Diversity and Racial Justice Must Be A Priority for Mayor Walsh’s Second Term in Boston

Diversity and Racial Justice Must Be A Priority for Mayor Walsh’s Second Term in Boston

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice calls upon newly re-elected Mayor Marty Walsh to take concrete action in the first 100 days of his new administration to tackle critical diversity and racial justice issues that were largely ignored in his first term.  In particular, the Mayor must do more than acknowledge the dramatic backsliding on diversity in the Boston Fire and Police Departments; he must use his power to fix the problem.

To be accountable to constituents of color, Mayor Walsh must address pervasive issues of racial equity in the city.  The following steps – all of which could be accomplished in the first 100 days of his new term – are a necessary start:

Publicly Support Creation Of A Fire Department Cadet Program: The NAACP’s recent report card gave the Walsh Administration an “F” for diversity in the Fire Department, and the Boston Globe has condemned the City’s backsliding on diversity.  Together with the Boston Society of Vulcans, the Lawyers’ Committee has long called for the Fire Department to implement a cadet program to help improve racial and gender diversity – a call now echoed by the NAACP and the Boston GlobeBut the Mayor has been silent on this issue.  The Boston Police Cadet program shows promise in developing the new generation of diverse police.  Mayor Walsh must champion a similar effort in the Fire Department.

Personally Advocate for Language Certifications for Police and Fire Departments: Civil Service regulations allow municipalities to request “selective certification” from the Commonwealth’s Human Resources Division to help hire bilingual police officers and firefighters. The ability to communicate with diverse residents is critical to increasing agency efficiency and building community support. In other cities that have successfully petitioned for such language certifications, the mayors themselves have personally championed such requests.  Mayor Walsh should do the same for Boston.  Such requests should be ongoing and well-documented, and should include focus on linguistic competency in all languages spoken by Boston residents, including Mandarin, Vietnamese, Khmer, Spanish and Haitian Creole.

Appoint An Independent Commission To Eliminate Disparate Discipline Of Employees Of Color: Disparate discipline of employees of color continues to plague the Fire and Police Departments, contributing to those agencies’ lack of diversity.  See Defay v. Boston Police Department, MCAD Docket No. 11-BEM-03416 (finding Police Department engaged in disparate discipline of recruits of color in the Training Academy); see also Group Charges Discipline In Fire Department Biased, Uneven, Oct. 26, 2017, Boston Herald (reporting on disparate discipline in the Fire Department).  Mayor Walsh should immediately commission a probe – led by an independent third party – into racially disparate discipline in the City’s public safety agencies. This probe should be given the authority to fully investigate disparate discipline, and to create a remedial plan to strategically address this deep-rooted problem.

Institute Comprehensive Implicit Bias Training for Police and Fire Departments: Communities of color have long expressed a strong interest in seeing the implementation of comprehensive training encompassing implicit bias, cultural competency and de-escalation (use of force) training at the Police and Fire Departments.  Such training would help not only with interactions with the public, but with internal issues such as disparate discipline as well.  Mayor Walsh should follow the lead of other municipalities and immediately direct the implementation of implicit bias training.

Resolve Longstanding Civil Rights Litigation: As the NAACP’s recent report card pointed out, “the mayor can right the wrongs of the past by standing down and settling [civil rights] cases rather than spending taxpayer money appealing cases that ultimately are struck down.”  NAACP Report Card at 127.  For example, in Jones v. City of Boston, plaintiffs are challenging the Boston Police Department’s “hair test” for drug screening, which is unreliable and disproportionately results in false positives for Black officers. State courts have found that the test is scientifically flawed and cannot serve as the sole basis for terminating police officers. Similarly, federal appellate courts have twice ruled in favor of the Black officers’, and the matter is now headed for trial. In Smith v. City of Boston, a federal district judge ruled in 2015 that the City discriminated against Black and Latino officers by using a flawed promotional exam to select police lieutenants. Rather than resolve the issue of appropriate remedies for this discriminatory action, however, the City has fought settlement.  We agree with the NAACP’s call for resolution of these lawsuits, which would help diversify the police department and avoid the taxpayer expense that comes with protracted litigation. We call on Mayor Walsh to move beyond the wasteful and obstructionist policies of his last term and to become part of the solution instead.

The Lawyers’ Committee stands — with our client communities and our community partners — ready to work with Mayor Walsh to make progress.

The election is over. Now the work begins.

Boston Fire Department’s lack of diversity was featured on NECN.