Tuesday morning, the Senate passed the Reform, Shift + Build Act after a 17-hour formal session. We have a lot of work to do in Massachusetts and across the country to address systemic racism within our institutions, and addressing issues around how we police is one of the necessary steps – but by no means the only one – we need to take.
The police, to a large degree, represent society’s values. If we want lasting change and an end to systemic racism, part of our work must be to look at how we police and what our expectations of the police are. We need to reform practices that disproportionately affect communities of color and reinforce stereotypes that we as a society have allowed to stand for centuries. The Reform, Shift + Build Act is a part of that work.
As I said during the debate Monday night, there are many, many fantastic police officers in my district and throughout our state. I support these officers and have partnered with them on several community-based initiatives. I also acknowledge that we expect a great deal from police and the nature of the work we expect them to do has changed – often without adequate training and support. That also must change. It is our responsibility to ensure that the police have the tools and resources they need to do their jobs successfully. Many police departments – I can vouch for those in my district – have committed to a new model of policing – one that goes from soldier to guardian – and real positive changes can be seen in many communities across the Commonwealth.
My support for these officers and my colleagues’ support for officers across the Commonwealth, however, should not deter our state from making necessary reforms that seek to improve the system for all of our residents regardless of where they live, and ensure that we hold bad police officers accountable for their actions. While we can see through actions that 97% of police are upstanding (and doing their best with the training and resources they have), there is ample evidence throughout the Commonwealth that there are some who flout the laws and disregard good policing and basic rights. No system is perfect, and no system has all perfect people. Police institutions are no different, except in the sense that they represent the law and, therefore, have an enormous responsibility to follow those laws in a tough environment. While we acknowledge how difficult their jobs often are, we must remind ourselves that for centuries, people of color have been disproportionally targeted and treated like criminals for no reason other than the color of their skin, and we must stand up for them, too.
I’m proud of the work we did on this bill, and I’m especially appreciative to my colleagues on the Senate Working Group on Racial Justice for bringing the stakeholders to the table to produce this forward-thinking bill. Most notably, the legislation:
–Bans chokeholds and other deadly uses of force except in cases of imminent harm;
–Clarifies qualified immunity for excessive use of force;
–Establishes a Police Officer Standards and Accreditation Committee to standardize certification and discipline of police officers;
–Expands community-based solutions to crisis intervention and jail diversion;
–Requires new police officer training on de-escalation tactics and the history of racism; and
–Bans racial profiling.
This bill is an important step in the right direction. But we can’t stop here. The way we police and our expectations of our police represent our values and beliefs. We have much work to do to address the long-standing built-in racism in our housing, health care and education institutions. Addressing issues around policing will not fix these problems and it is unfair and unreasonable to ask our police to go at it alone. As I said earlier, this bill represents one step, albeit an important one, and I look forward to having more conversations about this issue moving forward. I am eager to continue to fight for racial justice in Massachusetts and beyond.
To learn more about the Reform, Shift + Build Act bill, take a look at the bill text along with this press release.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact my office by phone at (617) 722-1432 or by email at Cindy.Friedman@masenate.gov.