To honor Michael Brown, don’t make noise, make change

The letter below is my response to “Mo. killing reverberates in Boston,” Boston Globe, 8/15/2014.

Another black man gets murdered by white cops. Another protest erupts. Another week of writhing under the pungent residues of American apartheid. Since 1964, this tragic carousel has turned and turned. It is now half a century later. Why hasn’t this situation evolved?

Because our response hasn’t. On Thursday, movement leaders in Boston should have been at the Mayor’s and City Council’s door with plans to reform our toothless civilian police review board. Instead, luminaries like Dr. Charles Ogletree called for “a lot of noise,” organizers handed out magic-markers and signs in the Boston Common, and activists sought “to let the people in Ferguson know … the people in Boston care.”

This country does not need another howling, posterboard protest. And Ferguson does not need our sympathy. They need our action. For decades, university and media outlets have exhaustively reported on Boston’s impotent police oversight. BPD’s Internal Affairs Division, charged with investigating police misconduct, lets hundreds of complaints sit and languish for a year or more, thwarting any attempt to bring abusive officers to justice as witness memories fade and civilian victims move on with their lives. Boston’s previous mayor opposed all efforts to install a civilian-run police oversight board until a cop killed a (white) college student with an errant pepper shot. Even when Menino finally gave in, he created the wobbly-named Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel — a mockery of an institution with no subpeona power, no right to conduct its own interviews of victims and witnesses, and no means of communicating with complainants until after IAD rules on the few cases it chooses to.

This frustrating charade, like our nation’s deep-seated racial tensions, has boiled on for far too long. The status quo is as unacceptable here as it is in Ferguson, and with a new mayor, police commissioner and superintendent-in-chief, Boston activists have a fresh opportunity to push for meaningful police oversight. Our NAACP, Urban League, ACLU, and other community groups need to switch from moving picket signs around Boston Common to moving our institutions forward. Let’s honor the memory of Michael Brown with something real, beyond ephemeral gestures. Let’s organize and demand a strong civilian review board and, finally, the institutionalization of real police accountability in Boston.