The ACLU of Massachusetts launched an initiative Wednesday to highlight cases of police misconduct and underscore their agenda for new policies on use of force by police, an effort they are calling #PoliceViolenceHappensHere.
On Wednesday, the goup’s Racial Justice Program Director, Rahsaan Hall, held a press conference in front of Brockton City Hall to announce the initiative and to “push back on the narrative that Massachusetts is somehow exceptional in its policing.”
“We're no different than any other place.” Hall said. “Just because we haven't had a nationally televised incident of a police officer killing someone, doesn't mean that it hasn't happened here.”
Part of the ACLU’s initiative is a new interactive map that marks at least 115 cases of alleged police violence or misconduct that have taken place in 34 Massachusetts communities over the last 10 years. The incidents range from fatal shootings to officers charged with drunk driving or domestic violence.
Hall gave examples, mentioning the names of several men who were killed by police in Massachusetts.
“I can lift up the name of Malcolm Gracia in New Bedford, or Burrell Ramsey-White in Boston, or Eurie Stamps in Framingham, or any number of people," said Hall. "You've heard the reports out of Worcester where there's two lawsuits that have recently been filed against police; or Springfield, where the Department of Justice recently issued a scathing report about how policing has been happening there.”
Hall said a prime concern of the Massachusetts ACLU is to ensure that meaningful police reform is passed by the state legislature which is considering a wide-ranging bill that has been hamstrung by contentious negotiations between the House and Senate since the end of July.
Among the changes being considered in the bill are limits on qualified immunity, which protects police officers from civil lawsuits. The legisaltion would also establish a Police Officer Standards and Training, or POST, commission, which would set standards for licensing police and make sure that fired or disciplined officers aren’t hired elsewhere when they leave a department. Massachusetts is one of only four states in the U.S. that doesn’t have a POST-type of system.
“We're concerned that some of the most important pieces of this legislation will not get enacted because of pressure from law enforcement,” Hall said. “If it does not include reforms to qualified immunity, if it does not include the proper composition of a POST commission, if it does not include a ban on face surveillance technology, or limits on use of force, bans on no-knock warrants, then it's hard to call it a victory.”
The Masschusetts ACLU said it had volunteers standing out with signs saying #PoliceViolenceHappensHere on Wednesday at city halls in Boston, Cambridge, Lynn, Quincy, Springfield, and Brockton, as well as at the Framingham Memorial — all cities that the group says have a history of police misconduct.
Police unions in the state have vigorously opposed eliminating qualified immuninty and have raised concerns about other provisions. Eddy Chrispin, a Boston police sergeant and president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers,told Boston Public Radio in July that legislators must be cautious about changes to police rules. “We can’t create an environment where the police are the enemy,” he said.
Hall said the issue is personal to him. “It affects me personally as a black man in America," Hall said. "I've been racially profiled. I've been stopped before; I've been harassed by police as a younger man. I think the fact that I am an attorney and a former prosecutor gives me a little bit of insight into how police operate and how they work. I have some relationships, but that doesn't necessarily protect me."