Boston is joining two other cities in launching a “Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission” to hear from individuals who feel they were victims of police or prosecutorial misconduct and address racial inequities in the justice system.
“Each Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission will develop processes and plans to allow persons who have experienced current and former instances of harm at the hands of law enforcement to raise concerns, share experiences and achieve justice in a process that will be built with marginalized and oppressed groups at the center,” Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins said in a statement Wednesday announcing the new commission. “We will begin to pursue justice while giving District Attorneys an opportunity to demonstrate that we care about the wrongs of the past, and we want to prevent them in the future.”
The first three commissions, launched with the district attorneys of Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco and The Grassroots Law Project, will serve as initial pilot projects for the model, which is inspired by post-apartheid work in South Africa.
“For too long, people in these communities have lacked recourse from police violence and prosecutor overreach,” the DA’s and Project said in a statement on Wednesday. “People with power have, as a result, abused it without consequence. Now, people are taking to the street to demand massive, structural change. They are insisting that those who have been marginalized for generations redefine what public safety means and have a voice in how our legal system addresses harms.
“Their message is resonating, and those with power are listening, recognizing that we must give voice to those who have been subject to racist and deeply harmful practices for years,” the statement read.
Rollins told WBUR the Boston commission will be formed with community input and will tackle both past misconduct and how the legal system could be changed to “reimagine what the interaction between law enforcement and certain communities can be.”
“We are going to do the hard work to document. To atone,” Rollins told the station. “And I believe that we’re going to move forward and be able to solve more homicides or get more involvement from communities because they’ll finally feel they’ve been respected and acknowledged.”
Stuart, who was white, in 1989 falsely alleged his pregnant wife was fatally shot by a Black man. Police aggressively searched and targeted the city’s Black communities searching for a suspect as a result, but authorities later learned Stuart had lied and killed his wife to collect life insurance. Stuart took his own life before he could be arrested.
“Charles Stuart knew his audience and made a fake claim against a fictitious Black person,” Rollins told WBUR. “Hell was reigned down upon the Mission Hill community and they were never apologized to. This commission is an opportunity to atone.”
“This critical project is at its early stages, and the District Attorneys will begin dialogue with their communities – including persons impacted by police violence – and develop policies and structures to help communities heal from the generational trauma resulting from police violence and racial injustice,” the DA’s participating in the commission project said in their statement with the Grassroots Law Project. “Each commission will be responsive to the individualized needs of the community.”
Additional cities are expected to be launched later in the year.