Charlie Baker’s coronavirus response, police reform bill criticized at Boston State Hospital redevelopment launch

BOSTON, MA – JUNE 23: Gov. Charlie Baker speaks during a news conference at Mass AudubonÕs Boston Nature Center and Wildlife Sanctuary in Mattapan on June 23, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Angela Rowlings/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
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Gov. Charlie Baker – in Mattapan Tuesday to announce the minority-led redevelopment of the final portion of the former Boston State Hospital plot – was taken to task by a handful of community members who slammed his response to the COVID-19 crisis in communities of color and raised issues with his police reform bill.

Members of the Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition said they sent the governor a letter in April asking for a meeting to discuss the health and economic issues facing communities of color disproportionately hard hit by the pandemic — including Mattapan, which has one of the city’s highest infection rates.

“You come into the community to do a ribbon-cutting — and you have been here before — but this is a coalition of Black people that are bothered by the fact you wouldn’t even meet with us,” said a man who identified himself as Brother Lo. “I’m disappointed.”

Baker responded, “We’ll set it up, we’ll talk to you soon. I’m sorry that didn’t happen.”

Lo, who said his mother-in-law died of the coronavirus in a nursing home, said the needs of the city’s Black people aren’t being met and pushed Baker to help Black businesses and workers.

Baker was also repeatedly interrupted by Mattapan mother Monica Rey, who blasted the training incentives built into the police reform bill the governor filed last week.

The legislation, which would ban the use of chokeholds and institute a statewide police certification process for the first time, also includes bonuses of up to $5,000 for officers who go above required training.

“Antiracist training does not work,” Rey cried, adding, “You’re giving a bonus to police to do their jobs.”

Baker defended the incentive, saying, “If you want people to do a better job in serving the communities they represent and to be leaders with respect to the way they do that, it’s not unusual to create a modest incentive for them to do that.”

State Rep. Russell Holmes, D-Mattapan — there to announce the redevelopment project designed to bring more jobs and home ownership opportunities to the neighborhood — said, “When I hear the issues around the $5,000, I understand that wholeheartedly. It will be discussed,” in House and Senate negotiations.

But he added that “98% of the bill people are in favor of” and that the ability to decertify officers “is what’s most important to me, period.”

Baker said the legislation, developed with the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, “is about delivering not just an enhanced certification program, but also a process to decertify officers” who violate someone’s rights or engage in biased behavior.

But Rey said Baker and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh aren’t listening to activists’ demands to “defund the police” – calls to reallocate funds from police budgets toward social services for communities of color.

“Systemic racism has ultimately led to this point,” Rey said. “The governor and the mayor, Mayor Marty Walsh, have not taken seriously the ask by young people.”