By Jeremy C. Fox GLOBE CORRESPONDENT APRIL 17, 2015
Members of Boston’s African-American community called for an end to what they described as a double standard, with one set of rules for police officers and a second set for citizens, during a meeting with law enforcement officials Thursday evening in Roxbury.
Police departments should be more diverse and have more inclusive cultures, and the public should have greater oversight of police use of force, said those gathered at a town hall meeting at the Dudley Square branch library.
The event was organized by Jamarhl Crawford, an activist and publisher of the Blackstonian online community newspaper, to address longstanding concerns about policing within Boston’s communities of color.
Dorchester resident Terrance Williams said he had experienced police abuse of power as a young man living in Mission Hill during the 1989 investigation of the murder of Carol Stuart, whose husband, Charles, had claimed she was killed by a black gunman. It was later revealed that Charles Stuart had killed his wife.
“Now, where there’s a crime that’s in the neighborhood, the cops want you to testify against your brother, your sister, your uncle, or whoever it is,” Williams, 46, said. “But they [police] won’t want to testify against somebody who they’re riding along with, even though they know it’s wrong.”
Thursday’s meeting came amid heightened attention to relationships between police and communities of color, following recent high-profile killings of several unarmed black men by law enforcement officers in the United States.
Locally, a March 27 shootout in Roxbury between police and felon Angelo West left West dead and police officer John Moynihan critically wounded. Officials released a video that showed West firing without apparent provocation, which quelled concerns of many, though some question the original police stop.
Louis Elisa, a former president of Boston’s NAACP, expressed frustration that little has changed despite decades of efforts.“There’s been less and less challenge and change,” said Elisa, 65.
He called for more black officers at the highest ranks of the Police Department and gang and narcotics units.
“It’s a big difference between being in a community where you feel like the police are there to protect you or that they’re there to occupy you,” he said. “And that’s where our young people are.”
Dianne Wilkerson, a former Massachusetts state senator, said that in the past, it has often taken judicial action, rather than just good will, to bring about change.
“Every gain that we’ve gotten in Boston, relative to justice and equality, came through the hands of a gavel,” Wilkerson said. “Why? Because sharing and diversity are not a human reflex in this city.”
Some at the forum, attended by more than 200 people, suggested that those within the community who take a combative approach to relations with police can make tense situations more difficult.
Crawford said it was important for people to educate themselves and to work together with those knowledgeable about the law and about civil rights history.
Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.
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