Last week, at Belmont’s recognition of Martin Luther King day, I gave the statement below:
As Senate Chair of the state legislature’s Judiciary Committee, it is my top personal priority to lighten the footprint of the criminal justice system on communities of color.
The recent street policing incidents have provoked such a passionate response because they are part of the much larger problem of what has been called “The New Jim Crow” – the mass incarceration of people of color across the country.
Even in Massachusetts, where I believe that most police leaders take an enlightened approach to community policing — certainly, our own police chief and District Attorney Ryan do — the New Jim Crow is a real problem. The New Jim Crow is the result of a set of legislative policies which have hugely disparate impact on people of color. In the name of protecting people from drugs, guns and predators, we have created a draconian sentencing system which leads to overcrowding in our prisons. Prisons cannot rehabilitate people who are jammed together in dangerous conditions. Probation and parole officers cannot help people find jobs and readjust when their efforts are spread out across too many offenders. We simply need to dial back our sentencing policies.
This group of issues has been central to my thinking for two decades and finally I am in a good position to help lead on them. If reappointed as Judiciary Chair [later in the week, I was reappointed], I will be conducting a series of hearings across the state. We will focus especially in communities of color and work with community leaders to assure that the hearings are inclusive. Our goal will be to build a consensus around a set of reforms which will respond very directly to the concerns raised in the conversation today.
Many of my colleagues feel as I do and I am hopeful that the stars may be aligned in this session to achieve real change.
There is a need for change all in all components of the criminal justice system. Over the past few months, I have worked with my colleagues to assure that bills have been filed that cover a wide range of issues under the general rubric of dialing back our punitive policies. I look forward to working over the months to come to build an inclusive conversation that leads to constructive change.