Boston police take pride in strong community relationships
Boston police and community leaders spend evenings on neighborhood streets, walking together for peace. Officers join teens on basketball courts and in high school gymnasiums to shoot hoops or talk about their lives. Clergy accompany police into the homes of troubled kids to try to help.
Like Dallas, Boston has a police force that prides itself on its strong community ties. And as news of Thursday night’s sniper attack on Dallas officers reverberated across the country Friday, Boston clergy and community leaders reacted with sorrow, anger, empathy — and calls to persevere in the hard work of building bonds, and discussing race and policing honestly and calmly.
“This was planned. This was wickedness. Evil. You cannot immunize yourself against evil,” the Rev. Mark V. Scott, associate pastor of the Azusa Christian Community in Dorchester, said of the Dallas slayings. “But we sustain hope by knowing that the work that we’ve been doing here in Boston is working, is making a difference. And you don’t give up. It’s almost a crusade.”
Five police officers were killed and seven more wounded, along with two civilians, Thursday night in downtown Dallas when at least one assailant opened fire during a demonstration protesting the recent killings of black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota.
Police killed one shooter, 25-year-old Micah Johnson, who allegedly said he was upset about the recent killings and was targeting white police officers. Authorities initially said three additional suspects were in custody, but it was not clear Friday evening whether Johnson had assistance.
The Dallas shootings capped a fraught week for the nation’s police: On Tuesday, a black man was shot to death by officers in Baton Rouge after being pinned to the ground; on Wednesday, another black man was shot to death by an officer in a St. Paul suburb during a traffic stop as he reached for his license and registration. Rallies, marches, and protests sprang up across the country.
Boston police declared their support for Dallas in a series of tweets Friday.
“Our thoughts and prayers remain with courageous men and women of the @DallasPD and the entire Dallas community,” the department said. Department spokesman Lieutenant Detective Michael McCarthy said Boston police have offered support to officers in Dallas but declined to comment further, saying the focus should be on Dallas.
The Boston Police Department has worked closely with community members to forge good working relationships. Officers participate in neighborhood walks on summer nights, chatting with residents. They attend scores of community meetings and “Coffee with a Cop” events. They play basketball and tennis with kids at local parks, participate in police-youth dialogues, and perform at youth-organized talent shows. When there is a shooting, police call clergy members to the scene to help comfort family or bystanders. Last week, Police Commissioner William B. Evans visited a 103-year-old Roxbury woman just to wish her happy birthday.
Boston is not without its issues — the department has been criticized for data showing officers have interrogated, observed, and stopped black residents more than whites. But robust protests against national incidents of police brutality have been peaceful here, with few arrests. And while there have been a handful of police-involved shootings in recent years, the suspects have been armed or fired at police, and the incidents have not sparked widespread outrage.
Sergeant Mark Parolin, president of the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, said that the strong ties that officers and the community already have forged will help the city move through whatever tumult follows the Dallas slayings.
“Right now, everybody should sit back and reflect on what people are saying and doing, and make sure everybody’s talking to each other,” he said.
While officers are grieving and frightened, he said, they are not willing to give in to despair.
“You can’t feel hopeless,” said Parolin. “One way or another, things work out in this country.”
Police in Dallas, like police in Boston, have a good reputation for protecting the right to peaceably assemble, as the protesters were doing on Thursday.
Thomas Nolan, a former Boston police officer who is now a criminology professor at Merrimack College, said his concern in the wake of the Dallas killings was that police across the country would overreact and begin coming down too hard on people they perceive as threatening, exacerbating an already-tense national mood. But the relationships Boston has built, he said, will help prevent that kind of response.
The tough task ahead now, for police and citizens, is to continue to discuss important issues of race and police reform with compassion, honesty, and nuance, and without resorting to hateful rhetoric, said Nolan and others.
“We cannot ignore Baton Rouge and St. Paul, Minn., because of what happened in Dallas,” said the Rev. Jeffrey Brown, associate pastor at Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury. “At the same time, we have to get beyond the vitriolic language that foments violence.”
Police and community leaders here, Brown said, have worked hard to create an environment in which citizens can frankly discuss inequities without fear. Boston, he said, can stand as an example for the rest of the country on how to move forward the dialogue on race and police-community relations.
On Friday night, about 200 members of Black Lives Matter and We Are The Ones Boston gathered for a peaceful vigil in the South End.
Prayer services and vigils for all the victims of the week’s violence were held Friday across Boston.
“There certainly are a lot of us who have worked together — ministers, community leaders, police — for years and years and years,” said Emmett Folgert, executive director of the Dorchester Youth Collaborative. “All that means something now.”