ACLU urges MA lawmakers to pass police reform bill

BROCKTON, Mass. — In Brockton, the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union launched a new initiative, urging Beacon Hill lawmakers to get a police reform bill out of committee. The new push bears the hashtag “Police Violence Happens Here,” and features an online map of Massachusetts, pinpointing more than 100 cases of alleged police violence.

Rahsaan Hall, the Mass. ACLU’s director of racial justice, said, on the steps of Brockton City Hall, the map is a pushback to those arguing that police reform is not needed in Massachusetts.

“We’re no different than any other place,” Hall said. “Just because we haven’t had a nationally televised incident of a police officer killing someone, doesn’t mean that it hasn’t happened here.”

Hall made his comments close to where violence erupted during demonstrations in Brockton shortly after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Protests, demonstrations and rallies across the state led to quickly filed legislation on Beacon Hill calling for changes to police qualified immunity, as well as bans on chokeholds, tear gas and no-knock warrants.

And while both the state’s House and Senate approved crime bills, they are now in committee, with no word on when they might be called out for a full vote. Hall is concerned.

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“This is a very unique political moment,” Hall said. “And we need to have lawmakers step up and be courageous in this moment and not miss this moment.”

The Massachusetts law enforcement community has been strongly pushing back against the police reform bills.

“We know we have an excellent track record of working in a very cooperative and professional manner with our communities,” said Mark Leahy, the executive director of the Massachusetts Police Chief’s Association. “Are we perfect? No. But we never claimed to be.”

Leahy said better police training has set Massachusetts police departments apart from other departments across the country where cases of deadly police violence have filled headlines. But, he adds, the contentious debate over police reform is taking a toll on Massachusetts departments.

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This year, Leahy said, more than 40 police chiefs have announced their retirements, most of them well before the mandated retirement age of 65.

“Our officers are out there in very difficult and stressful situations that have only been made worse by the rhetoric of the last six months,” Leahy said. “But we are still here. We’re still trying to work the best we can, to be the community guardians of the community that we serve.”