In April of 2019, Al Copeland, a 62-year-old Black man, experienced a stroke while driving. The Boston Police Department found him slumped in his car in front of Berklee College of Music and promptly arrested him. They did not call an ambulance and alleged he smelled of alcohol in their report.
Copeland, who could barely stand, was taken to the police station. When he fell and hit his head, he was left in his cell to “sleep it off,” according to police records. Police officers only called an ambulance after Copeland had been at the police station for five hours.
Once he reached Tufts Medical Center, medical providers assumed Copeland was drunk and left him in the emergency room for another seven hours. They only treated him once his wife arrived, where doctors found no alcohol or drugs in his system.
Delays in treating strokes have serious consequences, such as leading to paralysis or death. Copeland has long-term cognitive damage due to the incident and has trouble walking, among other impairments.
Negligence and active racism by both Tufts Medical Center and the Boston Police Department show that systemic racism is rampant throughout both the criminal justice system and the healthcare system.
A 2016 report published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science found that half of white medical trainees believe racist myths that Black people experience less pain than white people. These preconceptions have led to negligent care, with Black patients less likely to receive prompt care and pain medication.
The Tufts Medical Center later apologized for its negligent care of Copeland and created a diversity, equity and inclusion center to reduce disparities in care. While this is a step in the right direction, the creation of this center is first, grossly overdue, and second, nowhere near enough to address blatant disparities in medical care.
The City of Boston’s response was to award the family a $1.3 million settlement. But none of the officers in question have been disciplined for their actions, nor have they apologized to Copeland and his family. Two of the officers were cited for not responding quickly enough once Copeland hit his head, but not for assuming he was drunk or arresting him in the first place.
Even if the officers who made the arrest had been properly disciplined, what about the officers in the station that watched Copeland be shoved into a cell? What about the officers who let him sit in that cell for five hours without calling for an ambulance while the man was suffering a stroke?
This incident comes in light of a 2020 report which found that out of the people stopped by the Boston Police department, 70% of them were Black.
News of this lawsuit is one of many recent instances of the Boston Police Department’s corruption. Last April, documents released by the city of Boston revealed the BPD’s union — the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association — protected officer Patrick Rose from being fired after he was accused of sexually assaulting children in the 1990s. This officer later became the head of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association from 2014 to 2018, during which he allegedly preyed on more children.
Last June, acting Mayor Kim Janey fired the police commissioner Dennis White due to domestic violence allegations. In September, multiple officers were charged with fraud after filing for overtime they didn’t work for almost three years.
Last December, body camera footage was released of Boston police sergeant Clifton McHale bragging about intentionally hitting protesters at Black Lives Matter rallies with his vehicle. The department’s response was to put him on unpaid administrative leave for at least eight days just last Friday.
The mayoral race has provided prime ground for open discussion of reform of the Boston Police Department. Strengthening discipline measures, diverting funds and duties from the police department to crisis intervention teams and expanding the use of police body cameras are among some of the proposed changes to the department by mayoral candidates.
We look forward to seeing if and how these changes take place. But given the calls from many activists for abolition and clear evidence that bias training and body cameras are not effective against stopping police brutality, one wonders why the abolition of these departments seems so far from view.
As exhibited in the Al Copeland case, the issue with policing in Boston and this country is not a matter of a few bad apples.
How can increased discipline measures be useful when the entire system is corrupt?
Al Copeland’s life is forever-harmed by the actions of those police officers. He will have permanent cognitive and physical impairments for the rest of his life because of the Boston Police Department.
He is one of many.
We are looking forward to active reforms and change from Boston’s new mayor. But the news of the lack of action from the Boston Police department in disciplining the officers involved is nonetheless troubling.
How can we expect actual change from the Boston Police Department if they can pay out a million-dollar settlement to a man they permanently injured without an apology?