As news of City Councilor Chuck Turner’s arrest spread last Friday, supporters and constituents expressed shock, anger and outrage at charges that he lied to FBI agents and accepted a $1,000 payoff from a confidential informant.
The community outrage was palpable Monday as more than 400 supporters gathered in front of City Hall while Turner read a statement professing his innocence and blasting his fellow councilors who supported City Council President Maureen Feeney’s decision to remove him from leadership positions on two council committees.
Supporters listened to Turner read the prepared statement, then shared their anger at the FBI for what many said they believed was a bold-faced attempt to take down a respected black politician.
“This is an attack on the black power structure in the city,” said political activist Bob Marshall. “Why have they arrested him before he was indicted? Why is he being tried in the court of public opinion?”
Like Marshall, many of Turner’s supporters professed a longstanding distrust of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and questioned the motives behind the agency’s arrests of Turner and former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, who resigned last Wednesday.
“If the FBI thinks there’s so much corruption on the [Boston] Licensing Board, why are they going after someone who has so little power?” asked community organizer Khalida Smalls. “I don’t believe there’s any weight to the charges. I think this is a wild goose chase. They’re trying to make our black elected officials look bad.”
A number of community luminaries stood with Turner during the rally, including Cape Verdean anti-violence activist Isaura Mendes, former gubernatorial candidate Grace Ross and City Life/Vida Urbana Executive Director Roxan McKinnon.
“He’s been one of the most outspoken, clear, principled elected officials in Boston,” McKinnon said.
Also present were anti-war activists, youth organizers and labor leaders.
Stevan Kirschbaum, chairman of the grievance committee for the United Steel Workers Local 875 union came with a group of school bus drivers. Standing at the back of the crowd, he surveyed the multiracial gathering.
“[Turner’s] got a rainbow base of support,” Kirschbaum said. “He represents all of us. It’s people from every walk of life because he stands with people from every walk of life.”
Hip-hop artist Ernesto “Eroc” Arroyo printed T-shirts bearing an image of the councilor and message, “We stand with Chuck.”
“The decision to come out today was an easy one,” said Arroyo, son of former City Councilor-at-Large Felix Arroyo. “Standing with Chuck makes sense to anyone in the community because he’s stood with us.”
Like most of the attendees at Monday’s rally, Arroyo said he doubted that Turner had extorted money from the confidential informant.
“He’s been a man of integrity for years,” he said. “If he says he’s innocent, I have to believe him.”
Turner, who came to Boston to attend Harvard University in the 1960s, has spent more than 40 years working in the city’s most disadvantaged communities. After years of community organizing, in 1999 Turner was elected the city councilor from District 7, which includes Roxbury, as well as parts of the Fenway, the South End and Dorchester. In the decade since, he has brought to his office many of the issues he worked on as a community activist.
His Dudley Square district office has become somewhat of a hub for activists committed to reform of the state’s Criminal Offender Record Information system. Many were at City Hall for Monday’s rally.
“Chuck is the only councilor who has a fully-operating office in the neighborhood,” said John Barros, executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative Executive. “Over the last decade, he has helped to bring services to his constituents and to bring people together in the neighborhood.”
Since his election, Turner has faced little opposition in his bids for re-election. His supporters say he has done little fundraising, financing his campaigns and get-out-the-vote work by borrowing against the equity in his Fort Hill home.
His most recent opponent, Carlos Henriquez, was among those standing in support of Turner at Monday’s rally.
“I’ve lived in Roxbury all my life and I’ve always known Chuck as a man of integrity,” said Henriquez, who challenged Turner last year.
Monday’s rally was a stark contrast to the scene outside Turner’s Roxbury Street office last Friday, when a stream of constituents passed by its locked doors.
Inside, the office was empty. Outside, several news cameras were perched on tripods, awaiting some sign of life.
But staff and supporters were in Worcester, where Turner was transported by federal agents to make his initial appearance in federal court.
Sister Verdaya Mitchell Brown, who stopped by to check on Turner’s staff, expressed disbelief.
“He’s a brilliant man who could have been anything he wanted. He chose to serve his community,” she said. “This is not a person who is self-serving. It would behoove our community to not jump to conclusions about Chuck and remember all the good things he’s done.”