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Mass. Delegation Pushes For Sweeping Law Enforcement Reforms

Hundreds of staff at the Massachusetts General Hospital participated in a kneel-in acknowledging the injustice of systemic and individual racism in America at the Bulfinch Lawn outside of the Wang Entrance of the hospital, June 5, 2020. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Hundreds of staff at the Massachusetts General Hospital participated in a kneel-in acknowledging the injustice of systemic and individual racism in America at the Bulfinch Lawn outside of the Wang Entrance of the hospital, June 5, 2020. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Racial tensions and a country’s reckoning with its own history came to a head this week, as the nation — including top lawmakers from both parties — confronted police violence against Black people amid an ongoing pandemic that has hit minorities the hardest.

And could another monumental change be afoot?

Warren Blasts Redlining Rule Change, Seeks Regulator’s Recusal

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, joined by Sen. Gary Peters., D-Mich., left, Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., second from right, and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., right, prepare for an 8 minutes and 46 second pause on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday, June 4, to commemorate the life of George Floyd. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, joined by Sen. Gary Peters., D-Mich., left, Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., second from right, and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., right, prepare for an 8 minutes and 46 second pause on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday, June 4, to commemorate the life of George Floyd. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is calling for a rewrite of new regulations on redlining that she says will make it easier for banks to discriminate against people in predominantly minority and low-income communities.

She says the new rules would disincentivize banks from granting the kinds of small-dollar loans and transactions that customers in minority and lower-income communities tend to rely on in favor of higher-value transactions with large businesses. Former Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting published the changes on May 20, one day before he resigned from office.

In a letter to Acting Comptroller of the Currency Brian Brooks, Warren requested that the new rule be withdrawn, called for a restart to the rulemaking process and suggested that Brooks should step aside from said process in light of his previous work with Otting at OneWest Bank, which was sued by two housing advocacy groups for housing discrimination in 2016. OneWest reached a settlement with at least one of those groups in 2019, in which it officially denied the allegations, but agreed to invest $7.3 million in programs aimed at boosting minority homeownership nonetheless.

“This new rule would make it easier for banks to ignore and discriminate against minorities and the communities in which they live, and the rewrite was panned by community advocates, regulators, and bankers themselves,” Warren wrote. “During a time of nearly-unprecedented political polarization, Comptroller Otting managed to unite consumer and community groups, elected officials, outside experts, and the banking industry with agreement over how fundamentally flawed his plans were.”

Lawmakers Join CBC In Effort To Change Law Enforcement Policies

Protesters coming down Beacon Street find the road blocked by bicycle police. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Protesters coming down Beacon Street find the road blocked by bicycle police. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Members of the Massachusetts delegation backed sweeping legislation to overhaul police practices and accountability following the killing of George Floyd and sweeping nationwide protests decrying the use of excessive force against Black Americans.

The Justice In Policing Act, spearheaded by Rep. Ayanna Pressley and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, drew a number of other original co-sponsors as well, including Rep. Katherine Clark, vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus. Among other things, the bill would bar chokeholds and federal no-knock warrants, limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement, mandate the use of dashboard cameras and body cameras for all federal law enforcement officers and create a national police misconduct registry to prevent police officers who are fired or on leave from being hired by another law enforcement agency.

“For centuries, our policing laws and practices have traumatized Black communities and shielded law enforcement from accountability,” Clark said in a statement. “We must change the policies at the root of these racial inequities so that every mom and spouse has the same assumption of safety for their family that I have for mine.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Joe Kennedy and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York introduced the Bend Toward Justice Act, which would lower the standard of proof in criminal cases involving civil rights violations from “willfulness” to “recklessness.”

"It isn't enough to simply reform our police departments, we must fundamentally change the way we police in this country,” Kennedy said in a statement. “That begins by tearing down barriers to accountability when police officers violate the civil rights of Black and Brown Americans.”

Oversight Committee Probes Administration's Surveillance Of Protesters

Black Lives Matter protesters walk by a military police vehicle on Tremont Street. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Black Lives Matter protesters walk by a military police vehicle on Tremont Street. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Reps. Pressley and Stephen Lynch joined other members of the House Oversight Committee in demanding answers from the Trump administration about the Department of Homeland Security’s deployment of “drones and armed uniformed officers” to monitor recent demonstrations against police brutality.

The lawmakers, referring to confirmed reports of a predator drone seen circling Minneapolis on May 29, called the use of such surveillance techniques “a gross abuse of authority” and “particularly chilling when used against Americans who are protesting law enforcement brutality.”

“We write with grave concern about the use of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) resources … to surveil and intimidate peaceful protesters who were exercising their First Amendment rights to protest the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department,” they wrote in a letter to DHS. The lawmakers demanded a full accounting of the agency’s surveillance activities around the protests by today, June 11.

Pressley tweeted that the “use of drones and armed uniformed officers to surveil and intimidate peaceful protesters is a grave violation of basic civil liberties.”

3 More Things:

Markey, Warren seek clean energy coronavirus assistance: Sens. Warren and Ed Markey want any additional coronavirus-related relief packages to include resources for the Massachusetts clean energy industry and its workforce. “The industry and its workers need our help and support, which could take the form of clean energy tax benefits, energy efficiency programs, grid infrastructure funding, or other workforce support,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Senate leadership. They noted that the state has lost nearly 19,000 clean energy jobs since the start of the pandemic.

Lawmakers cheer extension of USDA school meal assistance: Massachusetts lawmakers and the nonprofit group Project Bread cheered a decision by the federal agency this week to extend the school meal program into summer. The nonprofit had previously warned the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the end of the school year would mean a loss of access to meals for many school-aged children. “Grateful to my colleagues and @projectbread for refusing to give up until we secured this guarantee,” Rep. Lori Trahan tweeted on Wednesday.

Moulton to speak on the nation's civil-military relationship: Rep. Seth Moulton will speak today as part of the MIT Center for International Studies’ Starr Forum series, where he’ll address the relationship between the military and civil society in America. Last week, when peaceful protesters were removed from a park across from the White House and President Trump called for military forces to quell protests across the country, Moulton pushed back: “if he chooses to abuse the military as a tyrant would do—to stifle dissent, suppress freedom, and cement inequality—then I call on all our proud young men and women in uniform, as a veteran and a patriot, to lay down your arms, uphold your oath, and join this new march for freedom.”


WHAT I'M READING

  • Donald Trump’s Increasingly Elaborate Bid To Create His Own America. (Slate)

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“[T]he pre-existing condition here is racism. We are navigating a pandemic within a pandemic — the pandemic that is the coronavirus which has disproportionately hit Black and Latinx communities ... all while dealing with the trauma of another pandemic, which is the scourge that is police brutality borne out of our original sin.”

--Rep. Ayanna Pressley, during Tuesday’s WBUR town hall on the dual crises facing Black Americans. More from the town hall here.


PARTING NOTE

The election in November — which will decide who leads from the White House and who controls Congress — is less than five months away and America is still battling the coronavirus pandemic. How will the coronavirus affect one of the most consequential elections in modern history? We’ll dig into those questions at an upcoming WBUR town hall: COVID-19 And The Presidential Election. On June 23, WBUR senior political reporter Anthony Brooks will moderate a panel discussion featuring Republican strategist Shermichael Singleton, Democratic strategist Adrienne Elrod and me. We hope you’ll join us. Register and submit your questions today.

Kimberly Atkins Twitter Senior News Correspondent
Kimberly Atkins is a senior news correspondent for WBUR, covering national political news from Washington, D.C., with a New England focus.

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