It’s important to note: The BPD is one of Walsh’s major donor groups, with police and their unions giving at least $415,000 to the mayor’s campaign since 2013.
As talk of law enforcement reform consumes Beacon Hill as well as Boston City Hall, one only needs to look at the hollowness of Mayor Marty Walsh’s proposals to see where he stands on these issues. Out of the Boston Police Department’s massive $414 million budget, last month he moved to divert less than 3% to other services, even as the mayor declared racism “a public health crisis.”
Of course, if one recalls Walsh’s mediocre record of handling systemic racism in the BPD and City Hall throughout his tenure, none of this should come as a surprise.
In January 2015, a year into his first term, Walsh fired a city employee for participating in (and being arrested during) a Black Lives Matter protest.
In 2017, BPD Officer Joseph DeAngelo Jr. made a fake movie trailer with the tagline, “This summer, Black people have met their match.” Walsh didn’t seek to have DeAngelo Jr. fired on the spot; instead, the amateur filmmaker was suspended without pay for six months.
The year after that, Officer Zachary Crossen was caught on video harassing a Black resident in Roxbury on his way to the barbershop. Walsh defended the officer and blamed the victim, saying, “I think there’s more to this story than you see in the video. And quite honestly, the young man that he’s talking to responded in a negative way.”
In 2019, Roxbury Prep students reported that Officer Joseph Lynch called them the N-word during an argument. Lynch is still on the job as of July 2020.
And last summer, Captain John Danilecki pepper-sprayed counterprotesters at point-blank range during the Straight Pride Parade and crushed wheelchairs belonging to homeless people in the South End during Operation Clean Sweep. Taxpayers paid Danilecki $348,055 last year, and this summer, the captain clearly violated the First Amendment rights of protestors by ripping up a demonstrator’s Black Lives Matter sign. As the Boston Globe reported, Danilecki faces six internal affairs investigations for his behavior from last summer alone.
Walsh, meanwhile, issued a new study to review police procedures that’s due within the next 60 days. Still, he’s known about systemic racism in BPD for years—a 2017 Globe investigation and another one last month showed disproportionate arrest rates among Black residents. The mayor also resisted a federal court order to restore Black officers’ backpay they lost from a discriminatory promotional exam, and balked at deploying bodycams throughout BPD until after his 2017 reelection, despite demands from the NAACP and the Boston Police Camera Action Team.
All things considered, it’s important to note: The BPD is one of Walsh’s major donor groups, with police and their formidable unions giving at least $415,000 to the mayor’s campaign since 2013, according to the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance.
Since watching George Floyd get choked out of existence, Walsh has decided to finally act. That’s not leadership.
There are things Walsh can do to properly respond to this unprecedented opportunity for police reform. Namely, he can enact three changes: 1—adopt a zero-tolerance policy against racism for the BPD, from rookies right up to the commissioner; 2—establish a civilian review board with subpoena power and the authority to terminate officers; 3—ban officers from participating in construction site details, a lucrative source of income that fleeces taxpayers. Use those millions to fight the Hub’s opioid and homelessness crisis instead of on cops guarding manholes.
On Juneteenth of 2020, Boston City Council President Kim Janey proposed these and other initiatives to Walsh, who in the waning days of the budget season last month, had to choose: adopt token cuts that won’t rankle the BPD’s rank and file, or tackle systemic racism head on? Instead of embracing the bold vision that Janey and others had for police reform, the mayor once again sided with his police patrons and shifted only $12 million—less than half of what many protesters were asking for—from the BPD budget to desperately needed mental health, housing, and social services.
At this point, Walsh’s bungled response and reluctance to truly reform the BPD is a lost opportunity for the thousands of Bostonians who marched this summer amidst a pandemic to demand real change and an end to systemic racism. In the fight for Black lives, Boston deserves better than Marty Walsh.
Chip Goines, who was born near Ferguson, Mo., is a Boston-based community writer and activist. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the Reuters wire service, and WGBH News.