By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE — If the days of unrest, violence and recriminations now occurring in Ferguson, Mo., took place in Massachusetts, a majority of the eight candidates running for governor said they would personally reach out to the community and families impacted, and three called for closer attention to be paid to the diversity of police hiring.
The police shooting more than a week ago Saturday of 18-year-old Michael Brown, a black man, sparked protests and rioting, which was met by police in riot gear with rifles and tear gas, as nearly every night since the shooting has been marked by reports of racially tinged turmoil.
The dynamic of a largely white police force and a largely black populace has kept racial tension at the fore of the protests, as law enforcement tactics have received criticism amid reports of scattered violence from people in the crowd.
Independent Evan Falchuk said racial profiling and killings have created a "state of emergency" throughout the country and said a similar shooting could happen in Massachusetts.
Martha Coakley, the Democratic frontrunner, said she hoped if a similar event befell Massachusetts the unrest "would never have escalated to the point it has reached."
The three Democrats, two Republicans and three independents running for governor responded to a News Service inquiry about how they would handle a situation similar to Ferguson in Massachusetts, and how they would differ from Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat who brought in the National Guard.
Most of the candidates – including Republican Charlie Baker, Democrats Steve Grossman, Don Berwick and Coakley, and independents Jeff McCormick and Falchuk – said they would work with community leaders, aim to bring people together and try for more visibility and transparency. Berwick said he would be "on the ground" from day one. Grossman said Nixon should borrow from Gov. Deval Patrick’s post-bombing playbook, and Baker said protestors’ concerns would be addressed by his administration.
Grossman, McCormick and Coakley all highlighted hiring policies that could increase the diversity of the police force or make it a better "reflection" of the community.
Mark Fisher, a Tea Party Republican, said he would "trust the judgment of local law enforcement," and provide whatever they needed. Scott Lively, an independent candidate watched by the Southern Poverty Law Center for his outspoken anti-gay stances, said the situation in Ferguson is "reverse racism."
The question and the candidates’ verbatim answers are printed below.
QUESTION: If you were governor of Massachusetts and a situation similar to what is unfolding in Ferguson, Mo. were occurring in a Bay State city, how would you respond and how would your response differ from that of Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon?
FISHER: About 25 % of the population of Ferguson is below the poverty line. This dependency leads to despondency, which in turn can boil over from a real or perceived injustice. My 4 pt. program to make MA business friendly will move people from dependency and despondence to a level of self-worth and satisfaction. People having the opportunity to decide their own futures are less apt to feel resentment toward those, upon whom their futures largely depend. There are reports of local authorities being shot at and assaulted with Molotov cocktails. This is serious and needs to be dealt with. I would trust the judgment of local law enforcement. I would not hesitate to supply what they needed.
BAKER: The situation in Ferguson breaks my heart and as a father, I can’t imagine losing a child in such a tragic event. If ever a situation unfolded in Massachusetts, I would more effectively communicate that the state will carry out a thorough and rapid investigation where any wrongdoing would be punished to the maximum extent. I would also be available to the family and community to assure them that their concerns are not only heard, but being addressed by my administration.
BERWICK: The ongoing situation in Ferguson is tragic, and my heart goes out to the family of Michael Brown. If Massachusetts faced a similar situation, I – as governor – would personally be on the ground on day one, working with community members, law enforcement, and protesters toward a fair and speedy resolution. A governor with experience solving difficult problems can make a real difference as a mediator during trying times. It is also imperative to work toward a relationship of trust between citizens and law enforcement personnel; to that end, I support community policing, not combat policing.
GROSSMAN: The tragic death of Michael Brown cries out for urgent and decisive action. Governors must maintain public safety while protecting the civil rights and civil liberties of all people including journalists. Governor Nixon should have taken a page out of Deval Patrick’s book immediately after the marathon bombings: be visible, be active and lead by engaging in an open dialogue with citizens and by taking critical measures to protect public safety to reduce tension and anxiety. This tragedy also highlights the urgent need to overhaul hiring practices at every level in government, most notably in our police forces, to reflect the diversity of the society in which we live.
COAKLEY: My heart goes out to the family and friends of Michael Brown. Now, we need a fair, open, and transparent investigation. I hope that in Massachusetts, if a tragedy like this ever occurred, the civil unrest we have seen would never have escalated to the point it has reached. We have worked to create effective community policing practices and trust between our neighborhoods and law enforcement. There is still more work to do, including continuing efforts to build a diverse police force that is representative of the community it serves and making sure our police officers are well trained to handle similar situations. The governor’s role must now be to bring together the community to rebuild that trust and restore peace in Ferguson.
McCORMICK: This is a tragic circumstance laced with emotions and it is important for a Governor to see it from all sides, take responsibility and show leadership. I would have responded immediately by going to Ferguson and meeting with all stakeholders to ensure transparency and prevent escalation. I would work directly with the community and police to ensure that there were peaceful demonstrations as a way for the community to express its views and begin to heal. During the investigation, my primary objective would be transparency as a way to build trust. Lastly, I would work with the city of Ferguson to address the very real issue of a police department that is not a reflection of the community it serves.
LIVELY: Equal Justice Under Law is a bedrock principle of our society and must be color-blind. Ferguson is the latest incident where equal justice has surrendered to mob rule in deference to skin-color. This is reverse racism. Only due process of law can reveal the truth in this case, and both the White police officer and the Black teen deserve a clean slate on which to be judged — untarnished by prejudice, prior similar incidents, or pressure by agitators. Those who exploit this incident as a pretext for violence or theft should be jailed and pay restitution to store owners.
FALCHUK: The governor of Missouri "declared" a state of emergency, but in America, we’ve been living in a state of emergency when it comes to racial profiling and tragic killings like that of Michael Brown. If something like this were to happen on my watch, I would go to the community to meet with community leaders and families to learn what it is we must do to truly address the prejudice, racism and inequities that continue to exist today. But I will not wait for a tragedy like this to act. We must be much more proactive. One of my top priorities as a candidate is, and later as governor will be, to meet with those community leaders to learn what must be done, and to challenge people to recognize that in this, the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement, America still does not live up to the promise that all of us are equal. A death like Michael Brown’s could very easily have happened here in Massachusetts, and that must not be forgotten.