The best or worst kept secret in Boston, depending on whom you ask, is the chasm that is the city’s racial divide.
For the capital of a bleeding blue state like Massachusetts, it is surprising to some that not only is Boston a largely segregated city, it is also seen as racist in its institutional practices. So what is the next mayor of our fair city going to do about it?
There are people and organizations that work to reverse this truth, such as YW Boston. The nonprofit divides racial disparities into three government-sanctioned categories: education, employment, and police involvement. One of their best programs, in my inexpert opinion, is the dialogue they moderate between police and youths in areas with a concentration of crime.
This practice aims to build trust between the police and the civilians without lectures from men in uniform. In other words, neither party is on the high ground, which is fitting given last year’s scandal involving a leaked email from the Boston Police Department union leader, which used a racial slur to describe a black Harvard professor. Then (obviously) Justin Barrett claimed to not be a racist.
Unfortunately, this behavior is not unusual for the BPD. That is not to accuse every officer of bigotry, but Barrett’s actions are not unprecedented, nor were they the last of their kind.
You have to realize that a program such as YW’s exists for a reason. In this case, it represents a lack of trust between the police and minority citizens in and around Boston. And with comments such as the previous union leader of the BPD’s, it’s no wonder why there is uneasiness.
When it comes to the candidates in the Boston Mayoral race, few can be seen speaking out prominently against the city’s inherent racism. The New York Times noted the diversity of the hopefuls: five of them are black, one is Latino, and one is female.
The source quotes candidate John Barros as saying, “It’s nice to have so many of us running.”
Barros also expressed his belief that despite Boston’s history of white mayors, specifically of Irish descent (with the exception of Mayor Thomas Menino, an Italian-American) he has a chance of being elected.
“Boston helped propel Deval Patrick to the governorship and Barack Obama to the presidency,” Barros told the Times.
There is no clear front-runner in this race, even though the primaries are nearly upon us, making it difficult to say whether Barros’ optimism is merited. However, there are some that strongly believe the wrong candidate would exascerbate Boston’s poor reputation regarding race.
Chris Faraone, previously of the Boston Phoenix, has been following the race with expert precision and a willingness to disavow any candidate within his column in the Jamaica Plain Gazette. His column is titled “Politics as Unusual,” and has been running since Mayor Menino announced that he would not seek a sixth term.
In July, Faraone chose Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley to denounce, and not without good reason. The author reached into Conley’s past, and drew out several instances of the now-candidate clearing BPD officials of fatally shooting minorities.
It is easy to draw conclusions from that statement alone – after all, such a situation rarely looks good – but it should also be noted that Conley has cited New York’s security policies, including the extremely controversial stop-and-frisk allowance, which has been accused of targeting young black and Hispanic men.
In 2010, an unarmed 16-year-old was brutally beaten by multiple police officers from the BPD. The scene was caught on camera, and the footage was made public on multiple news outlets. The officer who was beating the teenager was put on a paid leave, and Conley later determined that no “excessive force” was used.
In search of a city whose priorities are in the right place, I take you to Cooperstown, Tennessee (believe it or not). This small town, after a seemingly never-ending string of scandals involving the government and police department, has incorporated a lie detector test and questions regarding racism in the cop vetting process to discourage prejudiced individuals from applying in the first place.
Cooperstown’s solution is not likely to be one that is fail-safe, but it seems to be a step in the right direction.
Before heading to the primaries on Sept. 24, voters should take some time to question what Boston needs to get away from its deserved racist reputation.
Tune in to Simmons College Radio to hear further discussion of Boston’s mayoral race. Questions and comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.