Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. It’s got me thinking about about my parents.
After my dad came home from the Korea, he and my mother went down to North Carolina so they could go to school. As young as they were, they both threw themselves into the Civil Rights Movement. They sat at lunch counters, risking violence and suffering all kinds of verbal abuse. My dad got arrested more than once.
They did it all in the hope that the next generation would inherit a world that was a little more fair and a little more just. At this moment in our country’s history, that generational obligation weighs heavily on me because of my family’s history.
I often ask myself, what am I doing every day to not be afraid–to say what’s right and to not back away from my principles. Yesterday was one of those days.
Earlier this week, both houses of the Massachusetts legislature passed a criminal justice reform bill. Nearly all of the bill is excellent and some great advocates and good Democrats worked very hard on it for a long time.
I had to tell my friends in the legislature, many of whom I admire greatly, that I would have vetoed their bill if I were governor. I could not in good conscience sign any bill that creates new mandatory minimum sentences. They are discriminatory, ineffective, and lead to mass incarceration.
The criminal justice reform bill passed by the legislature includes new mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent opioid related offenses, even though the bill also repeals other such sentences for non-violent drug convictions. These new mandatory minimums were part of a proposal put forth last summer by Gov. Charlie Baker.
The opioid epidemic is a public health crisis, but Gov. Baker is still approaching it like a criminal justice issue. If we learned anything from the failed ‘war on drugs’ mentality of the 1980’s and 90’s, it’s that harsh sentencing laws that take away judges’ discretion can destroy communities and do absolutely nothing to curb addiction.
If we are finally starting to recognize that mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug crimes should be repealed, why on earth would we want create a new law that we know will have the same effect?
I know many of my friends on Beacon Hill are upset by my position, but I’ve seen what misguided policies like mandatory minimums have done to communities, particularly communities of color–and I just can’t look the other way.