A Mother’s Prerogative: An Interview with Reverend Marguerite Morris Interview (Part 2)
Read Part 1 here.
Welcome back to our interview with Reverend Marguerite Morris, activist, civil rights leader, and longtime friend of the Foundation.
Rev. Morris is the founder of For Kathy’s Sake and the C.A.S.T. of Anne Arundel County. She is a well-known and highly respected civil rights advocate in Anne Arundel County, MD (which includes the state capital of Annapolis). Her greatest areas of advocacy include accountability from law enforcement and government entities, and civilian oversight of police misconduct and brutality. Both of Rev. Morris’ organizations have been key partners of our Maryland partner, March On Maryland, since its founding.
In 2021, after a nine year legal battle where she acted mostly as a pro se litigant, Rev. Morris successfully argued her case against the Anne Arundel County Police Department and the Office of the Medical Examiner of Maryland. An administrative law judge agreed that the AAC Police and the medical examiner mishandled her daughter Kathy’s case, and ordered Kathy’s manner of death be changed from “suicide” to “undetermined.”
If you haven’t read Part 1, we highly encourage you to start there to learn more about Rev. Morris’ activist history and the story about fighting for justice for her daughter, Kathy. If you or someone you know has been impacted by police brutality in Maryland, please feel free to reach out to C.A.S.T.: email@example.com.
This interview has been edited for clarity and readability. March On Foundation does not endorse any candidates running for office.
Emma Buchman (Digital Content Director, MO Foundation):
Transparency and accountability from law enforcement, as you’ve demonstrated, are some of your biggest causes. I’m gonna come back to C.A.S.T. in a little bit, but this ties into what you were just explaining:
Since the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, when a lot of elected officials and law enforcement were pledging to do better and to start to acknowledge the systemic roadblocks and bias that exist in the United States at large against people of color, particularly Black people, do you think that accountability from law enforcement and other government entities to the community, and we’ll say specifically for Anne Arundel County, has improved since summer of 2020?
Rev. Marguerite Morris (Founder, For Kathy’s Sake & the C.A.S.T. of Anne Arundel County):
No, it hasn’t. They have us in a cycle of bull crap. They really do. And it’s really sad, because we’re sitting here and they honestly don’t take anything that is an absolute complaint from citizens. They don’t even talk about it. They don’t even address it, from what we’ve seen. We’ve not seen them addressing impacted persons period. We’ve seen them operating as if they’re totally ignorant and blind. I’ve not seen them turn around and apologize. Even if we go back to Kathy, there’s no more legal things. There’s not even acknowledgement. There’s not even a, “Ms. Morris, we’re sorry.” Not just to me, but to other people.
In 2020, we did a lot of protesting. Anne Arundel County, I think because of its present administration, sometimes shoots us a bunch of bull crap because [County Executive Steuart Pittman] hasn’t taken a strong stand to really stand up. It seems like he’s open to being talked out of what his thoughts might have been. In my opinion, right now, we have an all time low in relationship when it comes to the reality for impacted persons…
We’re operating on the elusive, imaginary thing that all is right with our police department, always has been and always will be. Because that’s more comfortable than to say, “Wait a minute, I still got these people out here and there’s still a lot of ignorance out here.” If you didn’t know the real deal, you would believe it because they’re PR experts, public relations experts. Zero accountability. Zero accountability.
I can say this: I have seen Annapolis, where there has been some acknowledgement of some wrong. I have seen the Anne Arundel County Fire Department make mistakes and Chief of the Fire Department, who was then a male, come back and apologize. I can respect that.
I have yet to see one Anne Arundel County police officer, or police officer representative, apologize to the public for anything that’s ever been done, correct me if I’m wrong. I don’t recall ever seeing it. Ever. And you don’t have to be right or wrong in everything, but at least let there be some acknowledgement that we’ve not been doing the job as well as we could be. We had a police chief that when he left, County Executive Pittman says, “You know what, Rev. Morris,” and you can quote me on this, “I think you were right about him.” Duh. You know what I’m saying? He really did. “I think you were right about him.” You think so??
It’s like we know what we’re talking about or something!
What alarms me, though, is when we know we have these not-so-clean cops on the force, and if they lied and manipulated in the cases that we’ve seen, what have they done to other people that are incarcerated?
I was in a public meeting at Bethel Church in Odenton, and Chief [Timothy] Altomare was sitting up there and he’s saying something to the community. I asked him a question about my daughter. He got cocky and smiled and he was kind of critical, whatever he said was criticism. And my tears just roll, you know? And I remember saying to him, I said to him in public, “You don’t want to take me on about this. You don’t wanna go there… I dare you to go there in public.”
I dared him to go there in public. So Emma, I’ve seen, what, three or four police chiefs? I think we’ve been through seven since Kathy died. Chiefs or interim chiefs, we’ve been through seven of them. And the only one that came out and said, “Well, yes, we made some mistakes and from now on, we’re gonna have a homicide person at the scene,” was [Kevin] Davis. Davis said that outside of Anne Arundel County. When I said to Chief Davis, “Well, can you put that in writing, please?” Never heard back from him. I mean, he verbally had a meeting with us and said that outside of Anne Arundel County, never in Anne Arundel County, have I heard, to my knowledge.
I was laughing before, because I knew how right that statement was. They don’t wanna take you on because they know: (a) that you’re right; and (b) that you’ll send them home crying.
I’m a tough cookie! That’s what I’m telling you! I’m a kick-butt mom. Even when we had the hearing, I had an attorney for the first, we’ll say half a day, for the administrative hearing. The attorney questioned two police officers, and he was so… asininely gentle to them that he was terminated. Not just because of that, because he just didn’t get it. You know, the young man, he hadn’t done his homework with the case. If I’m gonna lose this case, let me lose it ‘cause I screwed up, not because I hired an attorney that screwed up. So I terminated him.
I asked the attorney for the County, “Just let me have them back for 15 minutes. I promise, it’ll just be 15 minutes.” They weren’t doing that. And then I realized I had one police officer [left] to cross-examine. That’s the one that I caused to perjure himself. I would’ve torn their butts up on the stand. But I realized, you know what, let it roll, because if I bring them back on, then I confuse the judge… And I told the [County] attorney, “No, that’s alright. I don’t need to question any of them.” I just stuck with the one that I still had to question. And it was funny, Emma- the attorney, he went to an appointment and wasn’t there during the cross-examination. And by the time he got back, the damage was done.
So, I’m not an attorney, but I can do a pretty good job. I can do a pretty good job of interrogating. Because when you get the facts and you’ve lived them, you know what the truth is. You know when they’re lying. You gotta know the story and back ’em right into a corner, you know?
Yeah. You know when they’re politicking.
What alarms me, though, is when we know we have these not-so-clean cops on the force, and if they lied and manipulated in the cases that we’ve seen, what have they done to other people that are incarcerated?
So this thing runs deep. Police are very intelligent about what they do, and it’s better [to them] just to let Ms. Morris just stay, ‘cause if we go over there and we take any of that on, then we will open up the door to how this has impacted other people. So whatever I’m doing, it’s about not just me, but how this bridges over to other people. If you lied over here, you’ve gotta have bad cases that these guys lied in.
Oh yeah. You don’t lie in one case and then never again.
No! You’ve manipulated reports and suppressed evidence and other people are incarcerated behind that, but nobody takes that on. So yes, as a delegate, that’s one of the things that I could probably explore and try to take on, this police issue. It’s a big deal, it’s a lot of people that are suffering because of it.
That actually leads into my next question. This is moving a little bit away from the police, but you can still talk about the police. I wanted to pick up specifically on what you were saying about the Anne Arundel County government. And that can be the executive or legislative branch, but the question is: do you think that the Anne Arundel County government is doing enough to eradicate systemic racism and white supremacy from governmental structures and from the police?
No, I don’t think they’re doing enough… I think to attack the issue, you have to be a realist about how deep it runs.
One of the things that I think, that runs deep with me, that drives me, is because I’ve been to these places and in these meetings and in these places where, until you knock on the door or try to sit at that table, you don’t know how deep it runs. And in this county, some of our leaders do not have the reality check. You’re not gonna fight that battle until you’ve been impacted and feel that pain… You know, we’d rather float around and go, “Oh well, okay,” because you wanna not believe things. So as soon as somebody implies to you, “Well, you know, that’s not really what happened,” they will gravitate to that. They keep taking the easy road. So no, they’ve not addressed it.
There’s been some good things done, but I’ll tell you, a lot of those good things done have been to placate. That’s what they do. I realized at an out-of-county Juneteenth event that every time I turned around, somebody was trying to give me an award, and see when they do that and you accept those awards and you accept those gratuities and you accept those funds, you have a subconscious obligation to individuals. Well, what came to me one time with Juneteenth was that Martin Luther King would roll over in his grave if I kept quiet. And I made up my mind, right then, I didn’t care about their awards, that I was gonna speak. And I think that’s the true activist. And some of our people have that activist on them that you don’t really care whether they like you or not, we’re gonna speak truth because we gotta address this.
If you take a public relations course, you’ll see that a lot of things that are done are done because they know exactly what they’re doing. I will give you this government benefit, and you’re gonna feel obligated. Some people will look past the obligation, they’re good people. “Well, yeah, you gave them that, but you’re not buying me off.” But there are some that they’ll say, “Well, no, I’m not gonna risk that. That’s my livelihood.” That’s why it’s a conflict of interest to be an employee and do certain things.
Well, it’s the same thing on how it affects our community, “Well, let’s give a hundred of these awards to everybody, that’ll make everybody quiet,” because some people are sweet and humble and they’re really glad to get that award. So they really like you now. These are all the things that you gotta call it for what it is.
So some things are done genuinely, some things are done because they are PR moves. When you’re the shepherd, the shepherd has to watch out for the sheep. And there’s a lot of things that the shepherds and the leaders will recognize in each other that the sheep, and I’m speaking spiritually, they don’t know because they don’t have that reality check. That’s why you have leaders in place that are to guard them: because you see the bull crap coming. You see it coming.
So no, [with] the systemic racism, no, they placate, and that’s evident. Even if I say it, we know it’s the truth because we couldn’t get the stupid PAB [Police Accountability Board]. And who introduces that? Working with the police is our friend CE Pittman. The police and County attorneys wrote that thing. The Annapolis person had very little to say about it during the whole hearing process. It was Anne Arundel County, and the police, the Council and the police, that put together that Board narrative, and the citizens did not make a difference. The citizens just did not make a difference.
And even some of those council people seemed to be just playing for votes. They were playing for votes because if you really believe in getting rid of this issue with racism, you would’ve been voting for it all along. And I’m getting tired of the person that says, “Oh, we voted for the police cameras five years ago.” Seriously? Could they do something more than that?
The other thing is, they look at Apostle [Antonio] Palmer, and he’s a man of influence. So they want him on their side, right? So, let’s see: would you have voted for that change in the amendment [barring people convicted of a crime from serving on the PAB], if Apostle Palmer hadn’t been transparent and said “I was convicted 30 years ago,” you know, whatever, whatever, and now you’re voting, “Oh yeah, we need to let him in now…” what about before he said that? You know what I’m saying? Because now you go, “Oh, wait a minute. I don’t wanna offend him. He’s got a lot of clout.” But, who put that crap in there in the beginning?!
Well, that leads me to another question I had for you, and it goes into this exact bill. Recently, the Anne Arundel County Council voted 6-1 to pass bill 16-22, which establishes a new police accountability board for the County. Installing a civilian review board (CRB) has been a primary goal of C.A.S.T.’s for quite some time. Why don’t you explain what C.A.S.T. is and how it differs from For Kathy’s Sake?
…even though we saw this happen, we’re gonna come back and address it. It’s done locally, but because nothing fruitful is gonna come out of it, we’re still gonna have to go back and address it in legislature. There’s no doubt in my mind about it. This is a hot mess, but they have to see that it’s a hot mess.
Okay: C.A.S.T., Community Actively Seeking Transparency. Every year for six years, we’ve had [the] For Kathy’s Sake Annual Brunch, which is about different areas of advocacy. And for the last five years, I believe, we’ve been focused on what we now know are CRBs, and it kind of moved out of that. For four or five years, we’ve brought together the CRBs from Baltimore [City], Prince George’s County, and… they were the only two that existed! But [we] strived to bring together persons from around the state of Maryland to have the conversation about the need for civilian review boards across the state. And that’s where Community Actively Seeking Transparency emerged from. It is an outreach arm of For Kathy’s Sake. And that’s how it came about.
So even with the police accountability boards, it’s [for the most part] just a different name for civilian review boards; and I have to say, even though it came out of the [Maryland State] Senate, there’s a lot of police crafting on it because it has given them what they want. There was just no way you were gonna strike down the LEOBR, Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, without the police strategically coming up with something to replace it that protected them. That is why when they had the vote, the officers left the hearing room happy. They were in celebratory mode, they were smiling! They were happy because it was replacing LEOBR! They’ve got a piece of LEOBR, they’ve got the best they could come up with.
I guess this is probably redundant at this point, ‘cause you’ve already expressed your feelings about the new police accountability board in Anne Arundel County. We went to the Anne Arundel County Council with a coalition, we went there for four meetings, at least, straight, and every time it was us advocating for a stronger police accountability board, for things that were in line with best practices established by NACOLE, in line with best practices established by the ACLU. We had ACLU representatives there, we had impacted people there, including yourself. And so, to come away with a 6-1 [vote] in favor of passing this bill without anything that would’ve made the police accountable to community, what are your feelings on all that?
Well, I think it’s a hot mess, but I think that justice takes time. And, even though we saw this happen, we’re now forced to let it roll out, we’re gonna come back and address it. It’s done locally, but because nothing fruitful is gonna come out of it, we’re still gonna have to go back and address it in legislature. There’s no doubt in my mind about it. This is a hot mess, but they have to see that it’s a hot mess. I think that we’ll give it maybe a year for them to see that it has not cured anything. And the legislatures have to see that. And I believe that they’re gonna come back with something stronger because we’re still in crisis. So we’ll have to see on that.
I think that this question also might have been answered, but just to put a pin in it, what do you see as the biggest challenges facing the Black community in Anne Arundel County today?
I still think systemic racism and the police accountability issue. Something I think you said earlier, this thing runs so deep. I’ve come to understand across the state of Maryland, and I’ll say “across it” because in different counties, from what I’ve seen, there were decisions that were made years ago that were rooted in systemic racism. We still have yet to tackle that. And perhaps there’s a task force that can be developed somewhere to start really looking at that and chipping away at the inequities or whatever they call it because they exist and we really have to explore it.
We’ve had a lot of “feel good” moments, and there have been some things that have been good, but as far as police accountability? We have zero.
Accountability means you step up and you say, “You know what? We did do this. We’re sorry for it. Let’s sit down together and work together.”
Right now, you have a police chief who will not sit down with impacted persons to have these conversations. They will not sit down with them. You have a police chief that’s doing that with the permission of the County Executive, because he says he made a deal with her. He had some sort of agreement with her when she was hired, that he would not interfere with what she wanted to do. I mean, to have that kind of nonsense going on… I don’t condone Pittman. How do I walk with him as a Democrat, when I don’t agree with the way he’s handling his police department? I think it’s ludicrous, because you have zero accountability. You have zero accountability.
I wanna scream because you really don’t know how this thing looks, unless you’re in this inner circle that we were in. And we get it. We got feel good moments, but feel good moments is not change.
Something bad’s gonna happen. We’re gonna see right where we’re at. We’re still very vulnerable as a people because we’re not addressing the ugly pieces. And every officer, even though we have good officers, but everyone that is a legitimate, dirty officer, those bad officers are still there. Unless they’ve gotten rid of them, they may have gotten rid of a couple, they’re still there on the force…
Why can’t we have this conversation with the police chief? How are we sitting here, March On Maryland and myself, and we can’t sit down- we don’t need a conversation with the chief, but we need to sit down and talk with our police and we can’t even do it. She won’t allow ’em to do it. What the hell is with that?
You’ve sort of touched on it already, but my second to last question is: what’s next for you? What are your plans for the future and future activism?
Well, that’s a good question. We already know, some of us know I’ve stepped into this arena: I’m running for office. I was debating [running now]; I’ve been accepted into the Emerge program for next year, I was gonna wait a couple years, but part of my motivation right now is because I saw the new district being formed, 33A, and I saw the individual that was stepping in to lead that district… And I could not, in good faith and good conscience, not step into the arena now. Because I believe that my voice will be more beneficial to the people. I do not believe that my colleague that would be running for that, really has his pulse on the things that affect Black, Brown, and women. I just don’t believe that he’s been there.
I wanna step into this race based on my 25-30 years of serving community and leading as a leader, letting my track record in that capacity stand for me, as opposed to the record because I’ve been in office for a few years. It’s not what he’s done, it’s what is he gonna do? And I believe that I’m the voice.
I have to maintain that there’s hope, because that’s about faith. I just know that things take time. People so often, when they don’t see it right away, or they try it one time and it doesn’t work [they give up]… But the thing is: longevity and determination will get you further than a quick answer.
So that’s my next thing, is to let Kathy be the wind beneath my wings, this is the 10th anniversary of her passing, to try to be the voice for Anne Arundel County District 33A. I hope I’m correct in what I say to people, even if I’m elected in that district, I join with voices that represent the state. I’ve already done many things, I think, that have affected the state and impacted people around the world. I think that I’m spoken of in foreign countries in a positive way…
I really want people to look at my record. Someone said, “Well, your website’s a little complicated.” No it’s not. You can go to my website and if you compare it to the others, [they] just scan through and it says a lot of fancy words. I don’t think people can make a decision about me with a few fancy words. I think they wanna really dig deep. Then you’ll go to my website, where it says a personal and close up look at me, at what I’ve done through the years, that can help them decide… I don’t have all the answers, but I certainly can champion to try to find the answers, you know?
I try to ask this question of everybody because… I think things are just so rotten, and I think that, especially as activists, it’s our job to tell people, “Hey, this is rotten, and we need to do something about it.” So, especially when speaking to other activists, I want to ground us [by] asking: what is one thing that gives you hope for the future?
Hope for the future… I think that there’s a lot of bad people. There’s good people, and those good people connecting with those good people gives me hope and we have to have hope. And you know, I was talking to a lady in the grocery store last night and she said, “Oh, it doesn’t matter. It’s hopeless. I don’t think anything’s gonna change.” But it’s not hopeless. We do have good leaders out here. We do have good people.
So, in reference to hope for the future, I have to maintain that there’s hope, because that’s about faith. I just know that things take time. People so often, when they don’t see it right away, or they try it one time and it doesn’t work [they give up]… But the thing is: longevity and determination will get you further than a quick answer. Seriously.
I’m concerned about what happened in the PAB thing, but I’m not devastated because we have to keep up the press. Lots of people testified across the state with the coalition we formed, 70, 80 organizations strong, and a lot of them are discouraged.
No, we’re not discouraged. We keep up the fight, we keep up the press. Hope burns eternal. It is not over.
I have to say that in reference to this being the 10th anniversary of Kathy’s passing, there’s nothing being done right now. It’s an unsolved case. You don’t see one thing brewing, but I’m not looking for them to do something. I’m looking for all these pieces to fall into place.
I believe that God lays a foundation, even we don’t know why He’s laying it, and that all of this will come together. We have to maintain hope. We have to maintain hope and justice takes time. And if I could instill that in people that come in, and they want help with their case and they don’t see it happen- use that to champion it into something where you’re helping other people. And I believe that when you come out of yourself to help somebody else, God will step in and help you. Yep. That’s what I believe.
Well, just past the one hour mark, I think that that’s about a wrap, so thank you!
That’s a wrap!
If you or someone you know has been impacted by police brutality in Maryland, please feel free to reach out to C.A.S.T.: firstname.lastname@example.org.