One Sunday in September 2015, Senator Elizabeth Warren arrived at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston to give a speech about racial justice. Drawing ties between the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and current protests over police officers who had killed Black men, she declared: “Black lives matter. Black citizens matter. Black families matter.”
It was among the strongest statements of support the young protest movement had earned from a prominent federal lawmaker, and The Washington Post called it “the speech that Black Lives Matter activists have been waiting for.”
But it was not as well-received by the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, or its leader at the time, Patrick Rose. Within days of the speech, Rose called Warren to “demand” a meeting, according to her new book, “Persist.”
Rose arrived wearing a scowl, with his head back and chest out, seeming “intent on inflicting some pain,” Warren recalls in the book. He launched immediately into a lecture, telling her that by affirming that Black lives matter, she had disrespected the police and lent credibility to a protest movement he considered a terrorist group full of radicals and anarchists.
Police put their lives on the line for “people like [Warren],” Rose told her, and she should be more grateful, according to her recollection.
“Really? That’s it?” Warren recalls thinking. “Not one word about Michael Brown or Eric Garner? Not one word about the videos that showed one African American man after another dying during an assault by the police?”
Rose quickly left the meeting when it became apparent “that he couldn’t bully me,” and that she would not apologize for the speech, Warren recalled.
Six years later, Rose — who now stands accused of molesting six children over the course of more than two decades — has become a catalyst for calls to change Boston police culture, and Warren and other progressives remain adamant that law enforcement practices must evolve.
In an interview with The Boston Globe last week, Warren said Massachusetts and the US must adopt “meaningful police reform,” and police unions cannot be allowed to delay or block that effort.
“We need change, and we need it now,” she said. “The unions are always welcome to be part of that reform. It’s their choice. But whether they want to be part of it, or try to obstruct, we must go forward.”
She writes in “Persist,” her 12th book, that “racist policing isn’t a problem caused by one bad apple or even a dozen bad apples.”
“It’s a broken system,” she writes. “But Boston’s police union president didn’t come to see me to talk about a broken system. Officer Rose had a very specific target in his sights: Black Lives Matter.”
A Globe investigation revealed that Rose kept his badge, and his prominent position in the union, even though Boston police knew he had been accused of molesting children, and even filed a criminal complaint against him in 1995. Prosecutors say he preyed on children even during the years of his union presidency. Rose was arrested last summer and charged on multiple counts of indecent assault of a child under 14.
Police union leaders did not return a request for comment. Rose’s attorney, William J. Keefe, has said Rose maintains his innocence and will fight the charges, but did not return a request for comment on the meeting Warren described.
Rose is hardly the first “bad apple” Boston police have been accused of protecting. Boston police officers accused of misconduct often see their legal problems melt away and rarely face termination or criminal charges after internal affairs investigations.
Years after Warren met with Rose, police unions continue to play a central role in debates about law enforcement misconduct and how to prevent it. Boston police and the Rose scandal in particular have become defining issues in this year’s mayoral election. And the city’s largest police union has been accused of racism and bullying after attacking City Councilor Andrea Campbell, a mayoral candidate, on Twitter.
Senator Bernie Sanders, a leading progressive along with Warren and a champion of organized labor, said he would support limiting police unions’ ability to bargain over procedures that shield officers from accountability.
Sanders supports unions advocating for good wages and working conditions, he told Axios, but police associations have gone far beyond that.
“What they have done is try through a variety of legal means of saying, ‘Hey, if a police officer does something illegal or worse’ — I mean kill somebody — ‘we’re going to protect that person,’” Sanders said.