Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Holding Boston’s police accountable

There’s no hiding it. Boston is known for being a racist city, and its cops are no exception.

And often times, the way the City deals with its racist history is to ignore it, rather than taking action to begin to address the problem. Last month, during Black History Month, the Boston Police Department came under fire for honoring the legacy of a white man on Twitter to promote how he was responsible for hiring the NBA’s first black coach. In response to the backlash, BPD took the tweet down and shared an apology the next day. It’s hard not to feel like this is a metaphor for how the Boston police force tends to deal with racism — deleting the action and hoping nobody notices.

Mayor Martin Walsh committed to funding body cameras for Boston police officers Monday. This initiative is projected to launch by the end of this year. Although Walsh did not specify a dollar amount, he promised the funding would be “significant.” Boston cops are currently undergoing a pilot program with the body cameras, and though the trial is not complete, the results have been promising in holding cops accountable for their actions and having an unbiased form of visual evidence to record interactions between police and civilians.

In the context of national news surrounding police brutality, especially toward black communities, it’s time for Boston to follow suit with what so many other cities are doing. Particularly for a city where racial tensions are pronounced, it is of utmost importance that its cops are held accountable when situations arise that require deadly force, especially if this force might not always be justified. Recently, the host of the live game show app HQ Trivia referred to Boston as the “city of racist cops.” By mandating that its police officers must wear body cameras, Boston is taking measures to erase both its racist reputation and the actual racism at the heart of that sentiment.

The body cameras are certainly a productive measure — if not to prevent unnecessary violent behavior from police, then certainly to serve as an impartial record of what happened. A person of color may be more inclined to speak the truth if they know it’s no longer just their word versus the word of a white cop. This can ultimately be beneficial to the cops too, helping to ensure that law-breaking citizens face consequences and law-abiding citizens do not. This is the reason we have police in the first place.

People don’t have perfect memories, and entanglements with the police are especially complicated. Even a witness who saw what happened may be wrong in their account. A video can help clarify the parts of the incident that either party is shaky about. Ultimately, body cameras are helpful to everyone, and can result in more fair decisions about the appropriate punishment either side should receive when things get messy.

This video footage can serve as proof for examples of poor interactions between cops and civilians in Boston. We hear a lot about violent interactions people have with law enforcement. Sometimes, these incidents even make national headlines. It’s important to have these records so that we can truly see the effects of racism in Boston and to what extent it unfolds.

Some police officers claim that wearing a body camera would get in the way of them doing their job of arresting civilians, and could potentially limit the amount of arrests they’re making. But if they don’t think their arrests would be justified through the lens of a video camera, then maybe they shouldn’t be arresting that person to begin with. After all, if these officers are acting responsibly and making arrests or conducting other police-related activity to keep people safe, then they should feel comfortable to have their actions recorded. They shouldn’t have anything to hide.

The promised funding for this new equipment should be significant enough to ensure each officer has one — otherwise this would contradict their purpose. Better accountability leads to better justice. Only once we see this accountability can Boston begin to prove that it is working to combat racism and is using proven methods to do so.

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