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Boston Police must release full body camera footage

The public has a right to know what happened during this year’s protests.

Boston Police surround a protester (bottom left) after a demonstration over the death of George Floyd, May 31.
Boston Police surround a protester (bottom left) after a demonstration over the death of George Floyd, May 31.JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

It should not have taken seven months and the release by a media organization for body camera footage to come to light of Boston Police officers’ aggressive tactics against demonstrators decrying the killing of George Floyd.

The public should not have to wait a day longer to see the full picture of what happened on the night of May 31. The Boston Police Department must publicly release all body camera footage from that night now, in the interest of full transparency and so that the community and elected officials can get a full picture of what transpired.

What we have seen from the available videos that were first published by The Appeal is shocking, showing members of the Boston Police Department vigorously using batons, chemical sprays, and expletive-laced language against protesters, and even showing a sergeant recounting how he was “hitting people with the car.”


Within a day of the videos being published, both the Boston Police Department and the Suffolk district attorney’s office announced investigations into police conduct. Police Commissioner William G. Gross suspended an officer who was involved and said he’d take “additional action as necessary” once the department completes its probe. But greater transparency is essential if there is any hope of restoring faith in the police department after a year marked by demands by Bostonians and citizens across the country for justice in policing.

In a statement over the weekend, Mayor Marty Walsh called the footage an example of why “we are implementing body-worn cameras for all police officers, and why we convened a police reform task force committed to bringing necessary reforms and accountability to the police department.”

But body camera mandates are useless if footage of serious incidents is shielded from the public, or released only selectively. Moreover, community members cannot effectively take part in efforts to reform the police if they don’t have access to all the information they need.


Unfortunately, it is probably too late for the public to have a full picture of what transpired during those demonstrations before police reform legislation was debated on Beacon Hill this year. Perhaps armed with video recorded from the perspective of officer-worn body cameras, lawmakers and the public could have argued for critical changes in the legislation regarding independent oversight, the duty to report misconduct, and even the doctrine of qualified immunity. But they never got that chance.

Organizations including the Globe and the ACLU have made public information requests for the video. The ACLU has since filed suit to obtain it.

“Public officials have the records. They have the body camera footage, and they have the e-mail messages. And they speak to the press, and they claimed that things happened a certain way,” said Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “It’s a way public officials throughout the Commonwealth are giving themselves an opportunity to debate their adversaries while tying one of their adversary’s hands behind their back.”

The Boston Police Patrolman’s Association blamed the media for “misleading” coverage of the clashes, and called the released videos “contextually deficient.” If that’s the problem, there’s an easy solution: Release all of the videos today.

Editor’s note: This editorial has been updated so as to not inadvertently imply that The Appeal was given footage illegally.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.