Eric Garner (New York City), Mike Brown (Ferguson, MO) and now Freddie Grey (Baltimore). Three black men who died at the hands of police officers in the last 8 months. For once, the pundits and community organizers are on the same page: We can no longer call these killings isolated incidents. I’ll stop short of saying “it’s open season for black men by law enforcement” but the facts speak for themselves. We can no longer dismiss testimonies from people across the country as just “You did something to deserve it”.
Context is everything.
That said, I’m going to share something that happened with me this past Thursday afternoon. I’d just stepped out of the Bank of America in Cleary Square when a Police SUV pulled up onto the sidewalk inches from the steps of the bank. I was at the bottom of the stairs when the SUV jumped the curb and stopped next to the steps. I jumped back thinking it was going to keep going and motioned for the vehicle to keep going. A police car pulled up a moment later and two cops jumped out. One of them told me they’d just been notified moments ago the bank was being robbed.
I’m going to pause it there to tell you what I was thinking in that moment: Is the suspect still inside and are they armed? My second thought was to stand right there and wait. I wasn’t thinking “I’m black and these cops are white” (which was the case) . I wasn’t thinking “Do they think it was me?” and mind you I had my backpack with me. In that moment, my only thought was my own mortality. I only saw them as cops doing their jobs.
So I waited for about 3 minutes before the all-clear was given. The cops didn’t ask me anything. No guns were drawn. As I walked back toward the square a couple black guys asked me what happened and if I was ok. I’m sure that for both them and the cops, what happened in Baltimore was fresh in their minds.
Even so, my main point is what happened in Baltimore, New York and Ferguson would not have happened in Boston. Former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis deserves alot of credit for working hard to repair the culture of distrust between police and minority communities. When he took the job, the first thing he did was get officers out of patrol cars and walking around the streets of Boston. New Officers and Veteran Officers were encouraged to talk to community members and visit businesses to build thrust. It worked. While Ed Davis’ work during the Marathon Bombing investigation and the ensuing manhunt is what he will always be known for nationwide, his work to close the rift between police and minority communities should not be overlooked. In fact, it should be used as a blueprint nationwide.
Boston was one of the few American cities that didn’t burn during the 1968 riots when Martin Luther King was asassinated. When Baltimore burned, the damage was never restored and the businesses that were destroyed never came back to this day. A state of the art shopping center was built at New Market Square in Dorchester in 1995. Stores have come and gone but it is still there 20 years after being built. A new Commuter Rail Station was built and Four MBTA bus routes were rerouted to service the shopping center that contributes millions in commerce and job to the neighborhood.
To say there is a vested interest in giving the people of Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan what they need would be a bit of an understatement. I can’t say the same about New York and Baltimore. If anything, Baltimore city and state leaders should be held accountable for failing to meet the basic needs of ALL of their citizens. Boston definitely isn’t perfect but there is alot it can teach nearby major cities.