Photo provided by ROTC Period 5 Class at Brighton High School
BY DESEAN BEY, GENERATION CITIZEN, AND ROTC PERIOD 5 CLASS AT BRIGHTON HIGH SCHOOL
Anyone who works with high school students knows that there is definitely more talent in Boston Public Schools than there is in the local media. So when we get a letter like the one that we received last week—from a class of Brighton High School students asking if we’d run their column—we take the inquiries seriously (as we do with college students, whose work we have proudly published more of than any other non-campus outlet in Boston over the past decade). Like a number of important issues that are at risk of slipping through the cracks of yet another legislative session, racial profiling is something that lawmakers can actually do something about—all they have to do is move on the bill mentioned in the student-written piece that follows. Roadside harassment is tragic and even life-changing for those who are affected; if you’ve never been harassed that way yourself, just imagine having your personal space entered for no reason at all, your belongings torn apart along with your pride. Thanks to Desean and his classmates for reaching out to us. We’re rooting for them as they generate awareness and bring it to the clowns on Beacon Hill. -Dig Staff
My name is Desean Bey and I am a senior at Brighton High School. One day a few months ago, two friends and I were sitting in our car near the basketball court where we had just finished playing. Suddenly, we saw bright lights; a police car approached and pulled up next to us. A police officer stepped out and walked towards our car. He motioned for us to get out, and the next thing I knew, he had slammed us to the ground with our hands behind our backs. He then proceeded to search the vehicle. But there was nothing to be found; no drugs, no weapons, no contraband whatsoever. The officer freed us and drove away, unaffected by the incident. We, on the other hand, will remember that day vividly for the rest of our lives.
We’re aren’t alone. According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, 63 percent of police-civilian encounters from 2007 to 2010 have targeted blacks, even though blacks make up less than 25 percent of Boston’s population. Even after controlling for crime, Boston police officers are found to be more likely to initiate police encounters in black neighborhoods and with black people. The main problem is that the police give no reasonable justification for 75 percent of these encounters; they simply warrant these searches by citing them “investigations.” Over 200,000 of these encounters have led to no arrest, and only 2.5 percent of them actually resulted in the seizure of contraband.
As a class, we believe that this issue must be addressed immediately, as such encounters are serious violations of the civil rights of minorities in Boston. For this reason, we are working on project to end racially-motivated traffic stops as part of the Generation Citizen action civics program that works in our school. The primary way that we think this issue can be resolved is through the passage of House Bill 1575. This bill focuses on data collection and fair treatment of drivers, and is currently undergoing review by the state legislature.
There are two aspects of this bill that are especially important to us. The first is the fact that it requires police to provide documentation in the form of receipts to any civilians they stop and frisk. We believe that this will hold the police more accountable for the stops/searches they conduct, because it requires officers to provide specific reasons for their actions. The other aspect of the bill that we especially support is its call for data collection on traffic stops. Bill 1575 would require all police departments in the Commonwealth to record information in a reviewable database. Data collected would include race, gender, location, and reason for the stop, and can be reviewed by the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.
We firmly believe that this legislation will lower the amount of racially-motivated traffic stops in Massachusetts. Our goal is not to antagonize Massachusetts police officers or to make them less effective at doing their jobs; rather, we hope to prevent civilians from being stopped, searched, and potentially arrested based on their race alone. As a class, we have advocated in many ways for the passage of Bill 1575. We have discussed it with our peers, with community police officers, and even members of the state Senate. We have contributed to a meaningful dialogue on police-community relations, but we need your help if we are to successfully turn this dialogue into legislation.
If you support an end to racially-motivated traffic stops, you can sign a petition created by the authors at change.org/p/the-judiciary-committee-why-select.