Speech from S2800 - An Act to reform police standards and shift resources to build a more equitable, fair and just commonwealth that values Black lives and communities of color (July 9, 2020):
As many of you know, I have advocated for reforms to our criminal justice system since I arrived in the Senate, and we have had many successes including limiting mandatory minimum sentencing, reducing drug sentences, CORI reform and of course last session’s comprehensive criminal justice reform bill.
Change is always hard, and it took the work, commitment, and a new perspective from many of us to enact those reforms.
The bill before us today requires something even more difficult, by asking us to change our perspective on what public safety means, and what we can do to further the goal of equal treatment. This bill has the incredible potential to go beyond simply amending our laws and will hopefully help us succeed in creating significant positive cultural change in our society.
Ida B. Wells, a noted African American journalist who led an anti-lynching crusade over a century ago once said:
“There must always be a remedy for wrong and injustice, if we only know how to find it.”
And that is what we are doing today.
We need to find a remedy for egregious harms that are systemic in our culture. The life stories our Black and Brown communities are sharing can no longer be brushed aside across the country or here in Massachusetts. We have had the statistics for a long time, and now we have the videos. We cannot turn away.
Today, we are beginning with a re-working of our current model of policing. But our work can’t and won’t stop here- environmental justice, health care, housing and education – are all areas where public policy can and must remedy the ‘wrongs and injustices’ we see embedded in our culture.
The bill before us today is a significant step.
I have heard recently from so many dedicated, hardworking, and incredibly thoughtful men and women, who have chosen to work in public safety - which we all know is a difficult, demanding, and dangerous profession. They are working every day to protect us and manage with compassion and fairness the many individuals they come in contact with, and the different crises they confront. They see the need for more mental health professionals to help them do their work with the homeless, the drug addicted and others. But they are working in a system that does not give them all the right tools, or sufficient training, and that does not always weed out those who are not qualified by temperament to become officers. We can change this.
I am pleased that the bill being released today contains many of the provisions of the bill I originally filed with Representative Miranda only a few weeks ago. It includes our proposed commonsense requirements to employ de-escalation tactics before using physical force, limit any force to what is proportionate to the situation, and prohibit the use of deadly force unless there is a demonstrable and imminent threat to human life.
Our bill creates a duty for officers to report or intervene when they witness the excessive use of force, which, frankly, I believe will be a great relief to so many officers who know that these rules will now back them up if they have to intervene. We create independent oversight and investigation of complaints, along with clear rules on accountability and transparency.
This bill also includes changes to our expungement laws so more emerging adults can petition to expunge their criminal records acquired before they turned 21. We all know that any conviction can have devastating lifelong consequences on employment prospects, and this will provide meaningful new opportunities for many.
And it adds another of my priorities, a moratorium on the government’s use of facial recognition technology – sending a strong message in support of civil liberties and racial justice.
Many Senators have contributed important items in this bill, and I know amendments will add more. At the end of the day, I believe we will have taken a significant step forward in our search for racial justice.
Of course, we would not be here today without the Senate President’s willingness to embrace this moment in history and focus the Senate on these difficult issues, and I thank her for that. And I want to also thank Senator Brownsberger, Senator Chang-Diaz and Senator Rodrigues for their incredible work in crafting this package today.
I urge your support for this bill, and I hope it is passed to be engrossed.