Black redistricting plaintiff doesn’t mind ruffling feathers
Says challenging map backed by civil rights groups, progressives was ‘right thing to do’
THE LAWSUIT CHALLENGING Boston’s city council redistricting map has often been portrayed as a showdown pitting the council’s four White, more moderate members, who objected to its boundaries, against its new left-leaning majority, made up of six councilors of color and three White progressives.
Rasheed Walters says that narrative is “completely wrong” – and it’s hard to argue with him.
The Black 27-year-old Dorchester resident is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, which prompted a federal judge to rule against the redistricting plan and send the council back to the map drawing board.
Lots of attention has been paid to complaints from City Councilor Frank Baker, a more conservative White Dorchester pol who objected to the Adams Village area of his district getting split in half, with four overwhelmingly White, high-voting precincts shifted into the neighboring Mattapan-based council district. Supporters of the move said it would increase the influence of voters of color in Baker’s district.
Adding those “super voting White precincts” to District 4, which has been predominantly Black and less than 10 percent White, Walters testified in the federal case, could allow those voters to determine the “political destiny and political representation of Black voters.”
By signing on as a plaintiff in the case, Walters went up against nearly every civil rights and progressive group in the city – from the Boston NAACP and Urban League to the Chinese Progressive Association – which backed the so-called “unity” map approved by the council.
That hardly bothers the UMass Boston graduate, whose politics cut decidedly against the progressive grain and prevailing political views in the Black community.
“I would describe them as conservative,” Walters said of his political bearings, but adds that he thinks they could just be termed “common sense” given “how far left” those once thought of as moderate Democrats have gone.
If there’s an echo there of Donald Trump’s railing against “radical left Democrats,” it’s no surprise. From last July until March of this year, Walters contributed opinion columns to the Boston Herald, including a December piece headlined “America needs Trump now more than ever.” He’s also been a contributor to the “Daily Caller,” the right-wing website co-founded by Tucker Carlson, where he called reparations for slavery “un-American.”
Walters, who operates a food distribution business, declined to explain his parting with the Herald. “It was time for me to move on,” he said.
Walters, who wrote several columns ripping the redistricting map and NAACP leaders, also won’t say exactly how he came to join the lawsuit against the redistricting plan. “I got reached out to,” was all he would say. (Walters was added as the lawsuit’s lead plaintiff in March, when the original named plaintiff, South Boston resident Robert Shea, wanted to step away from the suit for personal reasons, according to Glen Hannington, the lead attorney in the suit.)
In trying to increase minority voting clout elsewhere, however, Walters says the councilors and organizations backing the map that Saris tossed out ignored the harm it could do to Black representation in District 4. That seat is currently held by Brian Worrell, a Black first-term councilor.
“The NAACP stamped this. The Urban League stamped this,” Walters said of their support for the plan. “These organizations are supposed to advocate for Black people, yet they have created a map and advocated for a map that disenfranchises Black voters.”
Walters suggests that Worrell himself, despite voting for it, wasn’t happy with the map.
“The optics they created was, if you were White and you did not support this, you were racist. And if you’re Black [and you opposed it], you are a sellout,” said Walters. “When you have the NAACP and the Urban League supporting something, as a Black person, his view as a freshman councilor is, oh man, I can’t go up against these people,” he said of Worrell.
Worrell did not return a phone call on Tuesday.
The idea that Worrell’s hold on his seat could have been in jeopardy under the now-rejected redistricting plan gets some credence from one of the foremost students of Boston voting patterns, Larry DiCara, a former city councilor who has pored over city voting statistics for decades.“I think Worrell could have been imperiled,” DiCara said of the map the council approved last fall.
For his part, Walters said, the court ruling is clear vindication. “I don’t really care what people have to say. I know what I did was the right thing.”