Frank takes on antifa in Boston, Charlie calls for more traffic stops.
The Boston City Council passed a new ordinance on April 28 that intends to limit police use of tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, or bean bag rounds as crowd control measures during protests.
The ordinance, which passed with a narrow 7-5 majority, creates new hurdles for police to contend with before attacking a crowd of protesters, while also mandating self-reporting on the use of chemical or kinetic projectiles.
Despite the new guidelines, the measure will not necessarily beget concrete punishments for violations, other than allowing the violation to count as a legal injury, in terms of a potential lawsuit. The ordinance does not specifically address all situations where police flagrantly violate the law during protests, such as the officer who drove into a crowd during a demonstration last summer and then bragged about it in front of a colleague’s body camera.
The council previously attempted to pass the ordinance last December, with an 8-5 vote, but then-Mayor Marty Walsh vetoed it. This time around, it will reach the desk of Mayor Kim Janey, who was one of those eight votes in favor before she moved into the big office.
Despite the lack of teeth, five of 12 city councilors still voted against the ordinance. None of the five negatives gave explanations for their opposition on the video record during the meeting, though four of them did weigh in in December, when the ordinance was last passed.
Dorchester Councilor Frank Baker said he was worried about antifa coming into the state with “frozen water bottles” to hurl at cops, while councilor-turned mayoral candidate Annissa Essaibi George worried about hindering the police’s ability to deescalate crowd situations if they aren’t able to gas people or shoot them in the face with rubber bullets.
Michael Flaherty went off on a tangent about the now-defunct mounted police unit, claiming that it would take one horse to control a crowd of about a thousand.
Matt O’Malley said he supported the restriction in theory, but asked for more time to attempt to engage with the police again. Walsh’s veto essentially gave O’Malley the pause he was looking for, but he still voted “no.”
Speaking of police enforcement, Gov. Charlie Baker wants to create more opportunities for the law to crack down on drivers.
The governor introduced a road-safety overhaul bill on April 26 that would make seatbelt violations a primary violation, which means police could pull over a driver for not strapping in, instead of having to find another excuse to justify the traffic stop.
The bill would also create new revenue opportunities for cities and towns by allowing them to install traffic-light cameras to nab people who run red lights or make illegal right turns through them. It would also require a three-foot safe passing distance for bicyclists, mandate additional safety rails on state vehicles, and increase penalties for driving with suspended licenses.
The bill has raised concerns with advocates who are already worried about biased police practices in traffic stops.
“Driving safety is an important issue, but policymakers must also address the presence of racial profiling on our streets and highways,” said ACLU of Massachusetts Executive Director Carol Rose in a statement. “Data shows that Black and Brown drivers are already significantly more likely to be stopped by police and have their vehicle searched, but less likely to be issued a citation. And across the country, traffic stops too often result in police violence and killings of Black men like Daunte Wright.”
Fortunately, there is little to no evidence to support concern about traffic-stop bias, unless one considers all coverage of the Massachusetts State Police by this outlet and many others.
President Joe Biden promised to create a police oversight commission when he was still on the campaign trail last summer.
In early April, his administration started walking that back, pretending that activists and stakeholders aren’t interested in accountability. “Based on close, respectful consultation with partners in the civil rights community, the administration made the considered judgment that a police commission, at this time, would not be the most effective way to deliver on our top priority in this area, which is to sign the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act into law,” Susan Rice, director of the Domestic Policy Council, said in a statement to POLITICO.
So basically, it seems that Biden’s plan is to let Congress handle police oversight. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 is intended to reduce instances of excessive force, police misconduct, and racial bias. The bill would ban chokeholds, no-knock warrants, create a national registry for police misconduct reports, and restrict the use of qualified immunity defenses in court.
It would also require all federal police and local and state departments that receive federal funding to use body cams.
Rather than cut police funding, the bill would allocate additional funds for anti-bias training and to support state attorneys general in investigating police misconduct.
Regardless of the potential efficacy of the bill, there is an automatic filibuster in the Senate that requires 60 votes just to get any bill to the floor. This means every Democrat and at least 10 Republicans have to approve if police reform has any hope of transcending partisan obstruction.
We’ll see how that goes.