Though generations of civil rights activism have led to important gains in legal, political, social, employment, educational, and other spheres, our country—and our Commonwealth—has yet to break free from systems of racial injustice.
The ACLU of Massachusetts launched the Racial Justice Program in 2015, seeking to preserve and extend the constitutionally guaranteed rights of people of color in Massachusetts, and to rectify the state’s history of systemic racism. The ACLU of Massachusetts has long pursued racial justice in the Commonwealth, but the formalization of this program allowed us to bring a renewed focus to bear on this demanding work.
Our recent racial justice work focuses mainly on criminal legal reform, with a special emphasis on the role of prosecutors. District attorneys are the most powerful figures in the criminal legal system. Their decisions have a direct impact on case outcomes, mass incarceration, and recidivism rates. Through our What a Difference a DA Makes campaign, we have conducted massive public education programs, giving voters across the Commonwealth the analysis and the tools to elect a prosecutor that reflects their values, and hold incumbents to account for their records in office.
We also seek to hold police accountable for their role in perpetuating racial injustice. In 2021, in collaboration with Bridgewater State University, we released a model policy designed to reduce instances of bias in policing, including racial profiling, on college and university campuses. Developed over two years in close collaboration with students, police, and other higher education stakeholders, the Racially Just Policing Model Policy builds on statewide police reform efforts to ensure campuses are safe learning, working, and living environments for all—especially Black students, staff, faculty, and visitors.
We are committed to limiting the doctrine of qualified immunity, which prevents the victims of police brutality from even bringing a case against offending officers, except in very narrow circumstances. We are also committed to reforming the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, which gives officers a further layer of protection by requiring that any violation of a person’s rights must involve “threats, intimidation, or coercion” in order to merit redress.