By Councilor Lydia Edwards
Thank you. I haven’t said it enough to the men and women in blue that serve our great city. Time and time again they are expected to be at their best when we are at our worst. Whether it was during 9/11, the marathon bombings, or riots, we’ve seen police officers answer the call and step up to keep our cities safe. They answer the call and show up no matter who is calling and without knowing if they will be coming home. I’ve personally watched several befriend and mentor our youth, serve food at our soup kitchens, participate in countless peace walks, help seniors with groceries, and sometimes give people rides home to Maine in the middle of a snowstorm. As we begin to have conversations about the role of police in our society, it’s important that we acknowledge everything they do and thank them for it. We cannot let their entire role in society be defined by bad actors. I certainly won’t.
The best way for us to acknowledge their service is to respect their vision and their experiences and rely on them for their perspective as we seek the changes that many people are calling for. I know that many police officers want to see some of these same changes. The vast majority of officers want nothing more than for the abusive police officers to be brought to justice, for the hotheads at the station to get training and change or leave, for young people to trust them, and to be the good guys. The vast majority want to see more women and people of all colors be proud members of their fraternal family.
Today, many people are calling for us to change. Let’s be clear: it is not just the police but every aspect of our lives that is getting a second look because of the pandemic and because we are in a civil rights movement. Change can be a good thing. What I do not agree with is calls to abolish the police entirely. We need the police. But we also need to need to acknowledge that we are asking them to do too much right now. A lot of police officers are tired and don’t want to respond to mental health issues or nonviolent community disputes. There are nonviolent and non-criminal calls for service that we can instead give to an unarmed, trained, community response team. The ordinance that I will be introducing during this week’s council hearing will divert these calls away from the police so that they can focus on the violent calls we need them at their best for.
The Globe recently wrote that “other American cities, including Dallas, New Orleans, and Miami, have implemented emergency response alternatives that have reduced arrest rates and homelessness, while cutting costs that are associated with transporting people who are in custody, hospitalization, and incarceration.” Over the next few weeks I will be reaching out to our police and police chiefs around the country to discuss their programs and better understand how this might work in Boston.
I am tired of today’s hashtag click bait culture that highlights the worst of every issue and forces people to pick a side. Life isn’t black and white and neither is change. You cannot call for inclusion and exclude people that think differently from you. In order for us to move forward from this moment together, we need to learn how to have tough conversations about these issues and we can’t let ourselves get distracted by outside narratives. It’s possible for us to support our police officers and realize that some change is needed. Recent polling shows that a majority of Democrats, Republicans, and independents all support creating a new agency of treatment professionals that would respond to calls when someone has overdosed or when a family member is having a mental health crisis. If we sit and truly listen to each other, we will find that we have more in common than what separates us.
We want a police force that looks like us, that lives with us, that protects us and so does every police officer I know. I am committed to listening to the police officers in my life, including some of my own family members, about the changes they’d like to see and working to make those happen.
Lydia Edwards is City Councilor of District 1.