Capping a busy day on the campaign trail with a little more than a week to go before voters elect Boston’s new mayor, candidates Annissa Essaibi George and Michelle Wu sat in the African Meeting House in Beacon Hill on Saturday night and answered questions about how they would address issues faced by Black men and boys in the city.
Moderated by John Barros, a former candidate in the race, the one-hour conversation covered a span of issues, such as policing, access to mental health services, and improving equity in access to the city’s top schools while combating the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline.”
The event, organized by the Black Joy Project and hosted by the Museum of African American History, was advertised as a debate. But there was little back and forth between the two at-large city councilors vying for the mayor’s office, who were largely in agreement in their answers to Barros’s questions.
The topic where their plans differed the most was on the role of policing in schools and throughout Boston’s neighborhoods.
Wu called for removing police officers from schools and reviewing the city’s contract with the Boston police union to allow for increased transparency in the department and oversight of officers.
“The reason why we still end up seeing officers shielded from accountability ... is the police union contract, ” Wu said.
“When there are incidents, we need full accountability ... for our police force,” she said.
Essaibi George, who was endorsed by former Boston police commissioner William Gross last spring and has called to bolster the number of officers on the nation’s oldest police force, said she would, on her first day as mayor, implement the recommendations outlined in a report by the Boston Police Reform Task Force, last fall.
The task force was organized under former mayor Martin J. Walsh and sought to address issues of accountability for police officers in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
Essaibi George, a former school teacher, said she would also push for greater diversity in the Boston police ranks.
“Our police department should be a reflection of the city in which it serves and our specialized units should also be a reflection of the city it serves,” Essaibi George said. “We have a tremendous amount of work to do in that space.”
Barros asked the candidates how they would push back against the “school-to-prison pipeline” and support Black students who are disproportionately disciplined for behavior in schools compared to white students.
“We need to make sure that we are protecting our kids from unnecessary suspension or removing them from the support they need — first we need to make sure those supports are in place — because we are removing them from the support that they need, and then we scratch our heads and wonder why our young people are ending up in the criminal justice system,” Essaibi George said.
David Corbie, 28, of East Boston, said he was impressed by Essaibi George’s stance on suspensions, but felt Wu was taking a bolder stance by calling for the removal of police officers from schools. He hasn’t yet decided who he will vote for on Nov. 2.
“Annissa seemed more about investing in the schools and making them better and that’s a great idea, but I think it is something where if you’re not getting to the root cause, then you’re kind of missing that aspect of the pipeline, which is very invisible to the school system but then plays such a powerful role in terms of siphoning off children,” he said.