Packed Roxbury Meeting On Police Use Of Force Turns Tense

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The issue of race and police use of force was the focus of a heated meeting in Roxbury Thursday night.

For three hours, Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley and two top Boston Police Department officials heard from the largely black audience of about 250 people who say they are frustrated by police treatment of black residents.

Conley, Boston Police Supt-in-Chief William Gross and Robert Merner, head of the Boston Police Department's investigative services, thought they had come to the Twelfth Baptist Church to explain what happens in Boston after an officer is involved in a fatal shooting.

But the meeting quickly got angry. Several relatives of men shot and killed by Boston police officers spoke. Among them, Carla Sheffield, whose son was shot two years ago.

"My son stood with his hands in the air, nine people looking at him, as he — an 8-year-old girl heard my son saying, 'No! Don't shoot! Don't shoot!' The police officer shot my son," Sheffield recalled.

Sheffield's son, Burrell Ramsey-White, had confronted police with a handgun in the South End.

The audience made it clear it wanted a broader discussion of police treatment of people of color, and Conley acknowledged the larger problem.

"The vast majority of people who are prosecuted and arrested in Suffolk County are people of color, this is a human tragedy," Conley said.

Conley also pointed out that the vast majority of people he prosecutes are never jailed. The liveliest exchange of the evening came when Ashley Osinubi felt Conley had missed the point.

"People of color are unjustly targeted," she said. Osinubi told Conley right in Dudley Square, not far from the church, she had been pulled over once.

"For driving a nice car and pulling off too quickly and stopping at the next light," she explained.

"I have no doubt that that happened and that was wrong," Conley said.

"But I had to go to court and it had to be dismissed. Why are we being targeted? My question is..." Osinubi continued.

"Did you come to court and the case was dismissed?" Conley interjected.

The case was dismissed, Osinubi said, but she wanted to know why she had to miss a day of work, saying she didn't do anything wrong. She asked Conley why people of color have to keep missing work. She said her husband has been stopped and asked for identification while on his way to the work at a hospital. And yet, she said, drug dealers have been operating on her street with impunity for four years.

Carol Walker wanted to talk about what happened to her son.

"One night in South Boston he was stopped by a South Boston officer who said, 'Hey, you! You got a gun in your back pocket?' That was his wallet," Walker recounted. "He wrenched his arms around very brutally, and attacked him basically."

Her son was arrested and released two hours later. Walker said he was only arrested because he is black and big. She said it was one several insults he has suffered.

State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz asked Conley if he would support legislation banning racial profiling.

"There's no place for racial profiling. I'm with you on it," Conley said.

"Thank you," Diaz said.

"So you support the law?" someone from the audience called.

"I don't know what the law is, but I support no racial profiling," Conley said.

Conley said his job is to decide whether a crime has been committed when an officer shoots and kills someone. In Boston, he said, eight people have been shot and killed by police in the last 10 years. He concluded that in all cases, police acted with justification.

This segment aired on December 19, 2014.


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Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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