Commissioner Evans of the Boston PD came before the Boston City Council last week to counter activists’ arguments that adopting an ordinance mandating police body-worn cameras would decrease police uses of force and complaints. His favored alternative solutions were (1) more ice-cream socials, because Boston is a “model” city for community policing; (2) delay, because more research is needed on whether they would work in Boston; and (3) in a sit-down interview with the Boston Herald, calling for laws requiring citizens filming police to keep their distance and for them to help police subdue suspects.
We’ll get to the ice-cream socials in a minute, shall we?
Neither Commissioner Evans nor Police Chief Gross said why bodycams wouldn’t work in Boston in particular. I guess that Boston is a place where the ordinary laws of causation don’t apply, which would, come to think of it, be a very useful argument for exonerating officers in future police shootings. Truth is, there’s nothing magical about Boston’s culture or demographics that would make bodycams not work here, when in other cities of all sizes they work, and work, and work.
This “model” city is a city that turns itself into an armed camp every July 4, and has seen two needless shootings of men of color this year so far alone. Santos Laboy, shot in June, was mentally ill and wanted on a warrant for slipping lewd photographs under the door of a local business. He allegedly ran from police before brandishing a knife at a Massachusetts state trooper and refusing commands to drop it. Usaamah Rahim was also shot in June after being put under surveillance by the Joint Terrorism Task Force. He allegedly threatened police with a large knife that he refused to put down. In neither case does it seem necessary for them to have been shot to death. But necessity, sadly, isn’t the standard; the standard right now is whether a reasonable officer would have a smidgen of reasonable fear for their safety. In this way, the Supreme Court has legitimated the killing by law enforcement of anyone who is holding, or could reasonably be interpreted as holding, a weapon.
The balance of the year will probably see another couple of preventable deaths. Which men of color will they (probably) be? Your cousin who’s struggling with mental illness? Your friend’s son, who has an outstanding warrant for dealing weed in school? Your uncle, who’s on the BRIC‘s radar for worshiping too few Gods or attending too many protests? Whose graves will they be?
Listen, Boston is so behind the times that it doesn’t even have dashboard cameras. It’s so behind the times that it’s common for officers to not have nametags, and to refuse to identify themselves to the public. It’s so behind the times that, word is, Evans rides to work on a velociraptor. This is not a modern department; it’s a mostly-white, heavily Irish department out of touch with a diverse, vibrant city. Ice-cream socials aren’t going to cut it. (Seriously, who goes to ice-cream socials with the police? If you only hear from those who choose to come hang out with you and bring their kids, will that really give you a good picture of what’s going on?) Let’s get ahead of the times for once, and give ourselves a real shot at saving the lives of our people.
Commissioner Evans’s strategy is simple: Delay this out till the hubbub dies down. Let the shootings keep coming, quarter by quarter, but keep treating them as individual events that can always be justified. Demonize the men of color getting shot, and the citizens trying to monitor the police. Just continue with business as usual till the people who are angry now run out of time and steam to deal with it. Well, we’re not going to run out of steam; this fall, we’re looking forward to pushing for our Digital Fourth-drafted statewide bodycams mandate up on Beacon Hill.
I’m going to give a shout-out to the brave and dedicated activists of the Boston Police Cameras Action Team who proposed an excellent bodycams ordinance: Segun Idowu, Shekia Scott, and Muska Nassery. You were confident and compelling, and deserved more respect from the law enforcement folks who were there. Thanks too to the ACLU and NAACP who were there in force, and to Sam and Dennis of Digital Fourth for showing up to support. It must be said: More white people should have been there; it’s fine to tweet your support for #blacklivesmatter, but this is where the rubber hits the road. Lend your voice, your presence, your privilege, your resources; help tamp down the epidemic of unconstitutional stops, searches and seizures in this city.