Panelists Talk Criminal Justice and Police Reform

Two incidents in which police officers pulled Eroc Arroyo-Montano over and drew their guns revealed insights about police reaction and response, he said.

“I’ve been pulled over by police two times where they drew guns,” Arroyo-Montano said. “At one time, I missed a stop sign, and another time I hadn’t updated my license plates. And both times they pulled guns on me, and … to be very clear, I was also with Black folks.”

Arroyo-Montano, a community activist, Kathleen O’Toole, police officer and lawyer, and Ricardo Arroyo, a Boston city councilor, spoke about criminal justice and police reform at a virtual panel on Tuesday sponsored by the African and African Diaspora Studies Program and the Irish Studies Program.

Also on Tuesday, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of third-degree murder, second-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter for the death of George Floyd. The verdict of this highly anticipated trial changed Tuesday’s discussion, Arroyo-Montano said. 

“This panel wouldn’t have been this panel,” Arroyo-Montano said. “This would have been a different moment.”

In light of the Floyd protests, Arroyo-Montano said has seen more people recognize the impact of a police system powered by white supremacy and anti-blackness. 

“Those uprisings made me cautiously optimistic,” Arroyo-Montano said. “People were up in every state … I saw a lot of participation from people who were saying enough is enough.”

But Arroyo-Montano emphasized that conversations about the impact and traumatization of police brutality must continue. 

O’Toole, BC ’76, said she has seen policing evolve to some extent over the years, but that there is still significant room for improvement.

“Yes, the last year has been particularly difficult, and I think it underscores the sense of urgency … for all of us to undertake and to embrace more reform [and] more innovation in our police services,” O’Toole said.

Arroyo, the first person of color to hold his position as city councilor of district five on the Boston City Council, said that people of color in the United States have often been taught to avoid making white people uncomfortable. 

After Floyd’s death, Arroyo said he saw a noticeable shift in people’s abilities to have difficult conversations about race, aggressive policing, white supremacy, and oppression.

“I’ve seen more courage and more bravery in the way in which we talk about and handle these situations,” Arroyo said.

Arroyo said he does not believe police make people feel safe or bring safety to neighborhoods.

“And so our laws and what we do in this society often, is we criminalize poverty, addiction, mental health issues,” Arroyo said.

Arroyo said he supports decreasing police interaction in neighborhoods and communities. 

“I don’t think police interaction solves much, and I, you know, I struggle with what they do necessarily solve, but I certainly don’t think that they solve issues with homelessness or mental health breakdowns or trauma or addiction issues,” Arroyo said. “I know they don’t do that. And yet that’s probably what they respond to the vast majority of the time.”

Arroyo-Montano said that he supports defunding the police and reallocating resources toward people who are trained to help those in distress.

“I am an abolitionist,” Arroyo-Montano said. “I do believe we need to defund the police. I think we need to reallocate.”

O’Toole said that people should be intentional about reallocating resources.

“I think we should be much more thoughtful about the way we allocate our resources, but I want to be certain that we don’t just apply knee-jerk reactions and defund the police and cut their budgets by 50 percent,” she said. 

Everyone should come together with a community safety approach, rather than a policy approach, to harness resources and develop plans accordingly, O’Toole said.

“I’m just saying let’s be really thoughtful so that when people do dial 911 we have an alternative for them,” O’Toole said. “If it’s not police, you know, let’s be certain that we have the right systems in place before we make radical decisions that could actually cause greater harm than good.”

In response to O’Toole’s comment, Arroyo said that people need to focus on the reality that policing in the United States does not serve its citizens.

“It’s not for us, it’s not about us, it’s to control,” Arroyo said. “It’s to deal with the reality that there’s classism, there’s racism in this country, there’s hierarchies to that, and there’s a specific control factor to ensuring that those things continue to exist unabated. And policing as it currently exists allows for that reality.”

Arroyo said he believes reforming the system requires examining what the institution of policing does and reimagining budgets and systems to replace policing.

The people who are being defunded are not the police, according to Arroyo-Montano, but the people impacted by policing.

“Right now, who’s been defunded are the folks who work with addicts, teachers, schools have been defunded,” Arroyo-Montano said. “Community centers have been defunded.”

Arroyo-Montano also said that Boston College itself has a history of racism, citing when the University denied the admission of two Black basketball recruits—Elton Tyler and Jonathan DePina—who had already verbally committed to attend and passed minimum NCAA standards for eligibility in 1996.

It is important to have conversations about racism and be comfortable with the possibility of making someone else uncomfortable, according to Arroyo-Montano. 

O’Toole said that it is important to recruit the right people for policing.

“Unless you have a police service that reflects the community it serves, it will not be legitimate, it will not be credible, [and] it will not be effective,” she said.

Featured Image by Amy Palmer / Heights Editor

April 23, 2021