It’s a good thing they’re listening now, because they sure as hell didn’t listen 28 years ago.
Back in ’92, following incalculable damage inflicted on Black people in Boston after notorious white liar Charles Stuart killed his pregnant wife, Carol, and blamed the shooting on an African American male, Mayor Ray Flynn appointed James St. Clair, a local attorney with a national profile, to investigate the BPD. Among other damning observations, the resulting 1992 St. Clair Commission report determined that the department lacked a uniform disciplinary system, noted “substantial problems in the leadership and management,” and found “a disturbing pattern of allegations of violence toward citizens by a small number of officers.”
As Human Rights Watch summarizes, the ’92 commission’s data showed a BPD internal “investigative and hearing process characterized by shoddy, halfhearted investigations, lengthy delays, and inadequate documentation and record-keeping,” and an “Internal Affairs process unfairly skewed against those bringing a complaint.” That department was also “criticized for its handling of domestic violence complaints filed by the wives and girlfriends of Boston police officers.” As a result of all of the above, HRW determined, “the overwhelming majority of community residents [commissioners] spoke to [had] little confidence in the [BPD’s] ability or willingness to police itself.”
It’s a good thing they’re listening now, because they sure as hell weren’t listening then. And they weren’t listening in 1996 either, when the state’s Executive Office of Public Safety commissioned a 50-page “Cultural Diagnostic of the Massachusetts State Police.” As I reported last year, the Linder Report was buried and largely ignored, even though it found that the “Department of State Police lacks a coherent, clear mission,” a “condition [that] bred … a host of problems.” Those issues included recruit training that is “unnecessarily harsh” and “designed in part to drive out female candidates,” as well as inadequate “budgetary, procurement, and financial controls” and a “seriously understaffed” State Police crime lab.
It’s a good thing they’re listening now, but I sure wish they were paying attention in 2012, when activists helped me (writing for the Boston Phoenix at the time) read through and excoriate the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association’s outrageously racist, sexist, and Islamophobic newsletter, the Pax Centurion. Certainly someone with power in the city or state should have stepped up at the time. Instead of allowing the people behind such rhetoric to patrol our streets. Oh well. I guess it was a missed opportunity, but hey, at least they are listening now.
It’s a good thing they’re listening now, since the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis cop sparked nationwide protests. It’s great to see so much attention on these topics, because up until this point, the families of people killed and beaten by police have been sidelined, by the media as well as public officials. As a reporter who has fielded calls from victims and their loved ones for nearly two decades, I can attest that there has been no shortage of info available. It’s just that politicians, business and community leaders, the vast majority of the public, and most other individuals and groups with enough juice to bring real reform weren’t listening.
But at least they are listening now.
Are they listening now?
CHRIS FARAONE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF