State Law Should Require Racial Minority On Massachusetts Victims Assistance Board, Bill Supporters Say

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A state board designed to help victims and witnesses of crimes needs a member chosen partly on the basis of race, supporters of a bill before the Massachusetts Legislature say.

The measure calls for adding a member from what it calls an “underserved community,” which refers to “a community disproportionately impacted by high rates of violence and crime and populations underserved due to racial and ethnic identity.”

Currently, the five-member Victim and Witness Assistance Board oversees an independent state agency called the Massachusetts Office of Victim Assistance.

A state statute (Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 258B, Section 4) lays out the composition of the board. The chairman is the state Attorney General (currently Maura Healey). The other four members are appointed by the governor. By statute those appointments include two district attorneys (currently Jonathan Blodgett, of Essex County; and Anthony Gulluni, of Hampden County) and two members of the public, at least one of whom is a victim of a crime (currently Danielle Sicard, a victim; and Lavinia Weizel). Board members are not paid.

The current board “is made up of some amazing individuals,” according to the agency’s executive director, Liam Lowney, who testified before a legislative committee Tuesday.

“But it needs to be noted that our board is entirely white,” Lowney said.

That racial makeup doesn’t mirror the agency’s new strategic plan, which Lowney said “outlines a priority to increase diversity in representation and inclusion in decision making for survivors throughout the field, but also within our own agency and our board.”

“Frankly, we need to live up to the goals we’re asking others to pursue,” Lowney said.

State Senator Adam Gomez (D-Springfield) has filed a bill (Massachusetts Senate Bill 1050, “An Act Relative to the Composition of the Victim and Witness Assistance Board”) to add two members to the board and to make sure a member of a racial minority is included.

Gomez also testified Tuesday, July 27 before an online public hearing of the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

“This legislation aims to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance internal governance by adding two public board seats to the Victim and Witness Assistance board. Two additional seats would be chosen from a list provided to the governor by MOVA, and would be survivors of crime, with at least one board seat given to survivors who represented an underserved community. These additional seats would be used to elevate voices of marginalized survivors who deserve multicultural representation from someone who has lived experience,” Gomez told the committee.

He used the term “BIPOC,” which stands for “black, indigenous, and people of color.”

“Elevating the voices of BIPOC communities would allow the MOVA board to reach communities of color that are disproportionately impacted in violence in Massachusetts, with higher rates of victimization,” Gomez said.

Lowney has served as executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Victim Assistance since September 2012, according to an online biography. His annual salary is $126,000, according to the state payroll web site.

Lowney became a victims advocate after the death of his sister, Shannon Lowney, a 25-year-old Boston College graduate who was killed at a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Brookline in December 1994 while working as a receptionist and Spanish translator there. John Salvi, a 22-year-old schizophrenic man, shot to death Lowney and an employee at a nearby abortion clinic in Boston, and wounded several others. Salvi killed himself in prison in 1996, according to authorities.


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