For peace through policies as well as protesting, start with body cameras, use-of-force standards
No words describe the depth of our sadness and fury at the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the countless other abuses and injustices heaped upon communities of color across our country. As if these egregious acts of violence were not bad enough, now comes our dangerous and incompetent chief executive, who rather than appealing for calm and unity, only exacerbates the atmosphere with incendiary comments such as “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” This is – at a minimum – the epitome of failed leadership and an utter dereliction of duty. I would go so far as to say it was an evil utterance. I do not use the word “evil” lightly, but cannot mince words.
While imprisoned in the Birmingham jail, Martin Luther King Jr. warned us that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” To secure justice “everywhere,” our Constitution is supposed to provide an assurance of “equal protection” of the law. Sadly, we have not lived up to that foundational promise. Aside from the horrific acts of state-sanctioned violence, just look at the full range of socioeconomic statistics: rates of homeownership; infant mortality rates; rates of unemployment; and the list goes on. This is nothing new. As we have long known, in essentially every category, communities of color are lagging their counterparts in the white majority.
This is so due to a colossal failure to achieve equal protection of the law, as a number of discriminatory and hence racist government policies and private sector patterns of disparate treatment have deprived many of our fellow citizens of an equal shot at the American Dream. Those same policies have torn at the social fabric and kept us divided. And we now have a president who sees it to his political advantage to exploit division and sow fear and mistrust. As your state representative – with even more fervor now – I will continue to fight for policies that promote equal rights and protect civil rights and liberties. I will continue to not only hear, but truly listen, to the stories of those whose experience and perspective is different than my own. All of us, working together, must redouble our efforts to find a peaceful way forward. And the way to peace is through real progress.
When it comes to oversight of policing in the commonwealth, we need to ensure that safeguards and protections are made a part of the law and practice of law enforcement. I favor laws mandating that police wear body cameras, and a whole series of other measures to ensure transparency and independent oversight of policing. Specifically, among other actions I have taken, I am a cosponsor of two key pieces of legislation designed to address abuse: H.2120, “An act to establish a task force to develop a uniform code for police body-worn cameras and their recordings,” and H.2087, “An act to create uniform standards in use of force, increase transparency and reduce harm,” which applies to use of force in prisons and might in part serve as a model for use of force by law enforcement generally. We also must ensure the right to protest anonymously by putting a ban on facial recognition technology by the government, technology that has been proven to continually misidentify people of color. To address this issue head on, working with the American Civil Liberties Union, I filed H.1538, “An act relative to unregulated face recognition and emerging biometric surveillance technologies.” This legislation has significant momentum at the State House.
Additionally, my colleagues in the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus have put out a 10-Point Plan to Address Police Violence and Advance Racial Justice, you can read it on their website, mablacklatinocaucus.com. I support and will work to advance the four points of the plan that address changes needed on the state level.
I have been proud to stand by your side at the recent peaceful protests in our community. As we go out to protest, we must remember that we are still in the midst of a global pandemic. So if you march for the safety of others, please stay safe yourself by wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.
There is a lot of work ahead and I look forward to partnering with all of you in the community to get it done. These societal problems are not beyond our collective ability to solve them. Together we must get about the business of making progress happen.
Dave Rogers is state representative for the 24th Middlesex District, which includes parts of Cambridge and Arlington, as well as all of Belmont. He welcomes questions or comments and can be reached by calling (617) 722-2370 or by sending email.