The crisis in Ferguson is heartbreaking. No one with experience in law enforcement or as a civil rights advocate can watch the scenes from that community without thinking about our own responsibilities.
We’ve seen how tragedies like these can spiral out of control when the community sees the police as opponents. The police in Ferguson responded terribly. Information was unnecessarily withheld, they escalated with an unnecessary show of force, and they panicked with the entire country watching. These actions made a bad situation much worse. The underlying distrust evident in the community has made it even harder to progress.
Make no mistake, local law enforcement have challenging jobs, particularly so in charged situations like these. But our mission must be ensuring public safety while upholding people’s civil rights. These are not mutually exclusive prerogatives. They go hand in hand.
I understand how to achieve both of these goals based on my experience as a civil rights lawyer and as a prosecutor. As a civil rights lawyer during the better part of my career, I brought cases against people or entities who discriminated, sometimes based on color or race, in housing, in lending, and beyond. I have fought against the real challenges communities of color confront every day.
As a lawyer with experience in law enforcement, I have also worked closely with police on a range of issues from domestic violence to access to reproductive health care. I have trained police on how to respond to hate crimes and bullying and I have met with local law enforcement and community groups on efforts to reduce racial profiling.
In order for law enforcement to be effective, people need to trust the police. That trust must come from handling crisis situations effectively, holding the police accountable for misconduct, and through relationship building before an incident occurs.
If I were in Ferguson, I would immediately take over the investigation of the shooting to ensure independence and transparency in the review. I would provide information to the community frequently. I would open up a civil rights investigation regarding the treatment of protestors and the media covering the events. And I would thoroughly investigate the reaction by the police to the incident and to the community’s response.
In Massachusetts, I will prioritize stopping crises like Ferguson before they occur. I will ensure that law enforcement’s connections to communities of color are made stronger by enhancing community outreach and engagement. I will prioritize statewide trainings and guidance that combat racial profiling, abuse of force, and other violations of civil rights. Right now, police departments don’t have the resources they need for these types of training. Ferguson is a wake up call, and we can’t wait any longer to make them happen.
The militarization of police forces is also a real concern. Law enforcement must have the tools it needs to respond to disasters, whether it’s a hostage situation or an incident like the Marathon bombings. But military weaponry deployed by a civilian police force can also elevate a crisis, as it did in Ferguson. I join President Obama in his call for a review of this issue. If our local police do have access to these weapons, we must carefully consider the rare instances when they will be deployed and how they will be utilized.
And, I’m aware of complaints about the transparency of the regional SWAT teams. We need transparency to ensure accountability. Poor decision-making that gets covered up can’t be improved upon in the future. As Attorney General, I’ll make sure everyone in law enforcement is accountable, and the buck will stop with me.
As the next chief law enforcement officer, I will work and meet with community groups and law enforcement together to ensure that we’re working in partnership. Only mutual trust and communication can solve these problems, and so many others facing our state. As Attorney General, I’ll begin that conversation immediately and continue it throughout my time in office.