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Minority leaders put legislative agenda behind thoughts and prayers

The state's top minority elected officials marched from the African Meetiing House on Joy Street to the nearby Mass. State House to hold a press conference to voice support for those protesting against police brutality against Black Americans.
The state's top minority elected officials marched from the African Meetiing House on Joy Street to the nearby Mass. State House to hold a press conference to voice support for those protesting against police brutality against Black Americans.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

One proposal would require police officers across the state to wear body cameras. Another would create independent boards to review police conduct in each community. And another would revoke certifications for police officers who are removed from their positions for wrongdoing, to prevent them from joining a department somewhere else.

They are not necessarily new ideas — in some cases they have been languishing in the legislative process for years — but the state’s top minority elected officials united Tuesday in a call for action at a State House march and news conference, saying it’s time to enact laws that can prevent police brutality and empower those who have been disenfranchised and abused by systemic and institutional racism.

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The agenda was anchored by a congressional resolution cosponsored by Representative Ayanna Pressley that would condemn police brutality, racial profiling, and excessive use of force, and would lay out recommended reforms at all levels of government, such as the expansion of independent investigations into police conduct.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley is sponsoring a resolution that condemns police brutality, racial profiling and excessive use of force.
Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley is sponsoring a resolution that condemns police brutality, racial profiling and excessive use of force.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

State officials also laid out a legislative agenda for Beacon Hill, including proposals that have been put forward — unsuccessfully — before. One measure, pushed by state Representative Russell Holmes, would decertify police officers who lose their jobs, so that they cannot apply for an opening at another community or on a college police force.

Another proposal would require an independent special prosecutor, appointed by a district attorney, in cases of possible police misconduct. Another would work to close sentencing disparities between white people and people of color by establishing sentencing guidelines and better monitoring how sentences are handed out.

And another would establish new guidelines for police training, such as deescalation methods, and measures to hold officers accountable to that training.

Tanisha Sullivan, head of the NAACP in Boston, said her organization supports the agenda, and called on all elected officials, legislators, and executives, regardless of race — as well as the unions that represent police officers — to support the proposals.

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“So frequently, there is little to no action that follows,” she said, adding, “There is an opportunity for all of our well-meaning, well-intentioned legislators and those sitting in executive offices today to show us that the ‘thoughts and prayers’ are not empty."

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said through a spokesman that the recent events have cast “a bright light on widespread inequities and injustice that persist within our society.” He committed to working to develop policies and implement reforms.

“We must have difficult conversations about race, bias, and accountability,” he said. “We must work together. And we will.”

A spokesperson for Senate President Karen E. Spilka, who attended the press conference, did not immediately respond for comment.

City Council President Kim Janey said the recent attention on cases of police abuse and misconduct should serve as a motivator for change. The municipal agenda includes banning facial recognition technology, diversifying public safety departments, and building equality laws into housing and health systems.

“We can only have healing if there is true justice,” she said. “Our agenda must be one that promotes and protects the true liberation of Black people in our country. . . . Our fight involves more than just putting an end to police brutality.”

Suffolk DA Rachael Rollins arrived at the State House.
Suffolk DA Rachael Rollins arrived at the State House. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins said that prosecutors have a role to play, as well, to hold police officers and other officials accountable to the laws. She called on police unions to work with legislators to draft new, effective laws, saying the work will build confidence in law enforcement.

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“You have seen an epic failure of prosecutors across the country, not standing up and holding police officers accountable,” she said, adding, “when police can lose their life, the stakes are just too high.”


Milton J. Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.