The hits just keep on coming for the Maryland State Police. Yet more embarrassing revelations surfaced the other day in their long running spying scandal. The State Police can't seem to make this problem go away and there's a good reason for that. They still won't admit it was wrong.
Let's back up a bit and look at what happened and what the State Police have said and done about it. Back in 2005, the State Police decided they needed to spy on anti-war and anti-death penalty groups because the police were worried about what might happen at demonstrations against the death penalty in Maryland.
The state police sent spies into the meetings of these groups, recorded all their activities and added the names of the groups and members to a multi-state terrorist database despite the fact that no illegal activities were ever discussed or carried out.
Despite the fact that no evidence of illegal activities was ever found, the State Police continued and expanded the surveillance to include such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and numerous peace groups and anti-death penalty groups.
To this day, neither the man who was police superintendent at the time, Tim Hitchins, nor the current superintendent, Terrence Sheridan, see anything wrong with what was done, except for a possible waste of resources.
Well, a waste of resources it certainly was. But it was much more. It was a brazen action by the State Police to investigate and infiltrate politically active groups that happened to espouse positions that the State Police may not have agreed with.
The ridiculous justification offered by the police that they were worried about violence at scheduled executions is nonsense on its face. There has never been violence by any of the groups investigated. Certainly there has been civil disobedience, but there's a simple solution to that - arrest the people when they break the law. It's always worked.
Besides, civil disobedience has a long and honorable history in this country, from the Boston Tea Party and the patriot groups that were organized around the War for Independence to the abolitionists to those who demonstrated and conducted sit-ins for women's right to vote, for civil rights and for other causes that have become part of our country. Sure, civil disobedience can be a bit messy, but democracy and freedom of expression are inherently a bit messy.
The State Police and Colonel Sheridan assure us that the surveillance of activist groups and political groups has stopped and won't be started again unless he thinks its necessary. What kind of assurance is that? He doesn't even seem to understand what was wrong with it to begin with.
We need two kinds of change in Annapolis. First, Colonel Sheridan needs to leave. If he doesn't understand the basic problem with the spying that went on, he is unfit to command the State Police. Second, the General Assembly needs to enact legislation placing the strictest of controls on this kind of activity. Civil rights, the right to free expression and the right to peaceably assemble should mean something in the Free State.