Many of you have written to me about the events of the past few weeks. The reaction of hurt, horror, and anger to the video of George Floyd on the ground with a knee to his neck for nearly 9 minutes while he pleaded for his life is real and understandable. Many of my constituents have called for reform in the way that we police and to confront the systemic racism that is deeply embedded in our institutions.
I completely agree with you.
It’s not enough to simply express our anger and frustration with the system and to condemn racism – we must do that and more. We must take real, meaningful action to rectify issues regarding lack of police transparency and accountability so that incidents of violence can no longer go unseen and unaddressed. We also need to rebuild our civil service system so that those in public safety represent the makeup of our communities. There are several bills before the Senate that focus on these issues and I intend to support and advocate for them along with any other measures that would address these issues – particularly the bills that my colleagues on the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus are advocating for.
In addition, the House recently passed a bond bill that contains $150 million for the Department of Corrections and for public safety capital projects. We do not need to borrow and spend more money to enhance systems and buildings that support the incarceration of our residents. Instead, I believe that we should borrow money to upgrade systems that support police transparency and fairness across the board. An example of this is our Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) system, which is antiquated and slow. The CORI system needs to be updated and automated to easily allow for someone to seal their criminal record. Under our current system, sealing a criminal record can take months – meanwhile employers, landlords, bankers, and others turn people away from employment, housing, and financing opportunities based on minor or old incidents that appear on CORIs that are not relevant and should not be a consideration. This is just one example of how our system continues to disproportionally and negatively impact people of color. As such, I’ll be advocating for this money to be borrowed and spent on initiatives like this – I’ve already submitted a letter of testimony on this to the Senate Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets. We should spend our tax dollars on fixing those systems.
Other systemic changes that require our attention include, but are not limited to:
- Establishing alternatives to law enforcement responding to mental health crises, homelessness and substance use;
- Requiring police de-escalation tactics before using force;
- Requiring police officers to report all uses of force, including threatening civilians with a firearm;
- Establishing empowered community oversight structures to hold police accountable; and
- Reforming our pretrial bail system to ensure that no one is incarcerated pretrial simply because they cannot afford their bail.
And that’s just within our criminal justice system – we cannot forget about the inequities that persist in education, housing and employment opportunities.
There is much to do to stop the systemic racism that persists in the Commonwealth and across the country. While this will be a long and difficult process, I believe taking action to improve police transparency and accountability, amend the civil service process, and reform our criminal justice system and other institutions to address the systemic barriers that have historically discriminated against people of color are good places to start.
This conversation is far from over.
I want to assure you that these issues will remain a top priority, and I will work with my colleagues in the Senate and House to ensure that they continue to be on the forefront of our shared agenda. Going forward, I will continue to listen, learn, and take action.
Finally, many of you have also reached out about much-needed changes to our federal laws. As a state Senator, I do not have the power to directly affect the actions of the federal government. However, I will continue to vote and actively work to elect people to office that care about all of us and share our values of justice, fairness, and opportunity for all. I hope that you do the same. Our votes matter, now more than ever, and I encourage you to use that power to facilitate much needed change.
I also encourage you to continue to use the power of peacefully protesting. I’ve attended peaceful protests in our district the last several days and have been encouraged by the outpouring of community support for the Black Lives Matter movement. While I am not always able to attend every vigil, protest or gathering, I want you to know how strongly I support these community events, and when I’m unable to attend, I am with you all in spirit.
To those that I’ve seen at these community events – thank you. Thank you for taking time out of your days to stand up for what you believe in, to gather peacefully, and to demand change.
I see you, I’m with you, and I’m here to fight alongside you. Together, we can create change and make a real difference.
This post is a portion of an email Senator Cindy Friedman sent to her constituents on Monday, June 8, 2020. To read the full message, click here. To sign up for Senator Friedman’s email list, click here.