Baker, Walsh among officials pledging to work for social justice
Governor Charlie Baker, Mayor Martin J. Walsh, and other elected officials pledged during a forum in Boston on Tuesday night to fight for affordable health care, gun violence prevention, criminal justice reform, and public education in the Commonwealth.
The governor and mayor were joined by Attorney General Maura Healey and Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo. The four made their pledges before more than 1,800 people who packed the historic Trinity Church in Copley Square for the event, hosted by the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization.
On the topic of gun violence, Baker said his administration will ensure that all cities and towns abide by a provision in a new state law that requires local police departments to trace the origin of every firearm used in a crime.
“That will help identify and stop gun traffickers,” Baker said, adding that his staff is also working on a implementing a second portion of the law requiring more comprehensive background checks for licensed private gun sales.
Walsh received sustained applause when he said the city will follow through on its initial plan to build a new building for the Dearborn school in its original home in the heart of Roxbury, despite opposition from state agencies and some neighborhood residents.
“We’re going to bring it home,” Walsh said of the school, whose students currently share space with a high school in Dorchester. “Dearborn is something that’s very dear to my heart.”
Walsh spoke after Dearborn sixth-grader Jakya Furtado addressed the crowd and said Roxbury youths such as her deserve a school focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math in their neighborhood.
“I love my school, and I want to bring home the new Dearborn school,” said Furtado, who later got a high five from the mayor.
Walsh also said his administration is taking steps to provide affordable housing for city residents, and allocating more funds for the effort in the municipal budget.
Healey spoke about health care and urged public support for a bill pending in the state Legislature that would strengthen the role of the state agency that reviews hospital mergers and give her office more power to block deals that are projected to raise costs for consumers.
“Health care is a civil right,” she said to cheers. “We have to think about it with an eye towards that.”
The crowd of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faith leaders also welcomed a promise from DeLeo, who vowed to “facilitate” dialogue between lawmakers and advocates for criminal justice reform.
He made the comment after speakers voiced opposition against mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and called for more job opportunities for offenders seeking work.
“Please help us,” said Donnelle Wright of the advocacy group Ex-Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement.
DeLeo said researchers from the Pew Center will visit the state in the coming months to “look at how we can improve the criminal justice system” in Massachusetts, and he called for “treating addiction as a disease, rather than a crime.”
Baker was given the final word among the elected officials and said a state task force will issue a report in June on the Commonwealth’s opiate overdose crisis, which he said claimed 1,000 lives last year.
“Governor [Deval] Patrick called this an epidemic about a year and a half ago,” he said. “It’s still an epidemic.”
The festive event also included singing, prayers, and booming call-and-response interludes led by organizers.
“GBIO wants justice,” said Beverly Williams, a member of Bethel AME Church in Jamaica Plain and one of the speakers at the event. “Can I hear you say justice?”
“Justice!” the crowd shouted.