Letter to the Editor

Now is the Time to Act on Police Accountability

The Ward 4 Democratic Committee sent the following letter to Senators Will Brownsberger and Sonia Chang-Diaz, who serve on the conference committee working on a final bill.

Dear Editor,

This summer began with a wave of protests in response to the tragic killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police officers. Since then, new tragedies have emerged across the country, most recently the police assault on Jacob Blake. Each reveals the legacy of systemic racism in this country.

Many politicians are willing to say that they believe that Black Lives Matter. Massachusetts needs to turn words into policies to address the systemic racism in our own backyard

The members of the Boston Ward 4 Democratic Committee are grateful for the work that you did earlier this summer in crafting the Senate’s police accountability bill, named the Reform + Shift + Build Act (S.2820), and have been grateful to see that both of you are now serving on the Conference Committee tasked with developing a consensus bill.

We urge you to stand by the key components of the Senate bill:

Reforming Qualified Immunity: The doctrine of qualified immunity grants impunity to public officials (especially law enforcement) who violate someone’s constitutional rights unless there is an identical situation in case law in which a public official was held accountable, a standard that prevents victims of police violence from getting their day in court and provides carte blanche to police officers to violate people’s basic rights. Without strong reforms to qualified immunity like the Senate bill provides, we will have only taken baby steps forward.

Reforming Massachusetts Civil Rights Act: The Senate bill further removes language that courts have interpreted to require that victims show that police violated their rights using “threats, intimidation or coercion.” Courts have interpreted this to mean that only those who threaten such actions can be held accountable, but those who commit them—assaulting victims by actions like shooting, tasing, or punching—cannot. This is a perversion of justice, and the Senate remedy is vital.

Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline: The 2018 criminal justice reform bill, in which both of you played a pivotal role, took significant steps toward dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. The Senate bill continues this work by prohibiting schools from transmitting personal information about students or their family members to law enforcement and allowing superintendents to determine if police should be assigned to local schools. Schools need to be safe and welcoming places, not sites of fear and over-policing.

Reinvesting in Communities: The Reform + Shift + Build Act recognizes that a core component of addressing systemic racism is reinvesting in communities. The Justice Workforce Reinvestment Fund would invest money equivalent to that saved by reduced incarceration into creating economic opportunities for impacted communities.

Although the Senate bill was, overall, much stronger that the House bill, we urge you to include two key parts of the House bill:

Restricting government use of facial surveillance: The House bill creates permanent, as opposed to temporary, regulations on the use of facial surveillance technologies. Studies have shown that facial surveillance technologies are highly inaccurate and reflect the racial prejudices of their creators (and society at large). Boston has already taken action on this front—and Massachusetts should too.

Providing reasonable safeguards on the use of no-knock warrants: The House bill requires that police officers certify that there are no known children or elders in a location before they can secure a no-knock warrant. No-knock warrants are holdovers from the era of drug wars and they have often proven deadly.

As the Boston Globe editorial board eloquently noted in a recent article, “This moment must not be lost. It’s time to enact real policing reform in Massachusetts, and at least get our own house in order.”

Thank you for your advocacy, and we urge you to continue fighting for a strong and comprehensive final bill.

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