You probably haven’t read much about it on social media. In my unofficial survey, a lot of people who shout about and protest police violence don’t have much patience for or interest in the actual imperfect and opaque legislative process, and I don’t blame y’all.
Nevertheless, for several weeks on Beacon Hill, lawmakers have sparred over proposed changes to state law that could result in less police waste, corruption, and brutality.
At the time of this writing, the Massachusetts House and Senate have each passed their respective versions of a comprehensive reform package. Both bills were urinated on by legislative badgelickers, members with brothers and sisters on some force or another, etc. But it isn’t all bad, because we can learn a lot about people and institutions during such processes, and I’m not only talking about your bigoted aunt barking about blue lives on Facebook.
Sometimes, we can even learn positive things. Like that Progressive Mass (largely thanks to organizer Jonathan Cohn) has the best coverage by far of the struggle over these issues (that includes all media outlets). Here’s the group’s summary of what’s transpired so far:
While the [House] bill went slightly further than the Senate bill on the use of force and had stronger regulations on the use of facial surveillance, it barely touched the issue of qualified immunity (the legal doctrine that shields abusive police officers from lawsuits and denies victims their fair day in court), dropped language limiting and regulating the acquisition of military equipment, and failed to include the Senate’s stronger language on reducing the school-to-prison pipeline or on a Justice Reinvestment Fund (which would invest sums equivalent to DOC savings into opportunities for impacted communities). And neither bill goes as far as necessary to truly limit the scope of policing, i.e., shifting functions away from police departments and to trained social workers and other non-armed professionals.
Progressive Mass is also a tremendous resource if you want to know how your representative voted on various measures. One amendment, for example, which thankfully (but barely) passed in the House, stops cops from serving “no-knock warrants” on places where minors and seniors are present. It’s still a depressing win, though, since 76 members, who apparently don’t think protecting the communities that police invade is worth hurting the feelings of cops, voted against the amendment.
We also learned that unions and associations that are tasked with representing law enforcement agencies, honchos, and officers will kneel to any gutter to protect the lie that cops in Massachusetts are different from police elsewhere and don’t need reform. Here’s what Mass. Police Chief Association President and Hampton Police Chief Jeff Farnsworth told the media about potential changes:
The legislation in the House and the Senate are nothing more than a knee jerk reaction to the events happening hundreds of miles away from here. These bills are not a response to any current situation in Massachusetts. These bills are being used to make a political statement. They do not address issues in Massachusetts.
We learned that while most people who work at the State House are opportunists and hacks, some workers on Beacon Hill actually want to do the right thing. That benevolent group seem to include several Black State House staffers, many of whom signed a letter last week stating that they will use their “proximity to power to validate and elevate the concerns and demands raised by Black staffers, as well as to empower communities of color to participate in the legislative process,” including around police reform.
Again, there is a lot to learn from observing such a hot mess in motion. Most importantly, you have to keep a close eye on not only the cops, but on the legislators who they help elect—and then perpetually threaten—to do their dirty work on Beacon Hill.
CHRIS FARAONE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF