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Pressley, Rollins And Other Elected Officials Call For Racial Justice, Police Reforms

Rachael Rollins, speaking Tuesday, June 2, at the gates of the Massachusetts State House. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Rachael Rollins, speaking Tuesday, June 2, at the gates of the Massachusetts State House. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Several prominent Massachusetts elected officials of color, including Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, on Tuesday called for change at every level of government in the wake of protests against police violence and racism in the state and across the U.S.

"It is awful that it takes a video of that nature to make it so that folks wake up and understand something we have known in our communities forever," said Massachusetts Rep. Russell Holmes, a Boston Democrat. "It is now the time for our colleagues to listen to black people ... not your ideas that you want us to hop on, not your ideas that you formulated in some room.”

The elected officials held a State House press conference at 11 a.m. Tuesday in support of the outrage and calls for changes to policing being made in nationwide protests. Officials met at the African Meeting House at 10 a.m. before walking to the State House steps to deliver remarks.

Pressley announced that she will file a resolution in the House condemning police brutality and excessive use of force, noting that it was the first time such a resolution has been introduced since 1999 — but that then, it didn't even make it to the House floor.

"I can not even begin to approximate how many black lives we have been robbed of in that time," Pressley said.

In addition to Pressley's resolution, the 10-point plan “to address police violence and advance racial justice” also includes:

  • Improving federal oversight and independent investigations of police officers and departments;
  • Asking the U.S. Department of Justice to “reasserts its authority to investigate individual instances of racial profiling, police brutality and violence,” and investigate officers and departments that routinely violate civil rights;
  • New policies for policing at every level of government that reduce brutality and disproportionate use of force on people of color and other marginalized groups;
  • Creating a statewide Peace Officer Standards and Training program (POST), for which a House bill has been filed, “to certify police officers and enable de-certification for misconduct and abuse”;
  • Overhauling state civil service exams and creating an Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity “to establish guidelines and review diversity plans for all state agencies,” for which a House bill has been filed;
  • Establishing a special state commission on structural racism, for which a House bill has been filed;
  • Adopting statutory limits on police use of force, including chokeholds, for which a House bill will soon be filed by Rep. Liz Miranda;
  • Declaring racism a public health crisis in Boston;
  • And creating a citywide civil review board with power to investigate alleged misconduct by law enforcement.

City Council President Kim Janey said a number of other city council dockets also needed support, including a resolution condemning police brutality, an ordinance banning facial recognition technology, a text amendment to the Boston zoning code and a review of equity in the cannabis industry.

“Our agenda must be one that promotes and protects the true liberation of black people in our country,” Janey said, nodding to disparities for Boston’s people of color in housing, health care, opportunity and achievement in schools and wealth distribution.

Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins called for criminal justice reform, even within the county jail he oversees, which he noted is overwhelmingly filled with black inmates and other incarcerated people of color.

“We need more money, we need more effort to put beds out here for mental health and substance abuse and stop putting people that have those difficulties in jail,” Tompkins said. “It just doesn't make sense. It’s destroying families. We as a nation must come to grips with the fact that the fabric of this nation is shredded and it is coming apart at the seams and if we don’t stop that now we are truly in a world of hurt.”

A number of the officials also reminded their constituents to turn out and vote if they wanted to see change happen at any level of government.

“We get the government we deserve. ... Look what we got,” Tompkins said, talking about President Trump. “We need more people of color in decision-making positions.”

WBUR's Lisa Creamer contributed reporting.

This article was originally published on June 02, 2020.

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Laney Ruckstuhl is a freelance digital producer.

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