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Civic leaders slam police unions over push for long guns

Rev. Mark Scott is among six clergy and civic leaders from the Ella J. Baker House Youth Violence Reduction Taskforce opposing a police union demand that officers be armed with long guns. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/File

A handful of clergy and community leaders blasted Boston police union leaders Tuesday for demanding that patrol officers be armed with long guns, saying the request was racist and a “step in the wrong direction.”

“We found the letter to be racist, unnecessary, and really overly aggressive to the city in general, the [police] commissioner, the mayor, and the black community,” the Rev. Mark Scott, associate pastor of Azusa Christian Community Church said in an interview Tuesday. “It doesn’t reflect the real on-the-ground conditions in the city of Boston or the hard work done by the community and the police.”

Scott is among six clergy and civic leaders representing the Ella J. Baker House Youth Violence Reduction Taskforce, a faith-based organization that on Tuesday issued an open response to a letter written by the city’s three police unions asking the mayor and police commissioner for long guns, new body armor equipment, and a beefed-up police force.

In the letter, union leaders said that peace marches and other community outreach initiatives are good for starting conversations about ending violence, but would not prevent an officer from being shot with a high-powered weapon.


“You can sing ‘[Kumbaya]’ or ‘we shall overcome’ ’til the cows come home, but that won’t stop a rifle round aimed at a police officer’s chest!” the letter said. “You can walk hand in hand chanting ‘No justice no peace’ all day long, but that won’t stop a brick or a piece of concrete [from] slamming into an officer’s unprotected head that doesn’t have a ballistic helmet on.”

The undated letter, made public Thursday, was signed by the leadership of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, and the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society. Union leaders did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.


Scott said the Police Department has successfully handled protests by Black Lives Matter and Occupy Boston without long guns.

“We have a superior sense of what is most effective in our communities for reducing crime and promoting good will,” the response issued by the community leaders said. “Simply giving boys more toys is not an effective public safety strategy.”

Jacqueline Rivers, a task force member at the Ella J. Baker House, a community center in Dorchester, said Tuesday that the language the unions used mocks racial traditions.

“The tone was very offensive,” Rivers said.

The unions’ letter also criticized Governor Charlie Baker and said that President Obama “has basically ‘fanned the flames of Police hatred.’ ”

“Remarks about the president seemed uncalled for and inaccurate,” Rivers said. “It was what we don’t need.”

In their response, clergy and civic leaders describe the unions’ letter as “an attempt to gain advantage” in ongoing contract negotiations and say there is “no evidence of the level of violence that would be necessary to support your proposal to militarize the Boston Police Department.”

The letter offers support for Boston’s “measured approach” to addressing crime and issues between the police and the community.

Last week, Walsh said he was “taken aback” by the letter and “there was some language in that letter that didn’t need to be used.” He said there was “absolutely no need” for patrol officers to carry long guns.

In a statement issued last week, Evans said keeping officers safe is “always foremost” in his thoughts and that he takes the unions’ concerns seriously. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.


The civic leaders on the task force invited the union leaders to discuss the issues at a community meeting.

“[Evans’s] community policing model has been effective and we need to support him,” said the Rev. Colin L. Leitch, pastor of the Church on the Hill. “This is a new day in Boston. We don’t want to get into yesterday’s thinking. I would hope the unions would get in behind this.”

Jan Ransom can be reached
at jan.ransom@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Jan_Ransom.