The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and countless others have sparked international outrage and a nationwide reckoning with the persistence of police brutality—but also with the fundamental racism of a policing system that has deliberately oppressed Black and Brown people for generations.
The ACLU has been fighting police brutality for 100 years and recognizes that this is a watershed moment for racial justice. With the municipal budget season in full swing, state lawmakers contemplating reforms and massive popular momentum nationwide, the ACLU of Massachusetts is advocating for a fundamental shift in the role police play in the Commonwealth. In short, that role must be smaller, more circumscribed, and less funded with tax-payer dollars.
Here, you can find an outline of the ACLU’s advocacy goals, as well as links to our latest work on this issue, including litigation, legislation, and calls to action.
To be meaningful and effective, any policies designed to address systemic racism in policing should be based on the following three pillars.
Divest from police; invest in communities
Year after year, police budgets have grown while essential social services have been cut or flat-funded. According to analysis by the ACLU of Massachusetts’ Data for Justice Project, the Boston Police Department’s (BPD) total budget is $414 million—almost three times the size of the Cabinet of Health and Human Services and four times the size of the Public Health Commission. BPD overtime pay alone accounts for 15% of the entire BPD budget. Funneling this money into law enforcement represents a missed opportunity to fix the hurtful legacy of racist policing. We need to ensure that public dollars are spent investing in the kinds of services that help build stable, safe Black, and Brown communities. We should prioritize public health and welfare programs like harm reduction, substance use treatment, mental health services, and domestic violence support.
Overhaul police practices
Black people should not live in fear of being shot and killed by the police. Yet time and again we’ve seen police officers escalate routine interactions like traffic stops and kill people who pose no threat. We need strict new legal standards that require police to deescalate first, use force only as a last resort, and make sure any use of force is proportional to the situation and no other alternative exists. We need to ban tear gas and other military style equipment, chokeholds, no-knock warrants, and other violent tactics that lead to the death of civilians who are disproportionately Black or Brown. And crucially, police need to be fully transparent and provide full reporting on incidents that result in injury or death. We also need to implement a Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) program to ensure that police are licensed and can have their license revoked for misconduct or abuse, precluding other departments from rehiring them.
Hold police accountable
Our legal system makes it nearly impossible to hold police officers accountable for acts of gratuitous violence. Qualified immunity prevents police officers from being held liable for civil rights violations, even when the violations are obvious. We can’t prevent abuse if police officers face no consequences for their actions. We need to abolish qualified immunity and ensure that ordinary people—particularly those who are Black or Brown—have recourse when their rights are violated by police. No one should be above the law.
See below for more resources.