Children are left without needed police protection against violence in Boston schools, community members argued at a tense community meeting in Dorchester.
Their complaints and hope for change is embodied in a new group — Black Mothers Peace Initiative.
“People are going to respect the voices of Black mothers. They’re organizers,” said meeting host, the Rev. Eugene Rivers III, as he sat next to Isabella Harris, who is tapped to lead the group. “We need to have strong voices … Because there’s a lot of pain and that pain needs to be turned into energy.”
Black Mothers Peace Initiative was announced Wednesday in an often emotional meeting of the long-running Violence Reduction Task Force at Dorchester’s Ella J. Baker House. The room was filled with concerned residents, Boston police officers and Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius.
“There’s incredible work to do in the community to partner together and to make sure that our youth are safe in our schools,” Cassellius said after the meeting. “I’m coming into the community to make sure I listen, to make sure that I amplify their voices” and to make “really sound communication plans” for schools and police over the next five months.
Cassellius is leaving her position at the close of the school year in June through a “mutual” decision with Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration. She declined to comment on what will follow her tenure and said that “Right now, I just have to focus on the kids.”
Of particular concern to many in attendance was the police reform legislation signed by Gov. Charlie Baker in December 2020 that included ending a requirement that districts have at least one school resource officer in schools but left open the option to train school resource officers further to become full police officers. The Herald reported previously that school safety specialists were stripped of police powers and left officers wary of intervening at all.
State Sen. Nick Collins, a Democrat who represents the Dorchester area, laid the fault on Cassellius in a phone call Wednesday evening. He said that unlike Boston Public Schools, other agencies, including the Boston Housing Authority, and other cities, like Brockton, took up the training option and still have police.
Confusion in the policy could be greatly helped by “everyone being on the same page,” said Det. Larry Ellison, of the Boston Police’s school unit. As directions stand now, he said, police can’t enter the school unless it’s a “911 emergency” and aren’t doing the intervention work they once did.
“While they’re busy crunching numbers and dealing with data, we’re constantly losing kids,” said Thomas White, the founder of Universal Common Ground, an organization that works on re-entry, homelessness and public safety.
Rivers spoke at length on “disparity” in policy and that Mayor Michelle Wu is listening more closely to “white liberals in Brookline” and “elite media” than the Black parents of students in schools where danger is present.
“The mayor can have how many police details around her house in Roslindale and for poor Black people where it’s violence, and people feel under threat, there is inadequate police presence,” Rivers said.
Comment from the Wu administration was not available Wednesday night.
Rhodes Pierre, a concerned citizen, said he’d like to see Boston children learn necessary life skills, like financial literacy and entrepreneurship.
“If you’re just treating the symptoms and not what’s causing it, it’s bound to happen again,” Pierre said.