by Rosemary Kean and Jackie Dee King
In the weeks since the brutal public murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, nationwide protests have erupted to challenge police violence and demand transformational changes in policing that amount to a restructuring of what we mean by public safety. Mass. Peace Action joins the millions in our streets calling for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and all who have been killed or harmed by the current system of law enforcement.
The same militarism and systemic racism that have been turned against our communities of color have been deployed against black and brown populations abroad for decades. We call for an overhaul of our domestic and foreign policies to end police violence at home and war abroad, and to move toward a peaceful and just future. As steps toward these goals, Massachusetts Peace Action calls for:
Defund the Police / Invest in Our Communities
Police budgets devour an obscene amount of total municipal spending, while essential programs for affordable housing, education, youth development, and healthcare are chronically underfunded – and are slashed to the bone during economic downturns. Police are often called on to solve problems like domestic abuse and drug use which would be better addressed by specialists trained to address them. We call on cities and towns across the Commonwealth to redirect money from bloated police budgets into programs that help, rather than punish, the community. We demand a broad conversation about how to dismantle and reconfigure the current system of law enforcement into one of true public safety.
Local police throughout the U.S. are direct beneficiaries of the military-industrial complex’s overproduction of hardware designed to dominate the globe. The Pentagon’s 1033 program provides police departments with excess military-grade equipment—including tanks, armored cars and weaponry—meant for war, not for keeping the public safe. When police are dressed and equipped for war, studies have shown, they are more apt to act as though the population is their enemy. Congress must end this program and local municipalities must inventory and return all such equipment.
Repeal Qualified Immunity, End Chokeholds and Excess Force
Qualified immunity protects officers from being prosecuted for breaking the law on the job, giving the police extrajudicial status and essentially putting crime in their job description. We call on Congress to pass measures to end qualified immunity and dangerous practices such as the use of chokeholds, no-knock warrants, tear gas and all types of excessive force.
End Use of Military Within US Territory
President Trump deployed US troops against peaceful demonstrators in Lafayette Park and has threatened to send them into states to quell the uprisings if governors don’t crack down. Public outrage and even some military pushback has temporarily restrained further widespread deployment, except for the National Guard. We demand that no federal troops be used on US soil against the civilian population.
Restorative Justice, Not Mass Incarceration
Establish and foster programs of restorative justice to replace the current epidemic of mass incarceration. The US imprisons more than 2.3 million people—more than any other industrialized country—in local, state and federal prisons and detention centers. We need to end a system that arrests people for minor nonviolent offenses, 95% of all arrests. For more serious offenses, we need restorative justice programs, controlled by the community, that bring offenders and victims together and provide a space in which to redress wrongs and mend broken bonds.
Federal and state legislators are responding to the nationwide movement for justice. We support S. 3931 and H.R.1714, which would restrict the Department of Defense from transferring military equipment to local police, and H.R.7085, to eliminate the qualified immunity defense. In Massachusetts, where we have the sixth highest level of disproportion in police killings of blacks vs. whites, the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus has introduced a Ten Point Plan to address police violence. This plan would require more training for police and establish a harder civil service exam. It would also create a Commission on Structural Racism in Massachusetts to study the relationship between racial inequality and the justice system in Massachusetts. In Boston, a petition to Mayor Walsh calls for a 10% cut in the police budget and moving resources to youth employment, violence intervention programs, and the public schools.
The mass rebellion underway across the country now is fueled not only by outrage at police violence, but also by the enormous economic suffering experienced by millions who are unemployed, underemployed, or underpaid – all struggling to afford food and shelter. In the words of the Rev. Dr. William Barber II and the Poor People’s Campaign, “Everybody’s got a right to live!”
Police violence is one overt manifestation of deep ills in our society – a deliberately unfair economic system, a shredded safety net, racism in all our institutions and a government moving ever closer to authoritarianism. The movement is strong but so are the entrenched purveyors of the status quo. We must gird ourselves for the long, hard road ahead.
Send a message to Congress, and if you are a Boston resident, sign a petition to Mayor Walsh. To get involved with our campaign against militarized police violence, contact Rosemary Kean or Claire Gosselin, conveners of the Racial Justice/Decolonization Working Group, or write the office at email@example.com.
–Rosemary Kean, co-chair of the Mass. Peace Action Board and its Racial Justice / Decolonization Working Group, and Jacqueline King, editor of the Mass. Peace Action newsletter.