Elected Officials Respond to Protests, Demand Racial Justice and Reform

As the nation responds to the death of George Floyd with protests and requests for police reform, elected officials at all levels of Massachusetts government have spoken out in response to what has happened in Boston, and many legislators have also called for justice and reform to address police violence.

George Floyd was a 46 year old Black man who died after his neck was knelt on by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for nearly nine minutes, and his death, along with those of others like Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and many other Black Americans, have sparked protests nationwide against police brutality and other racist acts.

On Sunday, a peaceful protest took a turn after dark when incidents of people throwing bricks and water bottles at police officers were reported, as well as accounts of officers using mace and tear gas on protestors. Storefronts were shattered in Downtown Crossing and throughout the Back Bay. The MBTA shut down downtown stations as well. A rally held in Franklin Park on Tuesday night was peaceful and went largely without incident. 

Mayor Walsh said at a press conference on June 1 that the “majority of people were passionate and peaceful,” and that “racism and injustice are wrong and must end.”

He applauded those who protested peacefully, but said that “what happened in downtown Boston was an attack on Boston and its values.”

He said that “untold economic damage was done to stores,” as well as monuments to abolitionists and Civil War veterans, including the Robert Gould Shaw memorial, which honors African-American soldiers.

“This was the very last thing that our city, quite honestly, needed,” Walsh said. “We have to understand that the Black community is in real pain. We will continue to stand with them and we will continue to push for that change.”

Walsh said he remains committed to keeping the residents of Boston safe, as well as create more spaces for peaceful outlets. He said that “we don’t want a police state here,” and called for “a balanced approach” instead. “We believe in free speech and people’s right to protest, to march,” he said.

“People are tired; people are fed up,” Walsh said. “The actions of some [Sunday night] hurt that cause and hurt a community that is hurting more than anyone should ever have to bear.”

Boston Police Commissioner William Gross said that he is also proud of the peaceful protestors.

“We know what’s going on in our nation,” Gross said. He said that “we know that decades and decades of people dying at the hands of the executive branch of the US” is something that has been happening for many years and has not stopped. “Voices have to be heard and Black lives do matter,” he said.

“Unfortunately, individuals showed up not with a peaceful intent on mind but with being disruptive,” Gross said. “That’s not paying homage.”

He said that a total of 53 people were arrested after Sunday night’s incident, and one summons was served. Of those arrested, 27 were from Boston, 24 were from elsewhere in Massachusetts, and the last two as well as the summons were from other states.

“I’m telling you folks, the negative actions will not deter us from remaining together as a community,” he said. “This should strengthen our resolve to work together, no matter what.”

Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins said at Walsh’s press conference on Monday that she and others are “fed up and exhausted” by the injustices towards Black people seen throughout the country,

“People are disgusted and outraged and they should be,” she said. “It is completely ironic to have to say to you, please don’t be violent, please keep your voice down, please be silent and comply with all of the police’s requirements when in fact it’s those very people that murder us with impunity.” 

“I feel as if my heart does certainly go out to the officers and civilians who were hurt last night,” she said. “Those police officers showed up to do their job..we don’t know what their opinions are. We would never wish them harm.”

She said that her office will be prosecuting those whose actions did not honor George Floyd’s memory, calling the behavior “unacceptable. You will be prosecuted and held accountable,” she said. 

However, Rollins did say that “buildings can be fixed,” but “lives were stolen and people lynched and murdered and they will never come back.”

Governor Charlie Baker spoke out on Monday about the demonstrations as well, saying that “the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police was a terrible tragedy.” He thanked those who “marched and exercised their right to free speech.”

He said that the state has been speaking with elected officials, public safety experts, and others to “find ways to enhance transparency in the law enforcement and criminal justice systems.”

On June 2, Massachusetts elected officials from the federal, state, county, and municipal governments came together for a press conference voicing their support for those speaking out against violence towards Black Americans. The conference began with an eight minute and 46 second silence to mark how long George Floyd remained under former officer Derek Chauvin’s knee. The elected officials also presented a “a multi-point plan with demands for police accountability and policies to advance racial justice at multiple levels of government,” according to the state legislature.

“The pain of Black and Brown folks has been delegitimized since the beginning of time,” said Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. “What you see happening throughout this nation is unrest and it will persist as long as there is unrest. The only thing we seek to destroy and to actively dismantle is systemic racism, structural racism, systemic oppression that did not just happen, it was codified in law…We cannot allow these fatal injustices to go unchecked any longer.”

Pressley made it clear that she believes Congress “needs to send a clear message and act.”

She said that the last time a resolution on police brutality was in the House was in 1999. “That resolution never made it to the floor,” she said. “I can’t even begin to approximate the number of Black lives we’ve been robbed of in that time.” Pressley’s resolution to “condemn police brutality, racial profiling and the excessive use of force” is part of the ten-point plan.

At the state level, Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz spoke out as the only member of the Black and Latino Caucus in the Senate.

“I’m grateful for the outpouring of grief and righteous anger, and the unwavering demand for justice, from so many protesters,” she said in a statement. “I’m also grateful to the legislative colleagues who’ve reached out in recent days, asking what they can do to help. Today, we’re offering up a roadmap for that support. If you’ve tweeted #Blacklivesmatter or offered up thoughts and prayers, today we ask you to stand with us and actively fight for these proposals to protect men and women of color–many of which we’ve tried to move for years. Let’s not wait any longer to get them to floor votes.”

At the City level, Councilor Ricardo Arroyo shared an emotional story of a past encounter with police, where a gun was pointed at him after he was pulled over on his way home from Providence.

“Racism is violent by definition. It affects every single determinant of health and is the leading driver of inequity,” Arroyo said in a statement. “Systemic racism is a tangible thing not an abstract concept, and unless well intentioned colleagues join us in dismantling the racism entangled in the systems of which we are a part, they are part of the problem. True solidarity requires them to leverage their power with us to enact real policy change.”

Council President Kim Janey said that “this is a critical time in our nation’s history…how we respond in Boston matters.”

She thanked the peaceful protestors as well, adding that “I fully condemn violence in all its forms; violence against protestors and violence against police officers. This is a time for healing…”

She said that the “fight involves more than just putting an end to police brutality,” but it also includes legislation that addresses discriminatory housing, health discrepancies, eliminating the opportunity and achievement gap in schools, and “a plan to close the enormous wealth gap in Boston where the median net worth for Black families is $8.”

She said that these systemic issues are a “product of a system of white supremacy.” 

She added, “we as electeds of color say no more. Dismantling it will take work, it will take political will, and it will take everyone who benefits from that system. We can’t have peace, we can’t have healing without justice.
District Attorney Rachael Rollins spoke at the press conference from the county perspective, and said that “we aren’t here because of the good and honorable and culturally competent and de-escalating able officers.”

She said that “the officer who murdered George Floyd had 19 infractions on his record,” and said that there has been an “epic failure of prosecutors across the country of not standing up and holding people accountable.”

Out of the most horrific situations, we see the most amazing changes and improvements,” she continued. “It is very dark right now. I am ever optimistic that we are going to get through this and be even better.”

Others who spoke at the press conference included Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins, Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera, State Rep. and Chair of the Black and Latino Caucus Carlos Gonzales, and Rep. Russell Holmes.

Sidebar For The Story

Ten-Point Plan to Address Police Violence and Advance Racial Justice

Federal

1. Pass Congresswoman Pressley’s Resolution to condemn police brutality, racial profiling and the excessive use of force.

2. Improve oversight and independent investigations to hold individual law enforcement officers and police departments accountable.

3. Department of Justice must reassert its statutory authority to investigate individual instances of racial profiling, police brutality and violence and investigate and litigate individual law enforcement officers and police departments routinely violating civil rights.

4. Adopt sound and unbiased law enforcement policies at all levels of government that reduce the disparate impact of police brutality, racial profiling and use of force on Black and Brown people and other historically marginalized communities.

State

5. Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST): Resolve to provide for a “Special Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training” to study and make recommendations concerning the implementation of a Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) system, H2146 Reps Holmes and Vieira; Reported favorably now with Rules Committee; Establishes a statewide POST system to certify police officers and enable de-certification for misconduct and abuse.

6. Civil Service Exam Review and Oversight: An Act to Reform Civil Service Exams, H2292 Rep Holmes; Currently sent to study, but could be added to Outside Section of the Budget; Establishes an Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity to establish guidelines and review for diversity plans for all state agencies, Establishes a peace officer exam advisory board to review examinations for appointment and promotion of peace officers.

7. Commission on Structural Racism: An Act establishing a special commission on structural racism, H1440, Holmes; Currently sent to study, but could be added to Outside Section of the Budget; Establishes a commission to study how the systemic presence of institutional racism has created a culture of structural racial inequality which has exacerbated disproportionate minority contact with the criminal justice system in Massachusetts.

8. Adopt clear statutory limits on police use of force, including choke-holds and other tactics known to have deadly consequences. Require independent investigation of officer-related deaths. Require data collection and reporting on race, regarding all arrests and police use of force by every department. In drafting; to be filed by Rep. Liz Miranda soon.

Municipal

9. Declaring Racism is a Public Health Crisis and worthy of treatment, assessment and financial investment in order to eradicate negative health impacts.

10. Create a Civil Review Board/Commission with subpoena power to investigate allegations of law enforcement wrongdoing.

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