On May 31, peaceful demonstrations against the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police devolved into rioting on the streets of Boston.
And while Boston police officers were hit with batteries, bricks and various liquids, with 30 officers sent to the hospital, those events have now become a footnote, as recently released excerpts from body-cam videos seemingly show officers tear-gassing and pushing protesters.
As the Herald reported, the videos were acquired by the liberal criminal-justice publication The Appeal. One clip shows a sergeant saying he’d been “hitting people with the car.” After the officer whose body cam was on told him it had been activated, the sergeant said that hadn’t really happened, and that the car had been pelted with thrown items.
Other clips show officers pushing or pepper-spraying civilians, who in the videos aren’t shown as being violent.
“As soon as these videos were brought to my attention, I immediately ordered my Bureau of Professional Standards to open and conduct a thorough and fair investigation into this matter, and the totality of circumstances involved,” Boston Police Commissioner William Gross said in a statement.
He said he placed the sergeant on leave.
But the risk remains for the video clips to overshadow the good work of police here and elsewhere amid the debate for reform.
They fan the flames of the “all cops are bad” rhetoric dominating so much of the country’s conversation about police; they feed the mindset of the “defund the police” protesters; they bolster the sense of self-righteousness of all those who demand Thin Blue Line flags be taken down wherever they fly.
They undermine every officer who wears his or her badge with pride.
There is, however, a positive note in all this: Boston Police Commissioner William G. Gross.
He is well-respected for a reason. Gross cares about the community as well as his officers, and we are confident he will do the utmost to investigate the actions and circumstances of the officers depicted on camera.
When Gross was sworn in two years ago, he vowed to focus on community policing, diversity in the ranks, transparency and the well-being of his officers, saying there was “still work to do” as he was sworn in.
Amid calls for transparency, we trust that Gross will not let the city or the department down.
“It should not be a mystery about how we serve you. And that’s right folks, we serve you. It’s not a mystery. It shouldn’t be a mystery,” Gross remarked when he was sworn in.
The body-cam clips offer an opportunity for Gross and the department to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat — to be steadfast in their investigative efforts and take whatever actions are warranted.
To say all eyes will be on Gross and the department in this matter is an understatement — activists, community leaders, city leaders, officers and Boston residents want answers and a just resolution.
This year, the BPD has responded to the surge of shootings in the city, taken countless guns off Boston streets — and those efforts are for naught as long as an incomplete investigation remains open and shapes public opinion.
After the investigation concludes, there is a chance to build better, stronger relationships with Boston’s residents, and between the department and community.
It’s vital for the city — and we can think of no better person to help get us there than Commissioner Gross.
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