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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

In 365 restless days and anxious nights, we have stood witness to and experienced unimaginable events, from a public health and economic crisis brought on by global pandemic to the insurrectionist attack on our Capitol. This unprecedented period has exacerbated issues that we can no longer turn our backs on, including the treatment of Black Americans and the awareness of racism and attacks on individuals of Asian American and Pacific Island heritage.

On May 25, the murder of George Floyd by a law enforcement officer was captured on video for the world to watch and to demand our attention. Following his murder, in our towns and cities large and small, people gathered in groups, demonstrations and vigils to call for action and seek justice for Black Americans.

In Massachusetts, we are not strangers to this issue of system racism. The Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus took the lead in holding the Commonwealth accountable with the release of a 10-point plan for Federal, State, and Municipal governments to combat systematic racism and police brutality. This was the basis for my affirmative vote for An Act relative to justice, equity, and accountability in law enforcement in the Commonwealth.

I want to update you, not just on words, but on actions. The legislation makes significant structural reforms to law enforcement in Massachusetts by implementing changes to training, establishing certification of law enforcement officers, and providing for continued assessment of the role of race in our state institutions.

  1. Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards Training Commission: Establishes the Massachusetts POST Commission to operate as an independent commission responsible for serving as the civil enforcement agency to certify, restrict, revoke, or suspend certification for officers, agencies, and academies. It is the first civilian-led police oversight board in the country. All members have now been named and hiring of an executive director and staff has begun.
  2. Use of Force and Duty to Intervene: Requires de-escalation tactics to be exhausted before any use of physical or deadly force may be used by an officer. The bill places a ban on chokeholds and other restraints known to cause injury, and places restrictions and accountability measures on the use of tear gas and rubber pellets. Regulations enforcing these measures will be implemented by the POST Commission.
  3. Review of the Civil Service System: Establishes a special legislative commission to study and examine the civil service law, personnel administration rules, hiring procedures, and bylaws for municipalities not subject to the civil service law, and the state police hiring practices. This special commission held its first meeting on May 3 and its report is expected in September.
  4. Investigation of Structural Racism: Creates three special commissions to study the presence of institutional racism in correctional facilities, the parole process, and probation services. The deadline for these commissions to submit their findings is September.
  5. Permanent Commission on Individuals with Disabilities: Establishes a permanent commission to advance the cause of all persons with disabilities in the Commonwealth. I have been appointed by the Speaker of the House to serve as a Commissioner. Both personally and professionally, I am deeply committed to individuals with developmental disabilities, their families and communities, and the many people that comprise the workforce engaging with these individuals. We are in the process of scheduling our first meeting and securing funding to hire staff.

Meanwhile, as I worked with my colleagues in the House of Representatives on a response, our communities organized for change at the local level. This organizing engaged members of the Town government, community leaders, many residents and an amazing group of young community activists to step forward and to lead local conversations on race and policing in our communities. Like so many of you, I have read books on anti-racism, met in discussion groups small and large, attended multiple state-level briefings and engaged with hundreds of constituents with diverse viewpoints on how to move our community and country forward.

For just a few examples, in Needham, I participated in multiple meetings on the Countering Hate and Fostering Inclusion workshop and virtually attended NUARI discussions and endorsed the mission statement, and in Medfield I have spoken at the anti-racism vigil. Important work is happening and evolving in organizations throughout our communities, and multiple newly formed groups join with the established work of the Needham Human Rights Committee, the Needham Diversity Initiative, the Interfaith Clergy Association and Medfield Together, to name a few.

In April, the nation watched the trial of Derek Chauvin, as we watched our legal system debate the event we witnessed in May 202. The guilty verdict demonstrates that individuals can and will be held accountable, but it does not replace that we are still seeking justice for Black Americans and we can and should be held accountable.

On this one-year anniversary, I understand how much work we still must do to increase accountability and bring justice to every community including Needham, Dover, and Medfield.

Yours in Service,
Denise