won in the courts and in local policy that helps the community, despite the odds. In this episode, we talked to Sara Movahed, ACLU of Maryland board member and founding partner at Movahed & Fisher Law, LLC., - and Brian Whittaker of Nixon Peabody LLP - who represented Sara Medrano and the RISE Coalition in their successful legal challenge to racial profiling by local police deputized to act as ICE agents. We also hear the words of Sara Medrano and Flor Garay of the RISE Coalition of Western Maryland about being able to fully participate in society regardless of citizenship or legal status without discrimination.

Apr 1

44 min 40 sec

Police officers on Maryland's Eastern Shore killed Anton Black, a 19-year-old Black teenager, on the afternoon of September 15, 2018. Over two years later, the family and the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black are still fighting for justice for Anton Black. To talk more about this we will speak with Antone Black, the father of Anton Black, Richard Potter, an educator and President of the Talbot County Branch of the NAACP, and Deborah Jeon, legal director for the ACLU of Maryland, about the impact they hope their legal challenge will have as part of the work to reimagine policing in Maryland. To take action to demand police reform visit:

Feb 20

1 hr 5 min

The right to vote and participate in our democracy is currently denied to over 18,000 citizens who are incarcerated in Maryland. Dating back to the racist Jim Crow era, state felony disfranchisement laws were created to prevent Americans entangled in the legal justice system from voting. After the Civil War, there was a concerted effort to incarcerate thousands of Black people who were newly freed, in order to weaken their political power. In Free the Vote, a new documentary by the ACLU of Maryland, we talked with people who were formerly incarcerated, politicians, historians, and advocates who share their experiences and dreams of a Maryland and country where the right to vote is restored for every citizen who is currently incarcerated. 
 In this episode listen to Farajii Muhammed, host of “For the Culture” on WEAA 88.9 FM; Qiana Johnson, executive director of Life After Release; Dr. Pippa Holloway, author of “Living In Infamy: Felon Disfranchisement and the History of American Citizenship”; Chris Wilson, serial social entrepreneur, storyteller, artist, social justice advocate, and author of "The Master Plan"; and me, Amber Taylor, the producer of Free the Vote and digital communications strategist at ACLU of Maryland. Together, we explain why we need to ensure every citizen who is incarcerated has access to the vote and the ballot behind bars. Learn More:

Jan 22

1 hr 6 min

After the 2020 election, a national awaking on systemic racism, COVID-19, and a politically divided nation, it is important to reflect on where we have been and where we could go. As 2021 draws near, Maryland and our country have much to do to empower people to exercise their rights so that the law values and uplifts their humanity. On Thinking Freely this month, we were joined by Dana Vickers Shelley, the Executive Director of the ACLU of Maryland, and Marion Gray Hopkins, President of the Coalition of Concerned Mothers, mother of Gary Hopkins, who was killed by police in Prince George’s County and an ACLU of Maryland board member, about some of our visions for Maryland and how you can get involved.

Dec 2020

44 min 24 sec

Another Maryland Legislative session is upon us, with the General Assembly set to start on January 13, 2021. Due to COVID-19, this will be a virtual session and we will work to make sure people’s voices are heard by legislators as they make decisions during this challenging time. That’s why it is important to stay informed on what’s happening next session. In 2021, the ACLU of Maryland will be working along with our partners on 5 priority areas as we reimage policing: 1) Repeal the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights, 2) Restore control of the Baltimore City Police Department back to Baltimore City residents, 3) Make investigations into police misconduct transparent by reforming the Maryland Public Information Act, 4) Limit the use of force by law enforcement, and 5) Remove law enforcement from our children's schools. ACLU of Maryland will also advocate for education rights like the Blueprint for Maryland’s future Act, fight to enact a statewide trust act, to defend the rights, of immigrants in our communities, and to take the Politics Out of Parole. Yanet Amanuel, Public Policy Advocate, Joe Spielberger, our Public Policy Council, and Justin Nalley, our Education Policy Analyst join Thinking Freely this month to talk about this work and how you can get involved. Take action:

Dec 2020

29 min 52 sec

School Resource Officers, more commonly known as SROs, are really school police. There are thousands of them in schools across Maryland, even though many of these same schools don’t have access to guidance counselors, therapists,or nurses to support students’ growth. The evidence is clear that school resource officers are associated with higher increases in arrests of students, and there is an unacceptable, disproportionate rate of Black and Latinx students who are arrested, including children with disabilities. We must work to reimagine an education system that keeps students safe and respects their rights. Maryland needs to invest in students' education, not in their incarceration. To learn more visit: If you have questions or comments about the show please send us an email at

Oct 2020

1 hr 6 min

Listen to a special episode of the Thinking Freely podcast, as we talk with experts on making voting safe, easy, and accessible for voters during the 2020 election this year's constitution day event. Learn more about your voting rights:

Sep 2020

1 hr 23 min

As we celebrate Latinx Heritage Month, we must continue to uplift the humanity of Latinx people. We need to protect immigrants from victimization and criminalization. No one should be, but too often, they are profiled for their skin color or denied the respect and dignity that every human being deserves. No one should be "othered" for merely existing. But the Latinx community is resilient, and groups like the RISE Coalition of Western Maryland are finding ways to support their community and exercise their rights. They show how we can make a better and safer community for our Latinx neighbors and Maryland as a whole. Note: Since recording this podcast, the R.I.S.E Collation of Western Maryland hit their community fundraising goal. You can continue to support them and their efforts by visiting their Facebook page:

Sep 2020

35 min 23 sec

The fight for voting rights remains as critical as ever, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. We talked to leading voting rights experts in Maryland: Joanne Antoine, Executive Director of Common Cause, Reverend Kobi Little, President of the Baltimore Branch of the NAACP, and Dana Vickers Shelley, Executive Director of the ACLU of Maryland. We talked about our voting rights, the challenges of voting during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what you need to know to exercise your vote by Tuesday, November 3.

Aug 2020

43 min

With police spy planes, everywhere Baltimore goes, the government will always know. Spy planes carry sophisticated cameras developed for the military, mounted on airplanes, that can see the entire city, and that track the movement of every person or vehicle moving outside. Baltimore has a terrible history of racial bias and a lack of accountability for abuses by police. It should be the last place to use a program of mass surveillance. In this episode, we talk with Dayvon Love, the Public Policy Director for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, a grassroots think tank that advances the public policy interests of Black people in Baltimore, and David Rocah, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Maryland, to talk about the spy planes program, the legal case, our privacy rights, government surveillance, and the impact the spy planes are having on residents of Baltimore, especially Black residents. Let’s stop the Baltimore Police spy plane program.

Jul 2020

1 hr

Too many people have lost their lives at the hands of police. But perhaps the saddest thing is that many of these deaths were unnecessary and could have been avoided. Today, we will be joined by Tracy Shand, sister to Leonard Shand, and Shamāiah Manriquez, sister to Emanuel Oates, to share their experiences about how the killing of their brothers by police could have been and should have been, prevented. We will also talk to Jay Jimenez, our Legal Program Associate, about some of the trends we are seeing in police killing and important recommendations for the police that would reduce these tragic deaths.

Jun 2020

1 hr 13 min

Knowing your rights is vital. Especially during police interactions. You cannot assume that officers will behave in a way that protects your safety or that they will respect your rights even after you assert them. That’s why the ACLU of Maryland developed our free Know Your Rights program so that you can know how to exercise your rights and what to do when your rights are violated. This month, we talked to two experienced Know Your Rights Trainers, Kimi Washington and Gus Griffin, along with Amy Cruice the Director of ACLU of Maryland’s Know Your Rights Program, about why knowing your rights is so important and how you can request a KYR training.

May 2020

24 min 46 sec

During these difficult times, the ACLU of Maryland is here to defend and protect our civil rights and civil liberties. We are providing guidance to our elected officials, so they can craft a COVID-19 response that is compassionate and protects the populations most vulnerable to harm, including immigrants and those caught in the legal justice system – as well as all Maryland voters. As always, we will provide people with action items you can do to support this vital work.

Apr 2020

43 min 38 sec

For Women’s History Month, we are highlighting the issues facing women exiting the criminal legal system and why we need a dedicated pre-release facility for women. The number of women and girls in the criminal legal system has grown substantially over the past several decades. The over-incarceration of women devastates families, because 75% of women who are incarcerated are the primary or sole caretakers of children. Currently, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services operates nine dedicated lower-security facilities for men who are preparing to return to their communities from prison. But there are none for women. The re-entry services available to women are inadequate as they are, but the situation is even more egregious in light of the services available to men. We were joined by Qiana Johnson, the Executive Director of Life After Release, to discuss why women need a dedicated pre-release facility in Maryland and how to support incarcerated women.

Mar 2020

31 min 47 sec

We want officers to speak up against racist police practices and sexual harassment to help change the culture of policing. But when officers of color speak up against these unconstitutional practices they often experience discrimination and retaliation. For this Black History Month, we sat down with an African American officer, Lieutenant Sonya Zollicoffer, second vice president of the United Black Police Officers Association and with a Latino officer Retired Captain Joe Perez, president of the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association. We talk about why they and over 10 other officers of color, decided to file a lawsuit against Prince George’s County Police Department challenging the department’s pattern and practice of unconstitutional conduct. And we ask them about their message to other Black and brown officers and women officers fighting against discrimination in their police departments.

Feb 2020

46 min 8 sec

Another Maryland Legislative session is upon us, with the General Assembly set to start on January 8, 2020. This session, the ACLU of Maryland will be working on six priority areas: 1) Race and wealth equity for Maryland’s school children, 2) the Trust Act to defend the rights of immigrants in our communities, 3) equality in support services for women exiting the criminal legal system, 4) transparency in policing, 5) the right to vote for Marylanders behind bars, and 6) due process for children entangled in the criminal so-called “justice” system. Toni Holness, our public policy Director, Joe Spielberger, our Public Policy Council, and Justin Nalley, our Education Policy Analyst join Thinking Freely this month to talk about our work and how you can get involved.

Jan 2020

31 min 8 sec

Maryland students have a right to a high-quality public education guaranteed by the state constitution. But for far too many students, that right is undermined by generations of underfunding. This has most deeply impacted students from families with low income and Black and Brown children. Janna Parker, a former educator and a public education advocate, and Kimberly Humphrey, Esq., Legislative Counsel for the ACLU of Maryland, talk about how you can help to address racial and wealth inequities in the Kirwan Commission, the group developing Maryland’s new statewide education funding formula. This podcast was recorded on Piscataway land.

Nov 2019

39 min 11 sec

For years, people sentenced as children to life in prison with the possibility of parole, and their families, have tried to get Maryland to live up to the promise of second chances that a parole-eligible sentence is intended to provide. However, many barriers exist that stop this from happening. Many criminal justice stakeholders have turned to technology to help make parole decisions through “risk assessment tools.” Also labeled artificial intelligence, these tools have been touted as carrying with them the potential to save a broken system. However, these tools may exacerbate the same problems they are supposed to help solve. They rely on flawed criminal justice data that is not controlled for the institutional vestiges of slavery, de jure and de facto segregation, racial discrimination, and biased policing. In this episode we talk to Earl Young, who was sentenced to life as a young man; James Foulds, Assistant professor in the Department of Information Systems at UMBC; and Sonia Kumar, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Maryland. What are the barriers to people getting a real opportunity to earn a second chance? What can you do to support meaningful reforms to parole systems, like the deeply flawed system in Maryland?

Oct 2019

37 min 33 sec

Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy and the fundamental right upon which all our civil liberties rest. But the right to vote and participate in our democracy is currently denied to thousands of people in Maryland, those who who are incarcerated. Dating back to the racist Jim Crow era state felony disfranchisement laws were created to prevent Americans with felonies from voting. After the Civil War, there was a concerted effort to incarcerate thousands of newly freed slaves and these laws weakened the political power of Black people. Although the laws have changed so that people who are formerly incarcerated and are not currently serving a felony conviction can register and vote in elections, there is still confusion about these laws, which has also resulted in countless other Marylanders from voting.   
 In this episode listen to Lupé Hawkins of Just Us and Yanet Amanuel, Public Policy Advocate of the ACLU of Maryland, discuss some of the threats to our voting rights, explain why we need to improve ballot access for people behind bars, and talk about what you can do to get involved in turning the idea of universal suffrage into reality. This podcast was recorded on Piscataway land.

Sep 2019

21 min 40 sec

The First Amendment was meant to serve as the backbone of our democracy, allowing people who are critical of the government the right to speak. Historically, white supremacists have co-opted the First Amendment to advance hate and incite violence. At the same time, we have seen People of Color’s First Amendment rights violated when they speak out against oppression and racism. The First Amendment is a vital tool that can be used to advance racial justice. That’s why survivors of police brutality and community members in Baltimore are fighting for the right to speak up against police abuse. However, the Baltimore City government requires survivors to sign “gag orders” that are meant to silence survivors of police abuse in order to resolve their cases.     In this episode listen to Tawanda Jones, Activist, and Leader of “West Wednesdays Coalition” and Deborah Jeon, Legal Director of ACLU of Maryland, discuss the impacts of silencing survivors of police abuse. We will also speak about the effort to re-imagine a First Amendment where everyone’s speech is protected.   This podcast was recorded on Piscataway land.

Aug 2019

28 min 1 sec

Our immigrant communities need to be supported. Instead, their lives and rights have increasingly been attacked, especially under the Trump Administration. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has prioritized building more 287(g) partnerships, where local law enforcement officers are deputized as federal immigration agents. Local police only have to go through a month of training to be fully participating officers and there’s little accountability for rights violations. Across the country, a growing number of counties are participating in this program, including 3 in Maryland. These dangerous programs undermine public safety by causing many immigrants to fear law enforcement.  In this episode, we hear from Flor Garay of the RISE Coalition of Western Maryland and Sergio España of the ACLU of Maryland to talk about how the 287(g) program has impacted Maryland residents – and what we can do about it. NOTE: The phrase “America is a country of immigrants” is often a well-intended phrase that has often unintended biases. The phrase ignores two major parts of American history. First, it ignores that this nation was created on land violently stolen from Native Americans/Indigenous people. These peoples were here first and we need to as a nation better understand that history. Second, it ignores that millions of Black people are descended from people who were stolen from Africa and sold into slavery. They are not immigrants. Words matter and understanding the history of these phrases help us create a more perfect union. This podcast was recorded on Piscataway land.

Jul 2019

27 min 2 sec