Boston police Commissioner William G. Gross on Tuesday defended his weekend Facebook post in which he criticized the ACLU of Massachusetts as a band of “paper warriors” more concerned with filing lawsuits than helping police combat crime.
Speaking after a public event at police headquarters in Roxbury, Gross for the first time took questions from reporters about the controversial post on his personal Facebook page, which is accessible to thousands of his Facebook friends including journalists and advocates. “You know my passion,” Gross told reporters. “My post on my private page to my private friends was taken out of context by some.”
Gross said he was addressing people in his posting who “come to me that feel kind of dejected at times, like their voices aren’t heard.” His message, Gross said, was, “Don’t get dejected. You can sue us all day — don’t get dejected, your voices will be heard. . . . I was uplifting the community, uplifting the [Police Department] and my law enforcement family, and I was giving my personal observations.”
He said he was also trying to stress that his officers care deeply for the city.
“[I was] pretty much saying this: Can you walk a mile in our shoes? Can you walk a couple of steps and just hear our voice, too?” Gross said. “We do care about the community. We’ve been through tragedies, we are busting our butts out there. Can we not be painted with a broad brush?”
In addition, Gross said he plans to speak with Rahsaan Hall, director of the Racial Justice Program for the ACLU of Massachusetts. Reached by phone Tuesday, Hall acknowledged that he will be meeting with Gross in the near future.
When Gross spoke to reporters on Tuesday, he was joined by Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who said he supports the work of the ACLU but also backs Gross and his police officers.
The state ACLU is among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed Nov. 15 in Suffolk Superior Court that seeks to force Boston police to release information about the department’s practice of labeling young men and teenagers from Central America as gang members — allegedly with often flimsy evidence — and sharing that data with federal immigration officials.
In his weekend post, Gross attacked the ACLU for, in his view, failing to support police or better the local community and instead “hiding and waiting for a slow news day to justify their existence.”
The normally affable commissioner took the civil rights group to task for not participating in a trip Gross took to El Salvador to learn about the MS-13 gang, for not being involved in the department’s anticrime programs, and for not offering support when officers are wounded or killed in the line of duty.
“NO ACLU when Officers are shot, No ACLU when we help citizens, no ACLU present when we have to explain to a mother that her son or daughter was horribly murdered by gang violence,” Gross wrote.
Gross also thanked the “98 percent of the people in Boston that are doing the right thing and are helping out others” and said police will “continue to do our job” despite the ACLU’s “paper warriors.”
His remarks drew swift condemnation from the ACLU of Massachusetts, with executive director Carol Rose accusing Gross of trying “to divert attention from the serious issues raised by an ACLU lawsuit.”
On Tuesday, Gross, the city’s first black commissioner, said he’s open to working with anyone who wants to help Boston neighborhoods. “We’ll work with anybody that will come into our communities on the ground level, go through what we’re going through, including mothers, advocates, and people in the community, to make this a better city,” Gross said.
Maria Cramer of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents Jeremy C. Fox and John Hilliard contributed to this report.