Letters to the Editor

End the Use of Qualified Immunity

Dear Editor,

Qualified Immunity is a very flawed and unjust aspect of our justice system. For example, it allows a police officer to ransack a house with some help from a SWAT team and get away with it. This doctrine is basically like a “Get Out of Jail” card from Monopoly. Qualified immunity shields government officials from being held personally liable for constitutional violations. In my opinion, this law was only made for incompetent and inconsiderate police officers, who obviously violate people’s rights.

A blatant example of qualified immunity took place on August 11th, 2014 in Idaho. According to Vox, a woman came home to see police in her yard. They told her they were looking for a suspect, her ex, and she told the police that he was in the house on that morning, but did not know if he was still inside. She gave the police her keys and even asked them to go in and arrest him. The police then asked her to leave the area.  She came back to broken windows doors, ripped couches, glass everywhere. She expected the police to use the keys, but police brought a SWAT Team, and used tear gas, and shot them through the windows. The most baffling part about this was that her ex wasn’t even there. 

With her house being destroyed, she was six months pregnant and had to clean up a raided, and unlivable house. She sued the police department for, “Unreasonable Search and Seizure” making the argument that she gave police consent to enter the house, but not to destroy it. The Federal Court seemed to side with her, saying that the police “exceeded the scope of the consent.” However, the court finally decided that the police were entitled to qualified immunity, so she lost the case. 

Currently, State Senator Sonia Chang Diaz has proposed a police reform bill in the Massachusetts Legislature. While this bill does not eliminate qualified immunity, it does state that police who are de-certified “will no longer receive qualified immunity for lawsuits for their abusive acts.” This is a good start. As a youth leader at the Hyde Square Task Force and a resident of Roxbury, I urge the community to give support to this bill so that it becomes law.

Edwin Jovanni Montalvo

There Is Still a Lot of Work to Be Done If We Are to All Get Through This

Dear Editor,

We are writing as concerned neighbors, activists, and organizers working with our statewide partners in a self-organized response to support, educate, and advocate on behalf of our community to ensure that no one should be left behind in the response to COVID-19. 

“When our neighbor reached out to us, it was for basic needs such as food. And now, families are still needing food. Even the families that have little food, they share what they have with other families that are in need. I’m exhausted. My neighbors are exhausted. I feel like we are fighting to protect our lives and our government has abandoned us.” – Mutual Aid Volunteer

For 9 months, we have been filling in the gaps created by local and state government inaction mainly around food, economic, and housing insecurities. We are deeply concerned about the housing crisis that has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our most vulnerable communities had already been coping with historic disinvestment as well as inequitable and unaffordable housing options. Housing instability has been a long-term problem that has not been adequately addressed. 

“There are three families living in a 3 bedroom apartment because two of them were evicted before the moratorium. It’s only going to get worse because the moratorium ended.” – Mutual Aid Volunteer

Governor Baker’s $100 million initiative is not enough and won’t prevent the hundreds of thousands of evictions and foreclosures that are expected across the state. The expiration of the eviction and foreclosure moratorium will now place hundreds of thousands of families in our communities at risk for homelessness and place them in a system that is woefully unprepared to support our most vulnerable community members.

“The RAFT process has been a nightmare. Landlords are willing to work with tenants but it takes too long and isn’t even covering their basic costs.” – Mutual Aid Volunteer

Legislatively the House and Senate majority has not yet found the moral courage to address this crisis. And the looming housing crisis will be catastrophic for our communities. According to the US Census Bureau’s Household Pulse survey taken between November 11 and November 23:

• 17% of MA renters are currently behind on rent (almost 200,000 households). 

• 6% of homeowners are behind on mortgage payments (over 127,000 households).

• Of MA renters behind on rent, 29% (over 58,000 households) report that they are very likely to be evicted in the next two months. 

• Of MA homeowners behind in their mortgages, almost 23% of homeowners (over 28,000 households) report that they are likely to lose their home to foreclosure in the next two months.

• 29% of MA renters have little to no confidence they will be able to pay next month’s rent.

• 12% of MA homeowners have little to no confidence they will be able to pay next month’s mortgage.

• 31% of MA residents say it is very or somewhat difficult to pay for usual household expenses. 

In addition:

20% of small landlords say they are currently struggling with getting their rent payments.

In the week ending 12/6, over 9,500 NEW eviction cases were filed, affecting over 13,000 MA residents. 

For these reasons, we request that you immediately pass equitable public policies that address the basic human needs for housing, food, economic support, and healthcare access. 

We request that you support the following actions:

• Pass the Guaranteed Housing Stability Act (H.5018) before the end of the session.

• Revamp the rental assistance process (such as RAFT, City of Boston Rental Relief Fund) to include local groups and providers that have the cultural, linguistic, and community connection to reach the families most vulnerable. 

• Provide assistance to small owner-occupying landlords who are at risk of losing their home to alleviate the pressure being put on struggling tenants. 

• Work with local mutual aid and COVID response networks who can support creating a mutually beneficial plan that does not perpetuate displacement practices.

 The people who have been impacted by the pandemic will not have a break at the end of this session. Therefore, we ask that before you take yours, you pass legislation to address the housing crisis that hundreds of thousands of our neighbors – both renters and homeowners – are currently facing. 

“While juggling schoolwork, internet problems, and babysitting responsibilities, my students are now also worrying about being thrown out of their homes. Many have already had to move in with relatives, making school even more difficult and amplifying COVID risk. The government cannot claim to value education and racial justice while allowing students to be evicted in the middle of a pandemic.” – Mutual Aid Volunteer

In 2021, we urge you take bold, progressive, long-term, and systemic changes in addressing the basic needs of our families by tackling:

• The need for basic necessities, increased affordability of housing, and the prevention of massive evictions and foreclosures of hundreds of thousands of households that are tied to an economy devastated by this pandemic.

• The need for long-term solutions that include equity by funding additional rental assistance and low-income housing opportunities statewide, especially for historically marginalized communities, seniors, and people with disabilities.

• Technology gaps that are leaving many children behind in education, such as free high-speed broadband that is often unavailable to underserved communities across the state.

• And the need for high-quality, accessible healthcare for all through a single-payer government sponsored program accessible by all residents regardless of employment, income, or immigration status.

• We also ask you to support increasing training of primary care physicians with a focus on addressing the racial health disparities exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous, Black, and Brown communities. 

More than ever, we need our elected officials to rise to the occasion and to provide relief during one of the most devastating periods of our lifetime. Historically marginalized people continue to be disproportionately impacted by health, economic, and social disparities and by a racism crisis that continues to threaten the well-being of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color. 

We look forward to seeing you lead in a spirit of public service and care for our most vulnerable neighbors.

If you have any questions you can contact us at mutualai[email protected]

Sincerely, 

JP/Roxbury Mutual Aid Network

Regarding Changes Expected at the BPL

Dear Editor,

Recently, Boston Public Library President David Leonard and the management announced that local branch libraries and librarians in distinct departments at the Main Branch would no longer have the ability to select the books for their branches and collections. A team of four people will be selecting all of the books for the entire library system.   Leonard appears to support a plan that denies the existence of distinct neighborhood libraries in favor of one central collection warehoused in various branches. Under this plan, it will be the job of four librarians downtown to select and order all of the books for the entire Boston Public Library system. Boston is a diverse city with people from every corner of the globe and its library collections must reflect and respond to the needs and interests of diverse communities. Boston is also a city of neighborhoods and these neighborhoods have distinct needs and wants.

Currently, over one hundred fully qualified librarians who work directly with families, researchers, local schools, and community groups, chose the books for their locations. The Professional Staff Association AFT believes that the librarians who actually work with the public in our communities are much better suited to select the books for their branches and are also much more responsive to neighborhood needs and interests. We need a better collection development plan that will move the Boston Public Library forward toward greater equity, not backward. Please help us by sending the following point-and-click email to Leonard. More details on their plan and how it is a disservice to Boston Here is a link to the Boston Public Library’s Collection Development Plan: http://bplpsa.info/contents/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/FY21-Collections-Ordering-Plan-Finaldocx.pdf?source=email& Can you join me and write a letter? Click https://actionnetwork.org/letters/support-local-branches-of-the-boston-public-library?source=email&

Friends of Connolly Library

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