Black Leaders Across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Police Reform Letter

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September 2020

Policing Reform Bill — H.4886/S.2820 

Dear Representative Cronin, Representative González, Representative Whelan, Senator Brownsberger, Senator Chang-Díaz, Senator Tarr:

We the undersigned, who represent a variety of organizations and communities throughout the Commonwealth, write to express our growing concern about the level of influence police unions have had on shaping the police reform legislation that you are currently considering. Without a resolute commitment to meaningful change, Black communities will continue to experience aggressive, violent, and sometimes deadly policing. The legislature must meet this political moment with courage and take bold steps to increase accountability for police, address the concerns of our overpoliced communities, protect young people, and ensure there is greater transparency in policing. 

As the nation grapples with this generation’s civil rights moment, all eyes are on Massachusetts. Advocacy organizations and lawmakers alike are looking to Massachusetts to see how we respond to this historic moment. Will we address the concerns raised by the voices of those who disproportionately experience policing in harmful ways, or will we yield to the demands of those who want to maintain the status quo? Whatever we do, others states will follow.  As a state that leads across many sectors, we cannot let our past failings in the criminal legal system, (racial profiling disparities, disproportionate rates of incarceration, ) continue to define who we are.

We appreciate the amount of time, energy and thoughtfulness that has gone into drafting, debating, and reconciling both the House and Senate bills. However, if what the conference committee reports out does not meet our desired outcomes, those efforts will have been in vain, and our communities will continue to suffer. Various Black leaders have reached out to you in an effort to make known what is needed in this political moment. You have received letters from the New England Area Conference of the NAACP and the ACLU of Massachusetts on July 28th, Black and Latinx City Council Presidents on July 30th, AME Pastors from Massachusetts on August 2nd. In addition to these letters the Boston Branch of the NAACP convened a community forum of the immediate aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor developed a list of community demands. In order for us to consider this bill a success we must see the following reforms:

1.     Strong POST system: In order for Massachusetts to have one of the strongest POST systems in the country it must not be constrained by the “preponderance of the evidence” standard to initiate investigations. Additionally, in order to address the longstanding racial disparities in policing a majority of the commission members made up of civilians who are either people of color who are members of demographics groups with higher rates of police interactions in relation to their population in the Commonwealth, work for racial justice organizations, or both;

2.     Limits on Police Use of Force: There is evidence that no-knock warrants are disproportionately executed against Black and Latinx people.  No-knock warrants must be limited to instances where officers can provide information about a specific and credible threat to officers’ safety, and certify that there are no children or elders in the home.

3. Civil Service Exam Commission: The lack of diversity within police departments is a significant factor in the way policing happens in Black communities. Evaluating the current Civil Service Commission structure for entrance and promotional exams will provide important insight to help  increase opportunities for municipalities to have police departments that more accurately reflect the diverse demographics of the community.  

4.     Limits on Qualified Immunity: Victims of police violence and egregious misconduct must be allowed to have their day in court. You must put  reasonable limits on the legal doctrine of qualified immunity. The language in Section 10 of the Senate bill reasonably limits the reach of this doctrine that has denied justice for far too many, while protecting unjust police conduct. The language from the House bill will not go far enough to prevent future harm.

5.     Ban Racial Profiling and Require Data Collection for All Stops: In one of the last opinions authored by our beloved and recently deceased Chief Justice Ralph Gants he declared that “the prohibition against racial profiling must be given teeth and that judges should suppress evidence where a motor vehicle stop is motivated, even in part, by the race of the driver or passenger.”[1] Massachusetts has ample evidence of ongoing racial disparities in stops of vehicles and pedestrians, but little has been done to remedy this ineffective and racially biased police practice. To honor the legacy of Chief Justice Gants we implore you to ban racial profiling and to give the ban teeth by requiring the collection of data for all stops, frisk and searches with, analysis, reporting, and accountability if the data demonstrates profiling. 

6.     Expungement: To ameliorate the badges and incidents of the criminal legal system that is disproportionately borne by the Black community, you must expand expungement opportunities. Sections 59-61 of the Senate bill clarifies that individuals petitioning for expungement may do so for more than one record and creates a limited, rather than indefinite, lookback period for expungement eligibility. 

In addition to the above must have reforms, there are several other reforms that we encourage you to include to truly make Massachusetts a leader. 

1.     Commission on Structural Racism: Unfortunately, our declarations of injustice and critiques of structural racism often fall on unsympathetic ears in the absence of empirical data. Despite the numerous reports that look at racial disparities, there has not been a commission that will take a comprehensive look at the policies and practices that lead to racially disparate outcomes. In order to zero in on the policies and practices that lead these disparate outcomes we trust that you will include in the final version of the bill a commission on structural racism.  

2.     Justice Reinvestment Workforce Development Fund: In the midst of public demands to defund the police and invest in community-based programing and services, Justice Reinvestment” is the proposal that directly makes investment in communities that bear the brunt of injustices related to poverty, criminalization, and over-policing. Create this fund to provide opportunities for job training, job creation and job placement to provide resources that our communities so desperately need.

3.     Youth Privacy Protections: Protect our children by prohibiting schools from transmitting to law enforcement personal information about students or their family members. 

4.     Local Control Over School Resource Officers: We know that police presence in schools disproportionately impacts Black children, short of requiring the removal of police from schools, you should at least allow the school district superintendents to determine whether or not police should be assigned to local schools. 

5.     Face Surveillance Ban: This unreliable and racially biased technology has no place in law enforcement, especially in the absence of any civil liberties and privacy protections governing its use. Several municipalities have already banned governmental use of the technology and we encourage you to do the same for the rest of the Commonwealth.

We have watched as police unions and law enforcement organizations have taken out full page ads, made public claims of exceptionalism in policing, and bombarded legislators with calls and emails suggesting that the reforms we seek will somehow prevent law enforcement from performing their duties. To the extent legislators have considered the perspective of law enforcement officials, we ask that you consider the lived and professional experience of the undersigned leaders and organizations who represent Black people and communities who have for too long endured police violence and discrimination. As you finalize your conference report we expect it to include our aforementioned measures of success to move Massachusetts closer to becoming that exceptional Commonwealth where justice no longer eludes our communities. 

Seeking Justice, 

(Signees as of 9/24/20)

Andrea Nyamekye                 

Beverly Williams, Criminal Justice Advocate, Bethel AME Church - Boston

Bishop Talbert Swan, Pastor Spring of Hope Church of God In Christ - Springfield

Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition

Black Economic Council of Massachusetts

Black Economic Justice Institute

Black Ministerial Alliance

Brandon Tillingham, NILE - Nubians in Letters Envisioning      

Brothers Building        

Celia Blue, Black Families Together of Worcester

         Massachusetts Women of Color Coalition                 

Charlotte Golar Richie          

Cheryl Clyburn Crawford  

Dalida Rocha      

Daniel Laurent Co-Founder, Kings Table

Darrin Howell, President, DRIVE Boston Community Resources, Inc.

Dunk The Vote 2020

Encuentro Diaspora Afro      

Eric Esteves        

Horace Small, Union of Minority Neighborhoods     

Imari Paris Jefferies, King Boston

Jamarhl Crawford, Mass Police Reform

James”Jimmy” Hills, Host #JavaWithJimmy  

Keturah Brewster, I Have a Future Boston

Khrystian King, Worcester City Councilor At-Large

Latoya Gayle

Leon Smith Executive Director, Citizens for Juvenile Justice

Louis Elisa, Garrison Trotter Neighborhood Association Inc.

Michael A. Curry, National NAACP Board member

NAACP, New England Area Conference, representing the following branches:

NAACP, Amherst Branch

NAACP, Berkshire County Branch

NAACP, Boston Branch

NAACP, Brockton Branch

NAACP, Cambridge Branch

NAACP, Cape Cod Branch

NAACP, Martha’s Vineyard Branch

NAACP, Merrimack Valley Branch

NAACP, Mystic Valley Area Branch

NAACP, New Bedford Branch

NAACP, North Shore

NAACP, South Middlesex Branch

NAACP, Springfield Branch

NAACP, Worcester Branch

Noemi Ramos     

Orlando Watkins

Paul Francisco 

Prophetic Resistance   

Rahn Dorsey

Rahsaan Hall Director, Racial Justice Program ACLU of Massachusetts

Rev. Barbara Simmons Pastor, Bethel AME Church – Plymouth 

Rev. Bernadette Hickman-Maynard Pastor, Bethel AME Church - Lynn         

Rev. Brandon Crowley Pastor, Myrtle Baptist Church – Newton 

Rev. Jocelyn Hart Lovelace Presiding Elder, Boston-Hartford District of the AME Church     

Rev. June Cooper, City Mission    

Rev. Keith Magee Pastor, Berachah Church

Rev. Mariama White-Hammond Pastor, New Roots AME Church - Boston, MA

Rev. Ray Hammond Pastor, Bethel AME Church - Boston, MA

Rev. Willie Bodrick II J.D., M.Div. Senior Pastor-Elect, Historic Twelfth Baptist Church        

Sheena Collier     

Sheriff Steve Tompkins       

Stesha Emmanuel, President Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association       

Stuck on Replay

Tanisha M. Sullivan

Ten Point Coalition

Teen Empowerment    

Tito Jackson

Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts 

 

[1] Commonwealth v. Edward Long SJC-12868 (Gants, J., Concurring pg. 3)