Police Immunity Commission Too White, Says White Liberal Legislator

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2021/05/02/police-immunity-commission-too-white-says-white-liberal-legislator/

A white liberal state legislator is concerned about the racial makeup of a new state commission studying how much immunity from lawsuits Massachusetts police officers should have.

“I do really want to note the composition of this commission. At least in the tiles that I’m seeing, this is a very white commission. I’m surprised by that,” state Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro) said Friday, April 30 during the first meeting of the Massachusetts Special Commission on Qualified Immunity, which occurred online. “And I think that we, particularly as white folks, I’m gonna speak as a white person on this commission, I want to make sure that we’re doing really — we’re very diligent about hearing from voices of color, who we know have disproportionately been affected and have not, you know, have not been at the equal hand of justice.”

(Cyr’s comments begin at 32:40 of the video of the meeting.)

Cyr said the commission co-chairmen, state Representative Michael Seamus Day (D-Stoneham) and state Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), should recognize what he described as a built-in problem for the commission, which was created in the wake of widespread protests in 2020 concerning how police treat black people.

“I don’t exactly know how we hear those voices, or how we have that feedback. But because the vast majority of participants in this commission are not representing – or, they’re not people of color, I think it’s really important that we’re very thoughtful, and that we’re making sure that we’re hearing from the lived experience of people of color, particularly in the interactions with police and with the justice system,” Cyr said. “So that’s a hefty challenge for us. I don’t exactly know how we do it. I just want to make sure that I’m raising that up, because I think it’s crucially important.”

Cyr, first elected in 2016 to represent most of Cape Cod plus the Islands, got an 88 rating from Progressive Massachusetts (out of a possible 100) during the 2019-2020 legislative session. In 2019, he got an American Conservative Union lifetime rating of 0 percent (out of a possible 100).

“This is mostly white folks, and we’re talking about an issue that, yes, affects all people in Massachusetts, but how did we get here, right? We got here because of decades and years of structural violence against people of color at the hands of police – and also at the hands of a whole host of structures and institutions in our society,” Cyr said.

Day, the co-chairman, who had a Progressive Massachusetts rating of 73 in 2019-2020 and an American Conservative Union lifetime rating of 1 as of 2019, said that while the commission will come up with its report, commission members will try to solicit a wide range of people to offer testimony and information.

“Point well taken on the color of the commission,” Day said to Cyr. “I do want to underscore that we’re going to be very deliberate and conscious that every voice is heard by the commission. And I think some of that can come out in our presentations that we choose to request. But certainly, the intent here is to be fully transparent and welcoming to the public for their feedback and thoughts, recognizing that where commissioners are going to make the ultimate report, but if we’re not hearing certain voices we’ll certainly go out and seek those voices in our presentations.”

The qualified immunity commission is supposed to have 15 members, but has 14 currently. One of the 14 is Latino. The others do not appear to be either black, Latino, or Asian.

The police reform bill enacted in December 2020 (Massachusetts Senate Bill 2963) created the qualified immunity commission. The bill sets forth nine appointers of members.

The co-chairmen of the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Commission on the Judiciary can serve on the commission or appoint a designee. Each has appointed himself. They are state Representative Michael Seamus Day and state Senator Jamie Eldridge.

Governor Charlie Baker has three appointees:  a member of a police officers’ union, a member of a firefighters’ union, and a retired justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court. He hasn’t yet appointed a retired justice. His two appointees so far are Christopher Ryan, president of the New England Benevolent Patrolmen’s Association and a sergeant for the Massachusetts Port Authority; and Matthew Reddy, a district vice president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts.

Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy) has two appointments. They are state Representative Sarah Peake (D-Provincetown) and state Representative William Straus (D-Mattapoisett).

Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) has two appointments.  They are state Senator Cynthia Creem (D-Newton) and state Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro).

State Senator Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), the minority leader of the Massachusetts Senate, has two appointments. He appointed himself and state Representative Steven Xiarhos (R-Barnstable), a former deputy police chief in Yarmouth.

The executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union appointed Matthew Segal, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.

The executive director of the Massachusetts Selectmen’s Association appointed Paul DeRensis, a selectman in the town of Sherborn and a board member of the state selectmen’s association.

The president of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People appointed Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights and a member of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Advisory Council on Racial Justice and Equity.

The Massachusetts Bar Association appointed Richard Sweeney, a criminal defense lawyer with an office in Quincy who is the former president of the Bar Association of Norfolk County.

The commission is supposed to issue a report by September 30, 2021. The next meeting of the commission is scheduled for Friday, May 28. Commission members are hoping to hear from an expert on what qualified immunity is and how it came about.