Legislation is solid start on path to more just legal system
State Rep. Liz Miranda and Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins sent the following letter today to Gov. Charlie Baker
Dear Governor Baker,
AS THE STATE representative that authored the provision to limit no-knock warrants and the chief law enforcement officer of Suffolk County, we strongly urge you to sign into law S.2963, An Act relative to Justice, Equity, and Accountability in Law Enforcement in the Commonwealth. The product of months of hard work, this bill is a compromise and a significant first step in the long and necessary journey toward a more equitable, accountable, and just criminal legal system. Please do not let perfection be the enemy of the good.
We write to offer a different perspective from the deafening chorus of grievances by police unions and members of law enforcement, the majority of whom do not live in, or come from, the neighborhoods they police. These are the very neighborhoods where the most no-knock warrants are executed; where homicides and other violent serious crimes remain unsolved; where excessive force and racial-profiling complaints go unanswered or uninvestigated by the law enforcement departments tasked with doing so. These are the very neighborhoods we were elected to uplift, protect, and serve. And we do so with honor.
This summer, tens of thousands of people peacefully protested in the wake of the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd to demand change and reform. We are very grateful that you were among the first to respond to those calls for change, when you filed a bill on June 17. That bill, which you called a “first step,” included certification for officers, which would finally bring the Commonwealth on the same footing as the overwhelming majority of other states in the nation. As you said at the time, “the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police officers made clear that now is the time to get this done. There are no easy answers, and improving our law enforcement is only one piece of this process, but I think we’ve put together a solid set of reforms that everyone, including the law enforcement community and the folks who are here with us today, can work on to advance this bill together.” S.2963 is in that same spirit.
This bill also regulates the use of facial recognition technology, which is subjective, at best, and error-prone at worst. Research has found that it produces an inaccurate result up to 30 percent of the time. That is not a margin of error; it is a gulf of failure. Facial recognition is a far cry from DNA or fingerprints. It does not pinpoint a specific individual with scientific accuracy, but rather relies on biases literally written into its code. To consider utilizing this technology without safeguards is the height of irresponsibility and a gross violation of the rights of the individuals who will be harmed by it. And, of course, the highest rates of error occur when the technology is used on Black and brown people, particularly Black women.
S.2963 would make the Commonwealth the first state in the nation to have strong regulation of biometric surveillance systems, such as facial recognition technology. Limiting the use of this technology to the RMV for now is prudent. As Black women, we are the very demographic that this technology disproportionately discriminates against. Those members of law enforcement and police unions inundating you with calls likely have never been racially profiled; likely have never experienced being overpoliced, overcharged, or overprosecuted; and likely will not be misclassified by this technology as an animal, as it does to Black women.
We implore you to listen to people with lived experiences. Although police officers and law enforcement have lived professional experience with some of these matters, their experience is nearly always from a position of power, dominance, and authority. And it is often unchecked and unregulated. This is precisely why we find ourselves as a Commonwealth and a nation grappling with these issues.
We acknowledge that S.2963 is not perfect. For us, and many others, doing away with qualified immunity was an important goal. That will have to wait for the next legislative session. S.2963 is a very good start, and absolutely not a conclusion. It is imperative that we press on, and implement these necessary changes.
Please sign this bill without amendment. Remember, delay is victory for the status quo. And this change cannot wait. Lives literally depend on it.
Liz Miranda is a Democratic state representative from Roxbury. Rachael Rollins is the Suffolk County district attorney.