Image by Chris Faraone
Let’s preface this polemic with the same superficial line that every parrot in the media meaninglessly burps: Not all cops are bad. Or racist. Or the world’s worst Uber customers.
I say that not merely to mock the incompetent hacks and columnists who use such sentiments in lieu of consciously considering the epidemic of police brutality, but also to remind readers of the humanity of the good cops, because the voices of those officers are so rarely heard.
For the first few weeks of major Black Lives Matter rallies and related actions in the Hub, I assumed that Boston Police Department Commissioner William Evans was just playing dumb. Clearly, I thought, he and the other seemingly intelligent higher-ups understood that the public isn’t only furious about the killing of Michael Brown by a cop in Ferguson, Missouri, or the death of Eric Garner in New York.
Now, a few months into the most robust protest momentum Boston has seen in years, I’m convinced otherwise. Now I realize they do not get it, and by “they” I mean the white guys representing the department, from the upper echelons down to the rank-and-file. Let’s commence at the top of the pecking order with Evans.
“The majority of the community is behind the police force,” the commissioner claimed before planned demonstrations for First Night. “It’s not the community that is going to be up in arms protesting. This is for the most part people from outside the city.”
That’s Evans saying, in the most socially acceptable way possible, that police brutality, or whatever those ridiculous kids are hollering about, is not a Boston issue. It’s a crass and blatant lie for any number of reasons, but it’s also tone deaf and dismissive, a glowing example of how even Evans, presumably the best of the best, is reluctant to acknowledge any real problems. What kind of foundation is that for a community policing model?
Those are the more respectable BPD delegates. In the sub-basement of the department food chain is the Pax Centurion, the official newsletter of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association (BPPA). For decades, the Pax has proudly exemplified just how out of touch some beat cops are with Boston’s changing landscape, and the recent holiday edition carried on with that tradition. Primarily focused on the Black Lives Matter movement, one tract claims, “The [Michael Brown] case has sparked numerous protests from college kids looking for a cause, former ‘Occupy Boston’ radicals, and other anarchists.” Among other examples of creative compassion in the latest Pax:
- ON DEMONSTRATIONS: “The Boston Police Department has wrongly—for reasons of political correctness—described them as ‘peaceful protests.’ There is nothing ‘peaceful’ about sitting down in the middle of Tremont St. at rush hour to prevent working people from simply going home.”
- ON PROGRESS: The Pax claims protest behavior “used to be … known as disorderly conduct, subject to immediate arrest.”
- ON PRIVACY: One article, “Meet some of our detractors … ,” takes aim at a 20-year-old man who is described as living at “‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters,’ a homeless shelter.” Under a picture of this particular “detractor” protesting outside the Massachusetts State House (and holding a sign charging, “From Boston To Ferguson, Cops Are Racist Murderers”), the writer identifies the young man and details a police report from an arrest of his that involved a knife. The cop’s message to the homeless demonstrator: “You are simply a bum, a loser and a thug.”
- ON ERIC GARNER: “A tragedy, yes, but a self-inflicted one.”
- ON POLITICS: “Liberals created the conditions, the rules and the ordinances that we, the police, are left to deal with. And then they turn their video cameras and cellphones on us and tell us that we’re brutal and racist.”
- ON FANBOYS: There’s a very special letter to the editor, hand-picked and re-printed from the Lowell Sun, by a guy wondering “Where is the outrage over [Kevin Quick],” whom the reader writes “was kidnapped and murdered by four black gang members.” “Where is the white outrage?” he cries. “Where is the hatemonger Al Sharpton?”
Some people reading this are probably outraged. Others may be thinking, “How come nobody knows about this?” But they do know. Activists in Boston’s communities of color have derided the Pax for years, as have organizers from Occupy Boston and members of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers. Just like Black Lives Matter protesters, they’ve argued that cop culture in Boston needs to change, including the BPPA’s bigoted rag. Sadly, from the bottom to the top of the totem pole, their message has fallen on hard heads.
“So we just keep doing what we do and hopefully all is well,” reads the latest Pax. “The protests, demonstrations and riots, well this too shall pass. That is of course until the next one. We all know that there will be a next one.”
With that kind of attitude, they can bet on it.
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.