Black Lives Matter

The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, David McAtee, and Rayshard Brooks have served as a tragic reminder of the epidemic that is police brutality in the United States. 

Over the past few weeks (indeed, over the past few years), we keep seeing more video evidence of how widespread, how dehumanizing, and how fatal police violence is and how disproportionately such violence is used against the Black community. Some say the current wave of protests is a historic turning point; we need to make it one.

It is important to recognize that the graphic imagery of police brutality is just one of the many violent manifestations of systemic racism and white supremacy. The underfunding of schools in communities of color is a form of violence. The denial of health care access is a form of violence. Exclusionary housing policies are a form of violence. The environmental injustices of siting pollution near communities of color is a form of violence. 

The statistics of systemic racism in Massachusetts are clear. 

Systemic racism is why the incarceration rate among our Commonwealth’s Black population is almost seven times that of the white population (while the population is nine times smaller). 

Systemic racism is why the median wealth for a Black household in Greater Boston is $8, whereas the median wealth of a white household is nearly $250,000. 

Systemic racism is why Black women in Greater Boston make 52 cents for every dollar that white men make.

Systemic racism is why air pollution increased in Black communities in the Commonwealth while falling statewide. 

We are happy to see that our national elected officials like Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley have already filed legislation to increase accountability for police officers. 

Beyond such important reforms, we need to fundamentally rethink what public safety means. Bloated and militarized police budgets and ever-expanding budgets for prisons and jails are not what keeps communities safe; indeed, communities are less safe because of them. 

What keeps communities safe are investments in schools, in housing, in health care, and in community-led development. Our budgets need to reflect these priorities, and our policymaking should stop being hindered by the constant box-checking desire to have a police endorsement for any piece of legislation around public safety. 

Massachusetts could be leading, but we have not. The Governor and Legislature have known about these problems and the many other ways in which systemic racism manifests itself. Progressive legislators, especially progressive legislators of color, have filed legislation to advance racial equity, only to see bills dismissed in committee. The Governor and legislative leadership allow session after session to pass without meaningful action.

We are grateful to legislators who are reviving past bills and crafting new ones to address systemic inequities and racism. We are talking with our allies inside and outside the State House (as well as on the national and municipal level) about how to best amplify and support their work.

As Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley so often eloquently states, it was policy that created these injustices, and we need policies to undo them. We call on the Massachusetts Legislature, our Congressional delegation, and municipal electeds to listen to the communities who have been most impacted and to start legislating as though they actually believe that Black Lives Matter.

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