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Community Activist Criticizes BPD

Community Activist Speaks Out On BPD Amid Commissioner Transition

William Gross
In this Jan. 20, 2015 file photo, Boston Police Superintendent-in-Chief William Gross walks through a door of a hospital in Boston. Gross will succeed Police Commissioner William Evans, who announced his retirement from the force on Monday, July 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File
Steven Senne/AP
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Community Activist Criticizes BPD

Boston Police superintendent William Gross is set to take over the department's top job of commissioner next month. He's succeeding Bill Evans, who's retiring to take a job as head of public safety at Boston College. Gross will be the Boston Police Department's first black commissioner. And some say his number one job will be improving relations between police and minorities in the city. Community activist Monica Cannon-Grant of Roxbury is the founder of anti-violence nonprofit Violence in Boston. She spoke with WGBH News' Aaron Schachter. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

Aaron Schachter: I wonder how police are viewed in the neighborhood where you live, Roxbury.

Monica Cannon-Grant: Not in a good light. And that's the organization. I want to be specific about that, because oftentimes when you say not in a good light, people are like 'well, there are some good officers.' Which is true. On an individual basis, Chief Gross has always had a good relationship with the people in the community, but the police department as a whole has not. And so that relationship is not going to change overnight just because we have a person of color in that seat. It's awesome, it's historic and it's great. But that's not going to change the entire relationship and the racial biases that people in communities of color experience.

Schachter: Did you see Bill Evans as a friend or foe?

Cannon-Grant: Foe.

Schachter: Really?

Cannon-Grant: Definitely.

Schachter: Why was that?

Cannon-Grant: Because every time he got in the media and decided to speak about communities of color around gun violence, or violence overall, it was never in a positive light. And I feel like a lot of times when he did discuss our community, it was almost like he was giving the perception to everyone else that there was no cooperation on the end of the community. And it was almost like he was putting the responsibility in the community's lap to solve the crime, and the frustration is, you haven't even built a relationship with the community. So then how do you blame us, on top of the fact that some of your offices get $300,000 to $400,000 a year? So you're asking the community to do your job for free.

Schachter: William Gross, as you say, has been out and about in the community. That must at least kick things off on a better foot, no?

Cannon-Grant: I mean, it gives people hope, which I think is a great thing. It gives a lot of people hope. It has them feeling like we finally have someone in that seat that looks like us, which I think for a lot of our young people coming up and seeing that, it's a great example. Do I believe that that is going to be the thing that makes everything okay when it comes to how the police interact with communities of color? No. He has work to do. He has relationships to repair, and it's going to take a lot of work. But also realizing that prior to his arrival, the way that the police have depicted our communities has not been positive. And so there's a lot of hurt and trauma behind that.

Schachter: I imagine at some point the new commissioner, William Gross, will call you in and say 'what can I do'?

Cannon-Grant: Absolutely.

Schachter: And what are you going to tell him?

Cannon-Grant: So first you need to get community members and put together a community accountability board. I think the fact that the community hasn't had involvement in a lot of the things that happen in our community has been part of the problem. When you want to talk about the violence, it can't just be the police, and us expecting them to do everything. That's never been my mindset. But there has to be some type of relationship, conversation, and partnership if we expect to wrap around what's happening in this community. And I think it starts with you reaching out to the people that want to help and saying 'hey, we want you to be involved, what are your ideas?' Let's sit down and come up with a plan that is effective so that we can try to minimize what's happening in our community. But again, Chief Gross on a personal level has never been the issue, so I don't expect to not have a great conversation with him.

Schachter: From what you've seen - and I know you don't work for the police, obviously - but does he command the respect of other officers? You've seen him work.

Cannon-Grant: So I definitely believe he commands the respect of other officers. The question is, does he get it? And that's the part that I see as kind of shaky. I think he's going to have an uphill battle internally with officers who are reluctant to answer to a man of color. Because it's a culture within this police department, and a brotherhood - a longstanding culture of racism in the city of Boston, and a lot of that is within the police department. And I think that he's going to have an uphill battle.

Schachter: That's Monica Cannon-Grant, of Roxbury. She's the founder of the anti-violence nonprofit Violence in Boston, and she was discussing the appointment of William Gross as the next commissioner of the Boston Police. Monica, thank you so much.

Cannon-Grant: Thank you.

Schachter: WGBH News did reach out to the Boston Police Department for comment. The department was unable to provide a statement in time for air. This is All Things Considered.

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