To the National Press:
We need you to cover police brutality in Boston. This may seem selfish, I know, as cops are out of control virtually everywhere, but we have an epidemic here, and it isn’t just about the brutal acts themselves. In this case, the cover-up may be as ugly as the crime.
Until this week, some might say, the Boston Police Department has steered clear of being lumped in with aggressors elsewhere. Thanks to a clever public relations strategy and with the help of Commissioner William Evans, whose easy manner makes it difficult for some to think his soldiers behave savagely, they have become a force to which other departments look for advice and training, which is beyond troubling.
There may be some change in this perception underway. As video of an 18-year-old teenager being manhandled by cops in Roslindale earlier this month circles the internet, people everywhere now have a window into the farce of BPD infallibility. Furthermore, as reactions from the commissioner and Mayor Marty Walsh begin to resonate, the public at large may finally glimpse the struggle that Bostonians are up against. The city’s claim that the suspect, one Elvin Vargas, is not being choked in said viral video not only speaks to an eternal stubbornness, but shows that Hub officials have ignored the national dialogue about community policing.
You may be asking: Why should the national media pay more attention to Boston? My answer is that, on a reportorial level, there are countless stories that are ignored by our newspaper of record, the Boston Globe, and that, as a result, get ignored by the innumerable outlets that parrot them, so there’s plenty of juice to squeeze around here. If you think I’m peddling cockamamie conspiracy theories, consider the following:
- This morning’s Globe piece on the incident, and about yesterday’s press conference about the incident, ran on page B3 in the Metro section, and without a photo or screenshot from the viral video.
- This is almost too ridiculous to believe, but the Globe dedicated as much space to a puff picture of sparkling new BPD bicycles as it did to the Vargas story, and ran them side by side, presumably because we can’t have a bad story about cops without also giving them a handy.
- Instead of quoting any number of activist voices from Boston’s communities of color who would condemn the actions of the cop in question, the Globe quotes Rev. Eugene Rivers, who essentially blames the teen and his parents.
- While Mayor Walsh unbelievably said that, from what he saw, the young man was not being choked, the Globe did not find that information or quotation worthy of being reported.
- Best of all, Globe reporters waited until the end of their story to report that the grabby officer (Ted R. Rivera) involved “has had three citizen complaints regarding use of force, disrespectful treatment, and offensive language,” and has been investigated by the department for “unbecoming conduct.” We don’t know the outcome of those proceedings, but the Globe nevertheless quotes Evans as saying he’s a “great cop.”
There is almost too much bullshit to sift through. Boston activists and independent media can’t do this alone. Unless the national press takes a hard look at the BPD, Boston will continue moving backwards in this realm as other cities step toward progress.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.