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Mayor Walsh declares racism a public health crisis

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Mayor's Office

The Mayor also announced the reallocation of police overtime funds and a new community-based Task Force.

Building on a commitment to make Boston a national leader in battling racism, Mayor Martin J. Walsh today announced immediate actions to address the impact racism has on the health and well-being of residents in the city, including declaring racism an emergency and a public health crisis in the City of Boston. 

"In Boston, we embrace the opportunity this moment and this movement offers us," said Mayor Walsh. "We stand with our Black community and communities of color to lead the change toward a more just and equitable society. With these actions, we will increase equity in public safety and public health, and launch a conversation that can produce lasting, systemic change to eliminate all the ways that racism and inequality harm our residents."

Following President Obama's call to mayors to pursue policing reforms, Mayor Walsh has signed the "Mayor's Pledge" issued by the Obama Foundation's My Brother's Keeper Alliance. When President Obama started My Brother's Keeper in 2014, Mayor Walsh made a commitment to work to address the persistent opportunity gaps faced by youth in Boston. 

The "Mayor's Pledge" commits the City of Boston to the following actions:

  1. Review police use of force policies
  2. Engage communities by including a diverse range of input, experiences, and stories
  3. Report review findings to the community and seek feedback
  4. Reform police use of force policies  

In addition, Mayor Walsh has declared his support for the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus' "10 Point Plan" which outlines a series of reforms at the federal, state and municipal levels. 

Mayor Walsh has created a new Task Force to ensure that these commitments translate to immediate action, made up of an independent group of community members and chaired by former U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Wayne Budd.

"I along with the members of the Task Force recognize the importance of the responsibility the Mayor has asked us to undertake. This comes at a very difficult time in our country, which makes the work that we are about to undertake even more important," said former U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Wayne Budd. "You can be assured that we will give the task at hand the first attention and our best efforts, all to the end of assuring the very best the Boston Police Department has to offer and its responsibility of protecting and serving all people of Boston."

Mayor Walsh has issued several charges for the Task Force to start their work with, including reviewing Boston Police's use of force policies, recommending rigorous implicit bias training for police officers, improving the current Body Worn Camera program at Boston Police and strengthening Boston's existing police review board, known as the Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel or Co-op Board.

Mayor Walsh has previously committed his full support of body cameras being worn by officers during all shifts, including overtime, and Boston Police are actively working toward that goal. In addition, Mayor Walsh today announced that moving forward the Boston Police Department will no longer use the hair test for evidence of drug use in officers or recruits, a decision that's been made in partnership with the police unions. 

On June 11, 2020, Boston Police Commissioner William Gross announced he completed a review of Boston Police's policies against the recommended use of force policies outlined in the "8 Can't Wait" effort, resulting in clarified rules and the implementation of several reforms

"At the Boston Police Department, we are committed to ensuring accountability and transparency, and building trust with our community," said Commissioner William Gross. "These actions that we are taking demonstrate that we are in lockstep with the community who are calling on us to review and reform our policies, and take our community policing model that has positive engagement at its core to the next level."

Over the past six years, the crime rate in Boston is down by nearly 30%, arrests are down 33%, and police officers have taken nearly 5,000 guns off the streets. Additionally, from 2013 to 2019, complaints of improper behavior fell by 40% and complaints of excessive force dropped by over 50%.

The Task Force will produce recommendations in 60 days. Aligned with President Obama's "Mayor's Pledge," the community will have two weeks to review recommendations and provide feedback to the City of Boston and Mayor Walsh will announce reforms to be implemented as a result of the Task Force and the community's input within 90 days of the Task Force beginning their work.

In addition to former U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Budd, community members named to the Boston Police Reform Task Force include: 

  • Allison Cartwright, Attorney in Charge, Roxbury Public Defender's Office
  • Joseph D. Feaster, Jr., Chairman of the Board, Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts
  • Tanisha Sullivan, President, NAACP Boston Branch
  • Darrin Howell, President, DRIVE Boston Community Resources Inc. & Political Coordinator, 1199SEIU
  • Superintendent Dennis White, Chief of Staff, Boston Police Department
  • Marie St. Fleur, former MA State Representative, Boston
  • Rev. Jeffrey Brown, Associate Pastor, Historic Twelfth Baptist Church, Roxbury
  • A designee from the City Council President

As part of Mayor Walsh's proposed Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget that will be resubmitted on June 15, 2020, Mayor Walsh will reallocate 20% or $12 million of the Boston Police Department's overtime budget to make a significant investment in equity and inclusion across the City. These investments include:

  • $3 million for the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) to begin implementation of the eight strategies outlined in Boston's declaration of racism as a public health crisis,
  • $1 million to support trauma teams and counseling services at the Boston Public Health Commission
  • $2 million in new funding for community based programs and supports through City departments, such as violence intervention grants, youth programming, language and food access, immigrant advancement, the Age Strong Commission and the Human Rights Commission. 
  • $2 million for additional BEST Clinicians and mental health supports at the Boston Police Department
  • $2 million to support economic development initiatives to support minority and women owned businesses and;
  • $2 million to provide additional housing supports and youth homelessness programs. 

Accompanying Mayor Walsh's declaration of racism as an emergency and a public health crisis are eight strategies that are focused on addressing the impact that racism has on the lives of residents and their overall health. This work will be led by BPHC  in partnership with all city departments and supported by redirecting $3 million of Boston Police Overtime funding in FY21 Budget resubmission.

  1. Create policy solutions to dismantle systemic racism and barriers to public health by evaluating current policies and using data to drive change.
  2. Develop a "Boston Health Equity Now" plan that includes clear objectives and measurable goals to address the root causes of the inequities that cause disparities in health outcomes.
  3. Engage historically marginalized communities to identify problems, solutions and support a community driven response.
  4. Require public reporting of race and ethnicity data that documents health inequities in Boston by working with hospitals and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to access this critical information.
  5. Analyze data to better understand the interconnectedness of societal, environmental and behavioral factors that contribute to the impact of racism and access to jobs, food, housing, transit and education.
  6. Improve access to prevention and treatment that is culturally and linguistically competent.
  7. Develop services and programs to address the negative impact these inequities have had on specific populations.
  8. Advocate at the state and federal level for policies and funding opportunities that directly combat systemic racism.

BPHC will release a plan within the next 120 days with specific actions related to the Boston Health Equity Now plan. In addition, BPHC will release a yearly report on measures of progress and challenges in addressing these systemic barriers starting in 2021. 

"Racism is a driving force that shapes access to the social determinants of health and is a barrier to health equity for all Bostonians," said Marty Martinez, Chief of Health & Human Services. "This declaration will bring this work into greater focus with real, intentional efforts to  get to the root causes and see measurable solutions."

In May 2020, Mayor Walsh created a new COVID-19 Health Inequities Task Force to provide guidance to the City of Boston on addressing current inequities in data analysis, testing sites, and health care services for Blacks, Latinos, Asians and immigrants. With the support of the Task Force, the City has strengthened its focus on the inequities that COVID-19 has exposed and helped to increase resources like the number of testing sites and availability of testing in communities most impacted by the virus. 

Additional information and updates on this work will be posted publicly on boston.gov/ending-racism. Information on the City of Boston's response to COVID-19 and recovery efforts can be found at boston.gov/coronavirus and boston.gov/reopening. Residents can text BOSCOVID to 888-777 to receive text alerts on COVID-19.