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An opportunity for leadership

Melvin B. Miller

Massachusetts is the bluest of blue states. Its residents take great pride in being the national leader on human rights issues. Political office holders are not always constrained by party affiliation. When Gov. Charlie Baker ran for re-election in 2016, although he is a Republican he had more support in the polls among Democrats (71%) than in his own party (59%). There is some criticism that Baker did not utilize this strong political position to become a leader of efforts to change the culture of the nation’s police forces.

When considering police-community relations, the first thought that comes to mind is the horrific record of police shootings of unarmed blacks. According to the Washington Post record, 995 people were killed by the police in 2018. Of these, 200 were black and 129 were Hispanic. This slaughter provoked the establishment of the political campaign Black Lives Matter.

Many whites objected to the “Black Lives Matter” slogan, but that point of view was difficult to understand. The police also killed more whites than blacks. In 2018, 408 whites were killed by the police, more than twice the number of blacks. Yet there was no protest. The only explanation is that some people believe that those individuals the police shot deserved to die.

Such a callous attitude, if that position is common, is not acceptable for police community relations. Baker is in the position of dominion over the state police and can begin the process of establishing a new professionalism for law enforcement. While police officers can debate whether a shooting is justified, there can be no doubt that overtime fraud is a crime that violates the law. A number of state police officers were charged with that crime.

For every politician it is desirable to maintain the support of the police as committed constituents. The governor has more than enough political capital to consider an effort to set a high standard for the Massachusetts State Police as well as encourage police departments in major cities to reform practices that violate the national commitment to democracy.

There is much that the Republicans can do to repair flaws in the nation’s concept of justice for all, and Governor Baker should be part of the effort.

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