Police video demands full, transparent investigation

Police Commissioner Bill Evans speaks to reporters, beside Chief William Gross, right, during a press conference to announce the end of a year-long investigation, which resulted in indict seventeen individuals and the seizure of 22 firearms. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe (Metro, Schworm )
Josh Reynolds/Globe Staff
Boston Police Commissioner William Evans (left) with Chief William Gross.

Through a combination of tactics and luck, Boston has so far avoided eruptions between its police officers and communities of color similar to those that have roiled such cities as Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, and Baton Rouge, La., in recent years. That’s why it’s so important that the Boston Police Department conduct a thorough investigation of a questionable video featuring one of its patrolmen.

A spoof of a cop buddy-comedy movie trailer, the brief clip shows photos and captions of the officer and a canine in a leg cast — described as “an inept cop and a dog with a limp” — who team up “in the fight between good and evil.” Near the end, several photos of African-Americans are shown with the words, “This summer, black people have met their match.”

Whether the officer shown was involved in the making or posting of the video is under investigation. In a statement, BPD spokesman Lieutenant Detective Michael McCarthy called the video “upsetting” and contrary to “the department’s philosophy of community policing.” Officers are expected “to exercise sound judgment,” he said, and should “act in a way that fosters strong community relationships and trust across the city.”


Larry Ellison, president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers called the video “racist.” One photo in the video features a group of elaborately costumed women from Boston’s annual Carnival parade. That event is scheduled for Aug. 26, and any inference that thousands of attendees should be wary about police presence is especially concerning.

Given the killings of unarmed citizens and harassing stop-and-frisk policies, African-Americans nationwide have a historical mistrust of law enforcement. A new study published last week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that police officers in Oakland, Ca., routinely speak more respectfully to white people than to black people. Few African-Americans seemed surprised by the results; it only confirmed what they’ve known and experienced for years.

It is a discouraging fact that communities of color expect police to treat them unfairly. Whatever its maker’s intentions, this video reinforces the perception of an adversarial relationship between law enforcement and the citizens they are sworn to serve and protect. Under Police Commissioner William Evans, BPD has worked to improve its relationship with the black community. Yet such progress is so fragile that it can be quickly undone. It’s not enough for BPD to investigate this disturbing incident; it must do so fully and transparently. If one or more officers were involved in this video, how they are disciplined needs to be made public, and the department should reaffirm its commitment to equal treatment of all citizens.

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Mayor Marty Walsh says the city must take “swift action to find out what happened here.” With summer fast approaching, it can’t be swift enough for the
African-American community.