Note: This Op-Ed appeared in the MetroWest Daily News last summer after the murder of Heather Heyer by white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA. I’m proud that the criminal justice bills I called for in this piece were included in omnibus criminal justice reform bills passed by the Senate and House last fall. These bills are now in Conference Committee, and I am hopeful that the Legislature will reach an agreement on historic CJ reform legislation by the end of this session – Jamie
“When Donald Trump defended white supremacists who were trying to stop the tearing down of Confederate statues, he invoked the legacy of military generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Generals Lee and Jackson led the movement to continue to enslave black Americans, sparking the Civil War that killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, including 12,976 patriots from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts whose residents led the effort to abolish slavery.
Nearly eight decades after brave American soldiers fought to defend the world from the threat of Hitler’s Third Reich, the president of the United States is also defending the violent actions of neo-Nazis and white supremacists. These statements are just the latest in a long list of comments denigrating immigrants and people of color.
The Massachusetts Legislature along with Governor Baker responded to the murder of Heather Heyer, a peaceful counter-protester to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, by passing a resolution to “strongly denounce and oppose the totalitarian impulses, violence, xenophobic biases, and bigoted ideologies that are promoted by white nationalists and neo-Nazis.” The bipartisan joint resolution also called on “law enforcement agencies and elected officials at every level of government to condemn white nationalist and neo-Nazi ideology, to vigorously pursue justice in response to hate-fueled violence and work to ensure the protection of the marginalized and targeted communities.”
I was proud to sign my name to that document because it is a powerful and strong sentiment that needs to be reaffirmed in these dark times. However, a non-binding resolution of condemnation will ring hollow if it’s not followed by legislative action that starts undoing the legacy of institutional racism on communities of color in Massachusetts. We need to build upon this resolution by combating mass incarceration, racial inequality, deportations of hardworking families, and government policies that disproportionately harm communities of color. We have an obligation to pass sweeping legislation that ensures better funding of public education so that every child benefits from a great education, promotes better wages to reduce income inequality, and creates more affordable housing for all families in every community.
After decades of research, data, and media coverage, we know that there are clear steps that can be taken in Massachusetts to address the cruel legacy of racism in the commonwealth. We must sign into law legislation filed by Rep. Byron Rushing and Sens. Sonia Chang-Diaz and Linda Dorcena Forry that prevents racial profiling to guarantee the fair treatment of all residents. We must pass bills filed by Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem and Rep. Evandro Carvalho to repeal mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, which have proven ineffective in reducing the number of drug crimes and disproportionately impact communities of color.
Finally, we must pass the Safe Communities Act, filed by myself and Rep. Juana Matias, to protect hardworking families from being caught up in the Trump administration’s sweeping deportation orders. These aggressive immigration enforcement policies are leaving families fearful of accessing critical health care services and domestic violence victims fearful of seeking help. We must make it clear that we do not want to live in a state where local and state enforcement are collaborating with federal ICE agents to target immigrants of color.
History will judge Massachusetts lawmakers and constitutional officers harshly if we fail to take action in the dark age of the Trump presidency. It’s time to turn strong words into a legislative commitment to a more just commonwealth.”