CREATIVE COMMONS/EDITED BY GRAHAM KREWINGHAUS
This is part one of a two part series on the unclear future of policing in Brookline. Part two is now available here.
Listen to this story in audio format below.
On June 5, 2020, face masks trapping in the hot summer air, hundreds of Brookline residents took to the streets in the name of Black lives. Signs read “Enough is enough” and “End white silence.” Walking towards Town Hall, all the tension of the month’s national protests could be felt in the air. Upon arrival, that tension closed in.
Metal barricades and police officers from Brookline and Boston blocked the path. As they turned towards the library parking lot, protesters were met by more officers. It was unclear what department they belonged to – these officers were unnamed, untagged and wearing riot gear.
“It was a peaceful march, and what happened?” local activist Kimberley Richardson said. “Police were in tactical gear. Like, what the f—? Just in this peaceful town.”
Brookline police in regular uniform stepped in front of the officers in riot gear, and white protesters stepped in front of the Black speakers as a “shield.” Soon, police and protesters were able to de-escalate the situation and come to a dialogue. But Jonathan Mande, who spoke at the event, recalled the numerous recent protests across the country that had not ended so peacefully.
“For me it was just like, clutch your pearls, hold on tight, be present and be here, but also, if you can help calm tensions, do that. And that’s what I did,” Mande said. “But I was ready. I already in my head planned out my escape route, if things went down.”
Select Board member Raul Fernandez wrote in a statement later that week that the confrontation was “emblematic of our relationship with policing, and policing’s relationship with us.”
But accompanying the outrage was hope and connection, as the school and town communities held vigils, discussions and more signs. For Fernandez, the omnipresent response served as a call to action, not just societally, but legislatively.
“It really was this righteous mutli-racial, multi-generational uprising in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others,” Fernandez said. “The fact that so many of us were compelled in the midst of a pandemic, having not left the house for weeks, to take to the streets and just say, enough is enough.”
At a Select Board meeting on June 11, Fernandez proposed the establishment of a Task Force to Reimagine Policing to find a new way forward. It was debated until July 21. Having reached a compromise, the Select Board voted unanimously to establish two distinct groups: Fernandez’s Task Force and a Committee on Policing Reform.
Over the next seven months, the two groups did research, held interviews and drafted recommendations. The final drafts of those recommendations (Reimagining Task Force and Reform Committee) were presented to the Select Board on March 2, with a public hearing to come on March 16 and the final vote on March 30. The reports highlight a striking trend: a lack of transparency and public input that the Task Force determined has led to disparate perceptions across racial and socioeconomic lines.