The police reform bill has been at the front of the minds of the Massachusetts Legislature this month, with the bill being sent to Governor Baker at the beginning of the month, which he sent back with amendments. A new version is now before the Governor again after being approved by the Senate and the House.
Baker initially responded with some amendments that some elected officials, including Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, whose district covers Mission Hill, did not agree with.
In an email newsletter on December 19, Chang-Diaz wrote, “The changes cut at one of the central goals of the bill: to not just hold officers accountable for misconduct, but to reduce and prevent that very misconduct from happening in the first place. Under the Governor’s amendments, key powers to establish training curricula, set certification standards, and—most importantly—make rules about police use of force would be taken away from the civilian-led POST board (“Police Officer Standards & Training”) and returned to an all-law enforcement commission.”
The Senate discussed the matter again on December 21, where Chang-Diaz said she was in support of the bill, but also mentioned the things she believes it still lacks. This new bill currently before the governor is a combination of the first bill that came from conference committee and the one with the amendments made by Baker.
Chang-Diaz said in her floor remarks that the most recent version of the bill does not include “Substantial Qualified Immunity reform; transparency for the massive dollars we spend on locking up Black and brown bodies and a mechanism for redirecting hard-won savings out of those carceral institutions and back into communities; controls on the purchase of military-grade equipment for the policing of our domestic streets; [and] clear, legally-binding definitions to constrain the use of force by police.”
Chang-Diaz continued, “It was especially heart-breaking to reach the turning point of getting a bill to the Governor’s desk that already included so much compromise on the part of communities of color, and to have it returned with still more refusals to take power away from those who’ve had too much for too long.”
She said that after Baker sent the bill back with amendments, activists and leaders, including “…grasstops leaders spoke to me about the disappointment, rage, and deep mistrust it evoked among their grassroots about whether this process would ever lead to real change.”
Chang-Diaz then focused on what the bill would establish, which she said includes a civilian police oversight board that “…has the potential to ripple through the other 49 states,” as well as banning chokeholds and restrict no-knock warrants, ban racial profiling as a police practice for the first time in Massachusetts, “diminish the school-to-prison pipeline for Black and brown youth,” create a database where the public can see “substantiated records of police misconduct,” and several other things.
“Communities of color pushed through heartbreak, rage, and exhaustion to get meaningful law enforcement reform this far—and made more sacrifices and compromises than they should have been asked for. There’s a lot that remains undone, work that this bill will not finish,” Chang-Diaz said in a statement. “And yet this bill is a testament to the fact that, in the face of so many righteous voices calling for justice, the political system does bend to effort. “Power concedes nothing without a demand,” and over the past several months, gutsy, sustained organizing has wrought landscape-changing reform to reduce police misconduct and strengthen accountability. It’s because of advocates, organizers, and community members that this legislation stands so close to becoming law, and it’s because of their ongoing efforts that next session we will continue on this path towards necessary, long-overdue justice.”
According to Chang-Diaz’s office, Governor Baker is expected to sign this bill.