As city officials and community members grapple with the problem of teen mobs bringing mayhem to neighborhoods across Boston, forcing the closure of businesses, stopping traffic, and causing chaos, there is one place where praise is warranted: the police response.
By all accounts, Boston police officers who responded to the recent melees downtown, in the North End, and at South Bay Center were able to bring the situations under control with de-escalation tactics in lieu of the use of harmful or deadly weapons. It is precisely the kind of response police reform advocates and this editorial board have pressed for. Law enforcement officials demonstrated that they can be effective without brute force, and their approach should not only be lauded, it should serve as a model for other municipalities across the Commonwealth and the country.
It was a dramatic departure from the force police displayed against protesters decrying the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Video footage emerged after those protests showing Boston police officers using pepper spray, batons, and fists on protesters, shoving them to the ground, and even bragging about their forceful response. The display of excessive force only served to reinforce the notion among some citizens, particularly residents of color, that the police were more likely to pose a danger to them than to protect and serve them.
The apparent change in the police department’s approach is a crucial first step in building trust among residents who have long viewed police with apprehension, said the Rev. Jeffrey Brown, associate pastor at Twelfth Baptist Church and longtime community activist.
“The challenge will be whether the department can maintain this and show consistency rather than going back to business as usual,” Brown said. “If you don’t have consistency, you cannot expect that change to generate instant trust in the communities.”
The reforms have not been without controversy. Police unions even sued the city over reforms that limited law enforcement officers’ use of pepper spray, rubber bullets, and other crowd control tools, arguing that they dangerously usurped the authority and discretion of officers and those in their chain of command and would only encourage use of more force. But the response over the holiday weekend, at least anecdotally, belied those prognostications.
To be clear: vandalism, violence, and assaults on police or anyone else are wrong, illegal, and should result in consequences. And whatever complex factors have helped fuel the recent rise in unruly youth mobs — from viral social media trends to a lack of sufficient community resources for youth programs — the solution certainly is not over-policing.
A crucial tenet of law enforcement is that police ought to use only the force commensurate with the threat presented. The recent melees were brought under control without a single bullet, rubber or otherwise, being fired. Officers did it without plumes of noxious chemicals being deployed. The youths who were detained, including those who will face charges as juveniles, were released to their guardians. This is the result that police and community members should strive for. Police Commissioner Michael Cox called such restraint a mark of professionalism, and he is right.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.