Boston Police Commissioner William Evans spun a revisionist history of the department's recent past during an interview that was part of WBUR’s coverage of the tenth anniversary of the killing of Victoria Snelgrove. Snelgrove was fatally shot by police in 2004 after the Red Sox beat the Yankees in a wild comeback, getting them into the World Series. After the game, many fans poured into the streets in riotous celebration and the Boston police attempted to disperse the crowd with violence. In the process, they shot Snelgrove in the eye with a pepperball and killed her.
According to the WBUR:
[The Snelgrove shooting] changed the methods Boston Police utilize when dealing with crowds.
“Now we handle the crowd with a soft approach,” Boston Police Commissioner William Evans said in an interview. “We come out. We don’t have any of the riot gear on and we gently move the crowd. We try to engage the crowd, thanking them, trying to, you know, high five them if they want a high five and ask them kindly to move along.”
Evans said the new approach has been successful, used a number of times including when dealing with the Occupy Boston movement and last fall when the Sox won the World Series.
Success is a relative term in this case, but to Evans' point, the Boston police have made at least some progress. When compared with the inexplicable violence displayed in 2004 where, according to a Boston police commissioned report, the Deputy Superintendent in charge that night was shooting indiscriminately into crowds, the present crowd control tactic of targeted strangulation and general lockdowns is progress. Declaring the crowd control techniques used by Boston police “gentle” or “successful”, however, requires a break with reality.
Evans went on to point out the other victims of the Snelgrove killing... the Boston police:
Still, Evans said police carry the terrible memory of what happened 10 years ago.
“We really feel for the Snelgrove family,” he said. “And, you know, 10 years without their lovely daughter — I know life moves on for a lot of us, but it will never be the same for that family, so, you know, our department was deeply troubled by that. I think below the surface we were all hurting that a young lady’s life was taken as a result of a mistake by the BPD.”
The city paid the family over $5 million, the largest wrongful death settlement in Boston’s history. The manufacturer of the pellet gun also settled a lawsuit for an undisclosed amount.
The burden felt over the Snelgrove killing led to the firing of not a single officer. In fact, Snelgrove's killer, Officer Rochefort Milien, was still on the force in 2013 and took home $142,711.36. If insanity is doing the same thing again and again while expecting different outcomes, then Evans' claims are on the cusp of lunacy. The Boston police continue to send out the same people to do crowd control who were so out of control in 2004, and since no officers were held accountable for their actions, why would they change now?
WBUR's article presents Evans' claims that the Boston police have changed as fact, but offers no evidence of any changes. Evans points to two events, Occupy Boston in 2011 and the 2013 World Series, as proof the department has changed. Those events should be looked at with more scrutiny that WBUR was able to muster.
Footage from large crowd policing events in Boston since 2004 directly contradict most of the claims Evans made including even the specific events he cited.
The Word Series "Success" Story
Footage of the Boston police wearing riot gear while issuing dispersal orders was released by The Boston Globe. The footage also confirms that the Boston police declared public places and streets “closed” and made arrests.
The crowning arrest from that night was of Northeastern student Tyler Welsh for felony wiretapping. According to The Huntington News, Northeastern's student paper:
He said he and the officer got into an argument after Welsh questioned why he couldn’t go past the barricades the police had set up to contain students near Fenway Park.
“It was like the situation was getting to the point where I thought he wasn’t doing the right thing,” Welsh said. “He was lacking that professionalism and I thought, ‘I’m going to catch this on camera so at least I can go back and have it and be able to see if what he said was okay, was it not okay or was what I was doing okay?”
Welsh described the confrontation with the officer in an all too familiar way for anyone who ever been in the same situation. He described feeling nervous, afraid and losing control of the entire situation. So he put his phone in front of his chest and began to record a video.
The Boston police should have known that Welsh's actions did not constitute wiretapping. After the Boston police lost the Glik case over a similarly inappropriate arrest, they produced a training video which explained that police can't arrest people for recording them. Evans’ cited example of success is wrongfully arresting someone instead of wrongfully killing them. The Occupy Boston "Success" Story Evan's historical revision of Occupy Boston is even more dramatic. In this case, Evans omitted that one of the first major, violent mass arrests in the national Occupy movement occurred after Boston occupiers expanded their camp to a second adjacent green space. The arrests made headlines when it came out that the Boston police had thrown veterans to the ground on top of their flags and had choked multiple people. Despite the “soft approach” and “no riot gear” claims made by Evans, some of the Boston police were decked out in riot gear as shown in news coverage at the time.
The Guardian interviewed Lauren Metter of DigBoston who shot a video of members of the group Veterans for Peace being arrested:
Lauren said Veterans for Peace were stood in a line in front of Occupy Boston protesters, and were waving flags as police approached. Police formed two lines, then encircled the protesters.
When officers approached the Veterans for Peace the police "grabbed their shoulders and threw some of them on the ground," she said. Lauren added that the veterans continued to chant as some of them were thrown down ontop of their flags.
"One officer saw me filming and pushed me. I almost fell over," Lauren said. "It was really scary."
At the time, OccupyBoston.org released a statement about the arrests:
At 1:30 this morning hundreds of police in full riot gear brutally attacked Occupy Boston, which had peacefully gathered on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. The Boston Police Department made no distinction between protesters, medics, or legal observers, arresting legal observer Urszula Masny-Latos, who serves as the Executive Director for the Massachusetts branch of the National Lawyers Guild, as well as four medics attempting to care for the injured.
I encountered this same revisionist history when I attended the April 11 Restore the Fourth rally at the Boston Regional Intelligence Center earlier this year. Sgt. Martin Kraft, a 32-year Boston police employee, said, “I don't think we beat anybody up” during Occupy Boston. “Everybody gets along,” he said in reference to Boston Police Department's interactions with Occupy Boston.
I pointed out the violent arrests of over a hundred people at the second camp, including the violence towards the Veterans for Peace. I asked about an iconic photo depicting a woman being choked by a police officer and Kraft replied, “Oh yeah, that was a pretty good one,” then added, “Those things happen though.”
Footage from the Associated Press of that night shows a second person being choked by a police officer and another video released by RT America that shows a third. A member of Veterans for Peace told DigBoston that she had been choked, had her foot cut up, and was arrested. She said her foot became infected while she was in custody due to a lack of medical attention.
Clearly, Evans' examples of success are not what he claims.
A Pattern of Revisionism
Evans also omits the Celtics' championship win in 2008 and the Bruins' Stanley Cup win in 2011. Both of these events happened post-Snelgrove and according to Evans' claims should have been handled with a “soft approach.” Footage from both events confirms that the Boston police wore riot gear.
After the Celtics' 2008 win, a cameraman recorded officers in riot gear shoving people around (the cameraman included).
Also after the Celtic win, Boston police officers in riot gear arrested David Woodman, who stopped breathing in their custody and ultimately died. The accounts of Woodman's arrest vary, but he ended up cuffed on the ground with wounds on his face. The Boston police claim they administrated CPR but others said they were slow to call for help or render aid. Woodman died in the hospital several days later. Boston police paid out $3 million to Woodman's family in an out of court settlement.
Evans' claim that the Boston police do not wear riot gear is completely inaccurate. The Boston police worn riot gear during at least four major crowd policing events between 2008-2013. His claim that the Boston police began using a “soft approach” after Snelgove's death was also demonstrated to inaccurate by videos showing violent policing during some of these events.
Evans' version of the Boston police's recent past doesn’t exist and after no firings or prosecutions of the officers involved in the deaths of Victoria Snelgrove and David Woodman, or any of the officers caught on video initiating violence at any of these events, or any of the officers found by the Stern commission to have acted unreasonably violent in 2004, there is no reason to believe any radical change in the department's culture has happened.
Boston police spokesman Lt. Michael McCarthy recently told the Associated Press, "Boston is not Ferguson." McCarthy may be right about that, but I hope he was stretching the truth when he said "People look to [the Boston police] as a model."
Progress has been made in that the Boston police have stopped shooting into crowds at random, but, sorry Boston police, success isn’t choking people.