What comes after the protests? Massachusetts lawmakers of color have 10 proposed police reforms.

"If hurt and harm have been codified in lawmaking, then healing and justice should be codified in lawmaking."

Boston06/02/2020-Elected officials of color in Massachusetts government marched from the African Meetiing House on Joy Street to the nearby Mass. State House to hold a press conference to voice support for those protesting against police brutality against Black Americans. The group stands on the State House steps and includes Rep. Russell Holmes(left), DA Rachael Rollins (c) and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. Photo by John Tlumacki/Globe Staff(metro)
Elected officials of color in Massachusetts marched from the African Meeting House on Joy Street to the nearby State House to hold a press conference Tuesday. –John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe

Images of unrest and outrage — both in Boston and across the country — have grabbed headlines and TV attention, as demonstrators take to the streets to protest institutional racism and police violence against Black people in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis.

Some have characterized the dramatic scenes as a “tipping point” for the United States.

But then what happens next?

Ahead of another massive protest Tuesday in Boston, nearly 30 members of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus and other local elected officials of color gathered at the State House to release a 10-point list of “meaningful policy changes” to address the way institutional racism has manifested in policing.

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“If hurt and harm have been codified in lawmaking, then healing and justice should be codified in lawmaking,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley, the state’s first Black congresswoman, said during the rally.

The list of reforms would touch every level of government: federal, state, county, and municipal. And according to state. Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, they offer a “roadmap” for everyone who has “tweeted #blacklivesmatter” or recently expressed support for the movement against police brutality to continue the fight.

“We ask you to stand with us and actively fight for these proposals to protect men and women of color — many of which we’ve tried to move for years,” Chang-Diaz said. “Let’s not wait any longer to get them to floor votes.”


Peaceful protesters gather in Boston Common Wednesday


For starters, at the federal level, the group called for the passage of Pressley’s recent House resolution condemning police brutality, racial profiling, and the excessive use of force. While mostly symbolic, the Massachusetts congresswoman noted that it was the first police brutality resolution introduced in Congress since 1999. And that resolution never made it to the floor.

“Congress needs to send a clear message,” Pressley said.

The resolution —  introduced last week with Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar and California Reps. Karen Bass and Barbara Lee — says Congress should pass legislation to improve oversight and independent investigations to hold individual law enforcement officers and departments accountable.

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It also calls on the Department of Justice to “reassert its authority to investigate instances and patterns of racial profiling, police brutality and violence” by local police, after President Donald Trump’s administration abandoned efforts launched under President Barack Obama.

During the press conference Tuesday, Presley said there could no longer be justice for Floyd and the many other Black people killed by police. But there could be “accountability,” she added.

“That is what the unrest in our streets is about,” Pressley said.

Her resolution additionally calls for the adoption of “sound and unbiased law enforcement policies at all levels of government” to reduce the “disparate impact” of police brutality in the first place.

Since 2015, Black Americans have been shot and killed by police at twice the rate of white Americans, according to The Washington Post. According to a separate database of all people killed by police, Black people were three times more likely to be killed by police, even though they were 30 percent more likely to be unarmed.

At the state level, the group Tuesday called for the passage of three current bills, as well as one forthcoming legislation.

The first — introduced by Reps. Russell Holmes and David Vieira — would create a special commission to study and make recommendations for a Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) system, which would set standards for the hiring, training, ethical conduct, and retention of law enforcement officers. According to the ACLU, Massachusetts is one of just six states without some sort of system to license police officers.

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Two other bills, also sponsored by Holmes, would establish a new office to review — and potentially reform — the current diversity plans of all state agencies and a “Commission on Structural Racism” to study how “the systemic presence of institutional racism has created a culture of structural racial inequality which has exacerbated disproportionate minority contact with the criminal justice system in Massachusetts.”

Lastly, a bill currently being drafted by Rep. Liz Miranda would impose new limits on police use of force — including chokeholds and other potentially fatal tactics — and require an independent investigation of all officer-related deaths. Miranda’s legislation would also require departments to collect data on the race of all individuals subject to arrest and police use of force.

Both the Massachusetts State Police and Boston police have said they do not recommend or use chokeholds, or a similar “sleeper hold” tactic, which have generally been viewed as unacceptable since the 1980s.  Local police departments also recently told The Boston Globe that the actions by a Minneapolis police officer that killed Floyd — pressing his knee on his neck —would have violated department policies. When officers do resort to physical force, they’re instructed to avoid the neck and ensure suspects can continue to breathe, Massachusetts State Police said.

Lawmakers’ list of demands Tuesday ended with two municipal-level proposals — one broad and one specific.

The first — in the midst of a pandemic that is disproportionately affecting communities of color — was to declare racism a public health crisis “worthy of treatment, assessment and financial investment in order to eradicate negative health impacts.”

The second proposal was to create municipal civil review boards — independent of police departments — with subpoena power to investigate allegations of law enforcement wrongdoing (advocates say that the reliance on police departments to do their own investigations is often a barrier to addressing misconduct).

The list of reforms comes as members of the federal Congressional Black Caucus draft a police reform package, potentially including a national chokehold ban and the elimination of the “qualified immunity” protection for individual police officers. However, even Democrats acknowledge the slim chances of their desired reforms passing with a politically divided federal government, in which Republicans control the Senate and White House.

“That’s why people are so frustrated,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren told Politico. “We’ve been here before.”

That may pass the buck onto local elected officials.

During the rally Tuesday on the Massachusetts State House steps, Chang-Diaz called allies of communities of color to “look at this list of policy actions” and reflect on their role in the anti-police brutality movement.

“What risks are you willing to take to advance these bills?” she said.


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