Several candidates for mayor committed at a forum Monday night to dialing back police coverage of large-scale Boston events like the annual Boston Pride parade to lessen tensions with community members and present a less militaristic public safety presence.
“Security without police — that’s what I’m committing to,” said mayoral candidate John Barros, the city’s former chief of economic development. “We need to develop alternative systems to provide safety and crowd control at pride events, at other events.”
Councilor Annissa Essaibi George — the mayoral candidate most aligned with the Boston Police Department, who already claimed the endorsement of former police commissioner William Gross — not only committed to limit the number of police handling marches and rely instead on marshals, she also said that, as mayor, she would expand implicit bias training for police, broaden the use of mental health clinicians, and recruit diverse police officers, including transgender police.
“I believe that it’s fundamentally important for our police force to reflect the diversity of the community it serves,” Essaibi George said. “As mayor, I will fight to increase diversity across BPD by recruiting new officers from diverse backgrounds and promoting diverse candidates into leadership roles.”
The exchange occurred at a Monday night debate organized by LGBTQ activists who have been calling for change at Boston Pride since its board watered down a statement about the death of George Floyd at police hands last year. Demanding greater representation, the activists note that the Pride movement was born from demonstrations against police brutality led by transgender women of color at the Stonewall Inn in New York.
The forum was organized by Mass NOW, Trans Resistance, the Transgender Emergency Fund, and the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, and held at the same time as a forum already scheduled by Boston Pride. Boston Pride was forced to reschedule its forum for Monday after mayoral candidates dropped out so they could participate in the protest forum.
During the trans forum, which touched on explosive issues of police transparency that have been central in the mayor’s race, Acting Mayor Kim Janey alluded to her showdown with Dennis White, whom her predecessor appointed police commissioner. Janey fired White on Monday over domestic violence allegations that surfaced after his appointment, which he attempted to rebut by discrediting his ex-wife.
“As it relates to policing, there is a lot we need to do to be sure that we all feel safe,” Janey said. “We know that those in the trans community in particular feel targeted, feel that they are somehow under attack from all fronts, especially from the people who are supposed to keep them safe.”
Councilor Andrea Campbell noted that she called out the previous Boston police commissioner for sending police in riot gear to the peaceful protests that broke out after Floyd’s killing. “Let me tell you, I took heat for calling out and speaking up. No fear about speaking up about injustice,” said Campbell.
Councilor Michelle Wu said she has pushed for “a public health-led response to crisis calls” to all public safety interactions. “In so many of the instances where we are sending armed law enforcement, we’re actually not only not providing residents with the services that are necessary, but actively introducing risk and harm,” she said.
“I want to get to a place where we don’t have to have police at these places,” said state Representative Jon Santiago, who said the criminal justice system continues to be stacked against communities of color and queer and transgender individuals. “We need to implement structural reforms to undo decades of racism, of discrimination, and of harm done.”
A Boston Police Department spokesman could not immediately respond to a request for comment.