Healey: ‘America is burning. But that’s how forests grow’
AG says she has fallen short, acknowledges limitation in discussing race
ATTORNEY GENERAL MAURA HEALEY, in a passionate speech on Tuesday, suggested the protests sweeping the nation may yield long-term benefits. “Yes, America is burning. But that’s how forests grow,” she said.
As violent protests rile the country and Boston over the killing of George Floyd, Healey delivered a half-hour speech about race via Zoom to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. Healey, a Democrat, said the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the disparities black and brown Americans endure – the disparities of “400 years of racism and oppression” that society “must acknowledge, own, and fix.”
Healey started her speech by acknowledging her limitations in discussing race. “The color of my skin doesn’t allow me to truly understand what it’s like to leave your home and automatically be subject to so many assumptions and biases,” she said.
Healey said in her work as attorney general, she wanted to address the systemic racism plaguing society. “I’ve fallen short,” she acknowledged, noting the continuing threats and fears within Massachusetts.
Healey made the case that the unrest over Floyd’s killing and the unequal impact of the pandemic give America an opportunity to create a more just society. “I won’t talk about rebuilding. Instead, I’ll talk about building anew in ways that rid us of the institutionalized racism that’s led to America burning today,” Healey said. If Americans do not seize that opportunity, she said, it will “extinguish the promise of this great country.”
After a Sunday night violent protest in Boston that resulted in property damage, arrests, and injury to civilians and police officers, Healey said she is calling for a “revolution,” but not a violent one. “I support calls for a revolution but not the revolution of violence in our streets,” Healey said. “Instead, I’m calling for a revolution in mindset. A fundamental change to our ingrained assumptions.”
Healey attributed some of the violence in multiple cities to “outside groups and agitators,” including the militant anti-fascist group Antifa, which she said was unaffiliated with peaceful protesters. “We’ve seen people come from out of state to Worcester last night, to Boston, to try to wreak havoc, who are in no way supportive of the movement,” she said.
Of 53 people arrested in Boston Sunday night, two were from out of state and a third out-of-state resident will be issued a summons, the Boston police said. The Worcester police have not publicly released information about those arrested in a confrontational protest Monday night.
In her speech, Healey called for policy proposals to address disparities between black and Latino and white communities. She called for “livable wages” and benefits for grocery and pharmacy store workers, delivery drivers, custodians, and other essential workers who tend to be low-wage workers of color.
She called for federal funding for early childhood education, better pay for childcare workers, and a plan to reopen childcare facilities safely while making sure every family can access affordable childcare. She also called for an expansion of telemedicine and mobile health care clinics, investments in community hospitals, and other initiatives to ensure health care is accessible in poor communities.
Asked how to address police brutality, Healey said the state must continue to require unconscious bias training for police officers. She also wants to look at how to provide more transparent data to stop a police officer engaged in illegal conduct in another state from getting a job in Massachusetts.
Rather than using force, officials need to push for de-escalation and calming “to restore a semblance of order and recognize there’s so much in common that we share,” Healey said, “Unfortunately, we’ve seen a pernicious, ugly, small element that has been in many ways been given license by a president who does not seem to recognize the significance of his words or his position.”
Healey urged individuals to educate themselves about racism, speak out about racial slights, get involved with racial justice organizations, and buy from black merchants. She asked businesses to employ a diverse workforce and listen to employees of color.
Massachusetts Republican Party chairman Jim Lyons criticized Healey for sending the wrong message to struggling residents and business owners who saw their neighborhoods burned by comparing it to a forest fire. “By choosing to highlight this insane analogy, it should be clear to Massachusetts residents that no matter what else Democrats like Attorney General Healey say, they will always condone mob tactics,” Lyons said in a statement. “The Radical Democrats, led by the likes of Attorney General Healey, sat back and watched as cities went up in flames over the weekend, and are now admitting that this is all part of their plan to fundamentally change America by any means possible.”In taking questions from Chamber of Commerce president Jim Rooney and chamber members, Healey also addressed the devastating impact of COVID-19 in nursing homes, which she called “heartbreaking.” Healey’s office is investigating outbreaks at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and the Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley in Littleton.
Healey said the outbreak exposed the problem of an “under-resourced long-term care system,” with a vulnerable population and homes that struggled to find personal protective equipment and that lacked adequate procedures for reporting infections to public health officials. “It breaks my heart to think about what we’ve done to the oldest generation and the way in which they died, so many of them alone. They deserve a lot better than they’re getting.”