|Rick Holmes on Eurie Stamps||June 12, 2020|
|Rick Holmes||Framingham Source|
After the Framingham Police SWAT team killed Eurie Stamps Sr. in 2011, there were no protest marchers chanting his name. There were no cameras running during the midnight raid on Stamps' house, hence no viral videos. We didn't get to see Stamps lying face-down on the hallway floor on the orders of the cop who, moments later, shot him in the head. Eurie was 68, African-American, a grandfather and a suspect in no crime.
There was no nationwide coverage of Eurie Stamps' death, but the local MetroWest Daily News treated it as a major story. I wrote about it in editorials and columns, and nine years later I'm still outraged.
Town officials, intimidated by the police department and the advice of lawyers, did nothing and said nothing in the days after the killing of an innocent man. The Middlesex County DA cleared the officer and he returned to the force. Framingham's selectmen commissioned independent reports and adopted minor policy changes and, some months later, a major one: The Police Chief disbanded the SWAT team.
SWAT teams are modern policing at its worst. They are equipped and trained to use military force against civilian targets, with an emphasis on intimidation and surprise. In most places, there are few situations ¬- riots, active shooters, hostage standoffs and the like - for which SWAT teams are designed. So the Framingham SWAT team used the task of serving the routine search warrant for the Stamps house as a training opportunity. Even though the suspect in the investigation was already in custody and Stamps' wife greeted them on the sidewalk, the police used all their toys: battering rams to knock down two doors, flash-bang grenades to shock anyone inside, full battle gear with fire trucks standing by in case they had to burn the house down. Mr. Stamps was the only one inside, watching the Celtics game in his pajamas. Moments later, he was dead.
If this sounds familiar, it's the same kind of raid that left Breonna Taylor, 26, dead in Louisville last March: a no-knock search warrant, served after midnight. The suspects in the case were already in custody. After forcing their way into the apartment with a battering ram, police fired 20 shots into the apartment, eight of which hit Taylor. We say her name, along with that of George Floyd, the latest in a long line of victims.
But we don't say the name of Eurie Stamps Sr. After Ferguson, I went to a rally in Framingham Centre where politicians, clergy, leaders of the Black community and even, as I recall, the police chief, gathered to protest racial injustice. They read the names: Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin. But not the name of Eurie Stamps.
There was another rally last week, in front of City Hall. If Eurie's name was spoken, there was no mention of it in the account in the local paper. I'm told the police chief took a knee along with the protesters. Good for him.
I left Framingham three years ago, and I'm in no position to judge how the city's police department has changed. But a video that made the news last August when Framingham and Natick officers invaded a home without a warrant in search of marijuana indicates the warrior cop mentality - the mindset on display across the nation this month as police clash with protesters - is still an issue in MetroWest. Four years after voters legalized marijuana, they are still acting like old-time narcs.
The deaths of innocents at the hands of police have sparked an overdue debate over how to fix America's police departments, and there's no shortage of ideas for reform. Some have already been implemented in some places: bodycams on officers; training in de-escalation and subconscious bias; civilian review boards.
We're now seeing a new crop of reform proposals: repealing the "qualified immunity" that protects bad cops from accountability; banning chokeholds and tear gas; prohibiting no-knock warrants; reining in police unions, so that contracts cover only wages and benefits, not use-of-force policies or disciplinary procedures. Another set of reforms falls under the "defund the police" slogan, which is best understood as a way to reduce the police footprint by taking away jobs cops aren't good at: Put social workers in schools instead of police "resource officers." Invest in emergency mental health services, addiction counselors and social workers, and have them respond to 911 calls when no serious crime is alleged. Let trained, unarmed civilians handle crowd control and construction details, even traffic citations.
In the wake of the Ferguson protests, President Barack Obama suspended the transfer of military equipment to police departments and stepped up the Department of Justice's use of consent decrees to encourage reforms at the local level. Both those policies were reversed by President Donald Trump. If you want change, win elections.
Congress is already debating some of these ideas, and an election is coming up. Police reform is now a national issue. But managing police departments is a local responsibility. In cities like Minneapolis, New York and Los Angeles, elected officials and activists are already engaging on a new agenda for police reform.
But it's a different story in smaller cities and towns. Fixing police departments is hard work. It requires changes in recruiting, hiring, training and discipline. Policies need to be rewritten. To do these things right, strong relationships must be forged among elected officials, police officers and members of the community. That takes a sustained commitment. Especially here in New England, decisions are made by the people who show up at the meeting. Will the people marching in the streets today be there for the police department budget hearing next spring?
Compounding the difficulty is the withering of local newspapers. Half the jobs in America's newsrooms have disappeared since 2008. In thousands of American communities, there's no longer a reporter reading police reports every day. There's no one covering the city council meeting where the police chief discusses budgets and priorities. There's no editorial page to advocate for reform. And when someone witnesses police misconduct, there's no newspaper they can call.
That means we have to try harder. The deaths of George Floyd, Eurie Stamps and so many others at the hands of police have exposed deep flaws in America's law enforcement systems. In their names, we must make real change happen, from the White House to City Hall.
Rick Holmes is the former opinion editor for the MetroWest Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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