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Black leaders call on Legislature to pass police reform bill

Strong police reform legislation is essential to make sure that unarmed Black people are not victims of police violence, Monica Cannon-Grant said.
Strong police reform legislation is essential to make sure that unarmed Black people are not victims of police violence, Monica Cannon-Grant said.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe/The Boston Globe

Black leaders from across Massachusetts renewed calls Sunday for the state Legislature to pass a police reform bill, hosting an online rally to draw attention to a list of desired changes.

In a letter sent to state lawmakers, community leaders, clergy, and civil rights organizations outlined several measures intended to curb racism among police departments, including the implementation of statewide standards and training for officers, limits on police use of force, and a civil service exam commission.

The leaders also called for limits on qualified immunity, a ban on racial profiling, required data collection for all stops, and opportunities for criminal record expungement.

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“Without a resolute commitment to meaningful change, Black communities will continue to experience aggressive, violent, and sometimes deadly policing,” the letter reads.

The letter’s more than 50 signers include the New England Area Conference of the NAACP, the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, former state representative and Boston mayoral candidate Charlotte Golar Richie, former Boston city councilor Tito Jackson, Jamarhl Crawford of Mass Police Reform, and the Rev. Ray Hammond, pastor of Bethel AME Church in Jamaica Plain.

The state House and Senate passed separate police reform bills over the summer and then sent their proposals to a six-member conference committee in late July, but a compromise bill has not yet emerged.

Sunday’s virtual rally featured Black activists from towns and cities such as Boston, Lynn, New Bedford, Springfield, and Worcester, who spoke about struggles with police violence in their communities and how police reform would protect Black lives.

Ike McBride, an activist from Worcester, spoke about the importance of non-violent and drug offenses being expunged, especially for young people.

“They shouldn’t be looking at 15 years at age 16,” he said. “They take away our children’s lives.”

The Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, who moderated the virtual rally, said fighting for police reform legislation will help activists who have led the movement for reform.

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“We need to stand with them,” she said.

Several speakers said that while the police reform bill being considered in the state Legislature may not go far enough, it will play an essential role in protecting the Black community.

“Parts will help save Black lives,” said Monica Cannon-Grant, an activist who founded the antiviolence group Violence in Boston.

Cannon-Grant said that while the chances are slim of defunding police in Massachusetts, she won’t stop fighting for change.

”I’m still going to scream it from the top of my lungs,” she said.

Strong police reform legislation is essential to make sure that unarmed Black people are not victims of police violence, she said.

”Boston is one situation from being a Ferguson,” Cannon-Grant said, referring to the police shooting of Michael Brown in 2014 in Ferguson, Mo. “Legislation is to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

In the letter to state legislators, leaders called for several other actions to fight systemic racism, including a commission on structural racism, a justice reinvestment workforce development fund, youth privacy protections, local control over school resource officers, and a ban on face surveillance.

”The legislature must meet this political moment with courage and take bold steps to increase accountability for police, address the concerns of our overpoliced communities, protect young people, and ensure there is greater transparency in policing,” the letter said.


Andrew Stanton can be reached at andrew.stanton@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @_andrewstanton.