DiMasi and black Boston

Trial watched closely after conviction of two black pols

Within minutes of the news that Sal DiMasi had been convicted on federal corruption charges, messages starting flying through cyberspace among those in Boston’s black activist community. But the focus was not on the fall of DiMasi.  It was a collective sharing of relief that Sal had not “gotten off” – and now almost certainly faces a significant prison time when sentenced in September.

Why such interest in the case in the black community?  Because the two House speakers that preceded DiMasi, powerful white men, were both convicted of federal felonies but never spent a day in jail, while two much lower-ranking, popular black elected officials were sent to prison earlier this year following corruption convictions.

In some sense, DiMasi’s conviction was like a reverse OJ moment across Boston’s black community. A judicial equity was achieved as the white guy finally seemed poised to get the same treatment for a crime that blacks had received.  Consensus in many quarters of the communities of color had been that if former state senator Dianne Wilkerson and former Boston city councilor Chuck Turner had to serve prison time for felony corruption convictions, so then must DiMasi.

For months, people in the black community have been watching the trial warily and commenting that if DiMasi wasn’t convicted and handed a stiff sentence it would be proof yet again that minorities in Massachusetts get the shaft when it comes to equal treatment in the halls of justice. One high level official in the Patrick administration was frank, saying that if DiMasi doesn’t go to jail, “there should be a sit-in at the State House.” 

Meet the Author

Notwithstanding the political success of Gov. Deval Patrick, the Wilkerson and Turner convictions and jail sentences had caused many in the black community to question how much power minorities can really wield without coming under federal scrutiny and prosecution. The DiMasi verdict might go a long way toward building some confidence that, when it comes to political corruption at least, justice is blind.

Kevin Peterson is founder and director of the New Democracy Coalition, a Boston-based organization promoting civic literacy, civic policy, and electoral justice.