The 111th NAACP National Convention was supposed to be held in Boston this summer, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the organization to shift to a virtual convention.
Tanisha Sullivan, president of the NAACP's Boston branch, said Wednesday that the fact that Boston was chosen initially as the host city was not because the city is doing an exceptional job combatting systemic racism — though the convention would have highlighted the progress the city has made.
"[Being chosen is] not an award for doing good things, it’s important for folks to know that," Sullivan said in an interview on Boston Public Radio. "I do think it's important to note there’s been progress in our city over the past three decades or so, as it relates to race relations in the city. ... What we are seeing in our streets today — this is one of the things the convention would have highlighted — is a serious uprising that is trying to shine a light on some of the structural racial inequities that still persist."
Sullivan said that while there are now a greater number of people in spheres of influence talking about dismantling systemic racism in Boston, pushback against efforts to reform policing are "deeply troubling."
"It's troubling because it is confirming what I feared: that all of the outrage, all of the statements of support, that they were just simply words," she said. "If we cannot get on the books laws that are meant to protect the humanity of all people, and laws that recognize that Black people even here in the commonwealth are subjected to systemic and structural racism, and put laws on the books meant to combat that, then I don't know what we’re doing."
The House and Senate have each passed their own police reform bills, which differ in how they tackle things like qualified immunity, the policy that shields public officials, including police officers, from personal liability. The two legislative bodies have yet to reconcile their bills into one, and the legislative session is set to end July 31.
"If we can’t get this done … then how are we ever going to get laws on the books that say that human life matters and that human life inclues Black people, includes brown people, poor people," Sullivan said. "This is really a defining moment. Policing reform was really just the beginning. It's where we enter the conversation."
Information about the NAACP National Convention is available here.