Abolish The Police —Let’s Start With BPD.
Boston as a whole is a pretty routine city. We can count on the college students returning to Allston every fall, we can count on the train never being on time, and we can count on the Boston Police Department demanding hundreds of millions of dollars a year from the people of Boston. After a year of having to relearn everything we know, I think it’s time we all embrace a little change — starting with the BPD budget.
Following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police, protests formed in cities across the globe, including Boston. Protesting isn’t new here — hell Boston was built on protesting, but something about last summer felt different. On May 31st 2020, thousands of people marched to Boston Common protesting police brutality only to find themselves on the receiving end of it. As the sun went down and people began making their way out of the common, they found the closest MBTA stations closed and the Boston Police Department began kettling and deploying tear gas — in a global airborne pandemic. This night combined with the continued suffocating presence of the National Guard showed to many that policing is not about safety, but about maintaining power. The following week, city officials, including Marty Walsh put out statements thanking the BPD for their “professionalism” and putting the blame on so-called outside agitators — a distraction tactic used to demonize certain protestors rather than focus on the police and their violent acts. Later that year, following the release of footage from several body cams that night, it became clear that it was the police creating the violence — even going so far as to enjoy it, like the cop who bragged about running protestors down with a car. For many, that footage only proved what we already knew — there is no reforming the police.
Having seen the gear and weapons available to the BPD, many, including myself, began to wonder how Boston could afford all this while mutual aid groups had to make up for many of the resources the city couldn’t offer, like free fridges and PPE. Turns out a budget of almost half a billion dollars can buy a lot of war crime tools. If we can’t reform the police, we can sure as hell defund them. Before COVID, most local government meetings and hearings were pretty inaccessible due to factors like timing and location, but with the proliferation of platforms like Zoom, people could now attend virtually from their jobs or homes. This led to a huge increase in participation, most notably surrounding the hearings on the Boston police and their budget.
With videos of budget and police oversight hearings across the US going viral, like that of the LAPD Commission livestream, people realized they could utilize these now more accessible spaces to demand change. The common thread across states was the aim to defund the police — although this became much easier said than done. Families for Justice as Healing came up with ‘The People’s Budget,’ which demanded a 10% reduction of the BPD budget ($414 million at the time) to be “an initial investment of $41 million into a Community Fund to be distributed through a Black-led Participatory Budgeting Process.” This demand was supported by many individuals and other local organizations and generally seen as the bare minimum of changes. The greatest obstacle, however, was the BPD’s union contract which meant all meaningful changes would have to go through collective bargaining — essentially little to no chance in hell. Having to maintain the illusion of control over the police, Marty Walsh began to try and sell the idea of a “20 percent [reduction] of its overtime budget” instead of the 10% overall reduction of the $414 million budget, hoping that no one would notice that $12 million is a lot less than $41 million. The cherry on top of the shit sundae they tried to feed us was that the overtime budget isn’t actually a budget — it’s more of a suggestion that the cops ignore since we have to pay them anyway. Despite this being performative at best, 8 of the 13 city councilors voted yes on an essentially unchanged police budget, squandering their rare opportunity to push back.
This brings us to the Ways and Means hearing of March 12th, 2021, or as I like to call it: “City Council Says I’m Disappointed in the BPD for 2 Hours Straight.” As a shock to almost no one, the BPD came to the meeting to admit that they had already hit their budgeted overtime amount, and in fact were on target to spend more than their budget before Walsh’s 20% cut. Some notable uses of these overtime dollars:
- $ 2,354,448 on Mass Ave and Melnea Cass Blvd, where in 2019, BPD crushed the belongings of people staying in that area, including several wheelchairs and medication under “Operation Clean Sweep.”
- $ 2,691,051 policing protests on policing. There’s probably a joke in there but I can’t make it because I’m too distracted by the fact that this was more money than they spent dealing with COVID.
- $ 4,132,706 for election week public safety, because if there’s anything that makes people feel safe after Trump’s loss, it’s a bunch of cops who put up a Trump flag inside a Mattapan police station walking around as a group.
The reasoning for this egregious overtime overspending was that between COVID and other injuries, the BPD was having to force officers into overtime to meet minimum staffing numbers. A quick note: no one actually knows how they determine staffing numbers, despite repeated requests by city councilors. Despite BPD’s claims that forced overtime was driving up the spending, Ricardo Arroyo pointed out it only accounts for 12% of overtime costs, and yet instead of calling BPD on this clear discrepancy, city councilors like Julia Mejia were worried more about the mental health of officers working overtime. Personally I think we should worry about the mental health of the protestors who were assaulted, pepper sprayed, and gassed by BPD all summer first, but that’s just some free advice. Maybe the BPD can use their average salary of $127,000 to seek out mental health care that doesn’t involve taking out their superiority complexes on the people of Boston. That’s also some free advice, but after this I start charging. She also thanked the administration for “being all in” as if they didn’t admit seconds before that they actually hadn’t done any work to realize the 20% promise. She also stated that “it’s important for [city council and BPD] to dialogue.” Maybe I missed the dialogue, because it seems to me like they told the cops to stop spending our money, BPD said no, and the city council just carried on about their day. I’ll at least credit Mejia that she didn’t advocate for more police, unlike Ed Flynn who stated, “we don’t have enough police officers on the streets of Boston, we need to hire…several hundred more police officers,” after which he showed off a pair of freshly cleaned boots. Annissa Essaibi-George also unsurprisingly spoke to hiring more cops, aiming to find the “sweet spot” in staffing numbers — I can give you that number, it’s 0. At least she said something, which is more than I can say for her campaign website. Michael Flaherty used his time between licking boots to advocate for more bike cops — cops like John Danilecki who received over $300,000 last year, more than the governor of Massachusetts, to violently terrorize the residents of Boston. Liz Breadon, who is almost comically bad at her job, used her time to discuss the idea of hiring a more diverse cop class, because she Really Cares about people of color, except of course the ones in her own office, but I digress. Kenzie Bok and Andrea Campbell played a game of “I’m Disappointed” ping pong, punctuated only by Matt ‘The Definition of White Noise’ O’Malley proposing fines and other consequences for vendors who don’t pay BPD on time — because making sure the police has their money is at the end of the day the priority here. Lydia Edwards asked BPD “how they are going to be better financial stewards” and “who was their financial watchdog,” which leads to the only actual point BPD has in their favor — everyone keeps passing the buck when it comes to re-assigning tasks currently under BPD purview, for example towing cars. What reason would BPD have to be “better financial stewards” when their financial watchdog is the very same city council that cannot create any real consequences? I guess we leave it to BPD to handle for themselves, since there’s never ever been any sort of history of fraud or corruption.
Jim Hasson and Kevin McGoldrick of the BPD shared their usual “our first commitment is to public safety” propaganda throughout the meeting, but Larry Calderone, President of the Boston Police Patrolman’s Association, brought the premium deluxe package. He argues that since the BPD consistently cannot keep to their budget like every other department in the city, we should simply give them more money — fuck it, let’s just start printing money specifically for the police! Kenzie Bok actually points out later that they have indeed done this in the past, which didn’t help her as much as she thought it did. He goes on to say they’ll never stop investigating crimes, which I mean is technically right — with an abysmal homicide clearance rate in 2019 of less than 34%, it doesn’t seem like they’re solving much of anything. Goes hand in hand with their inability to prevent crime, since crime never seems to go down even though the police budget keeps going up — I get it though, it must be hard to stop crime when you’re too busy covering up for (alleged for legal reasons) child abusers. Where are the good apples again? This condescending trainwreck of a testimony reminds me of the BPPA twitter account that blocked me for ratio-ing them too many times — it’s just too easy.
So now what? Are we supposed to wait until the new reformist police oversight committee that can’t actually fire cops comes to replace the old oversight committee that also couldn’t actually fire cops and was so useless they just didn’t show up for a year? Are we supposed to wait for another commission to create a committee to set up a task force to plan a discussion about having a conversation about nothing? Maybe we should just all forget about it and let city council continue to fund the BPD out of the pockets of other departments, like when they took $40,000 from the Department of Mental Health to cover overtime. No. We must continue to remind ourselves first why defunding the police is necessary — to ultimately abolish the police. BPD and cops as a whole consistently fall back on the argument that “we know policing works,” which they use to mean that all we know is policing — they paint abolition and reimagining society as dangerous because it’s unknown. This reminded me of a point Mariame Kaba made on a podcast called “Coffee & Books” hosted by Marc Lamont Hill — Kaba asked why the onus is always on abolitionists to produce results (with no funding, mind you) but never on a system with all the resources that is constantly failing people by design to justify its existence. We focus on numbers (and ignore them when they don’t fit our narrative) and continue to do things the way it’s always been, but we never stop to think about how someone created this way of life and we can just as easily create a different one. Instead of continuing to invest in this system built to use us, we need to create a system built for us — this means creating housing (this should be free, but for the moment I will take affordable), this means paying people to stay home and stay safe and then paying them again to bring the city back to life, this means putting real money into the hands of the community without paternalistic oversight. This means making the train free, this means safe consumption sites, this means subsidized arts and green spaces and bike paths and frankly anything else we can imagine we could need, because it’s time we make ourselves the priority — not a profit or the police.