“They should learn some lessons from Boston!”

The denouement to a couple of sad and very-public cases this week, cases where black men were pointlessly killed by police.

On Wednesday, a grand jury decided that there wasn’t enough evidence presented to indict members of the NYPD who’d asphyxiated Eric Garner to death for “resisting arrest”. In this case, when police touched Garner as they moved in to arrest him for the high crime of selling single cigarettes,  Garner moved his arms a bit and said “don’t touch me!”  Garner’s neck was immediately grabbed from behind in a choke hold, and he was tackled to the ground by a half-dozen or so cops. Garner died over several minutes as his plaintive cries of “I can’t breath!” drew ever quieter, ending when life left his body. One cop, in a green shirt, seemed to have had the task of staying focused on Garner’s windpipe from the initial take-down through the completion of the act. Watch it for yourself, if you can bear to, it’s horrific; the homicide (as it’s been ruled by the NYC Medical Examiner), begins at about 1:15 in this video.

(In a freak coincidence, the man who videoed the homicide was arrested by NYPD a few weeks later when police claim they saw him handing a .25 caliber handgun to a friend, and he was indicted. Life is filled with amazing coincidences.)

And of course, a week ago, a grand jury decided that the police work of Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, didn’t rise to the level of a likely crime either. Wilson stopped one Michael Brown for another terrible criminal act, namely walking in the street (or possibly for looking like someone who’d stolen mini-cigars earlier that day), and the stop turned into a fusillade of gunshots that ended Brown’s life on Earth.

The NYPD has been known for sometimes not playing by the rules, particularly when it comes to minorities and those who question the right of bankers to fleece the 99%. But the Ferguson PD wasn’t letting any moss grow on it in the competition to mess with citizens who look or act a little different, either.

The US Department of Justice is investigating both tragedies. But Eric Holder being Eric Holder, and neither Garner nor Brown being bankers, I’ll remind my readers not to hold their breath until justice is served by that route.

I happened to leave Boston on vacation a day or two after Brown was gunned down in Ferguson and the subsequent protests (and paramilitary response) began. One of my cabbies that day, a black man perhaps 40 or so with a slight foreign accent whose origin I couldn’t quite catch, was tuning between radio stations to soak in all of the news about Ferguson; I was interested, too!

Me: “It’s terrible what happened in Ferguson!

Cabbie: “They should learn some lessons from Boston!

He went on to tell me that he lives an a low-income neighborhood, and in his experience the Boston Police respects its residents, keeps an eye on nogoodniks without provoking trouble, and makes an effort to ensure that the neighborhood’s cops “look like” the residents, i.e., neighborhoods with a certain makeup of minorities will tend to have cops drawn from the same minorities. He had nothing but praise for the BPD.

That was a little surprising to me, in a good way of course. My dealings with local police in Boston and its suburbs have been excellent, but I’m white, middle-aged and middle class; I just assumed that things probably did not go as well for non-whites, the young, and the poor. But I’ve also known that Boston-area police departments are not cut from the same cloth as those of NYC, Ferguson, or many other cities and suburbs. For example, compare the way the Boston Bomber Brother situation was handled to how things go in cities like New York, Ferguson, Los Angeles and Albuquerque. I’ve asked a number of fellow Bostonians if they could even imagine incidents happening here like those that happened in these other places, and they cannot. Of course we can never say never, but… our cops just don’t do that stuff.

In the name of transparency and community involvement, BPD Police Commissioner Bill Evans, born and raised in Boston, even has a monthly “Ask the Commissioner” call-in segment on WGBH’s popular Boston Public Radio program. Evans comes across as a smart, low-key, sensible guy who I usually find myself agreeing with.

Look… I’m sure that every police force has areas where they can improve. And I’m sure that virtually every police force has been involved in abuses of power: whenever one party has great power over another, the occasional abuse is bound to occur, either accidental or willful.  And I can’t imagine that any praise of police in these dark days will embraced by many of my fellow Liberals, and I can understand the deep anger. But the more I see and hear of police behavior in much of the rest of our country, I can only agree with my cabbie:

They should learn some lessons from Boston!

During the Watertown manhunt for the surviving Boston Bomber Brother, Brookline PD officer John Bradley volunteered to get sustenance for 17-month-old Holden Wells, whose parents had run out of milk. “We wanted to pay him but he wouldn’t take money from us. He was just so generous,” said Holden’s mom.

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