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Sonia Chang-Díaz advocates for the Reform, Shift + Build Act on the Senate floor

Jul 10, 2020

Thank you, Madam President. I want to preface my remarks by saying, there were difficult words being exchanged in this chamber last night and today. And it is my deep wish that we will all be able to recover from the harm that we are doing to each other today. The gentleman from Quincy is a good friend. He’s a good man. I know that he won’t like what I have to say.

My maiden speech in this chamber was on the subject of ethics reform. Of state elected officials. And I stood up on that day—some of you remember the circumstances under which I became a member of this chamber—And I stood up in that debate and I talked about both being proud to be a member of this body, a member of the Legislature. Even though what we needed to do at that time was look into the mirror as politicians and to put in place some more stringent rules on ourselves and our colleagues as a professional class. That we needed to be able to make the distinction that although most politicians—and I truly still believe this after twelve years in this body—are good people who working hard to do the right thing—that some of the people in our profession don’t. We are human beings. We are frail. And sometimes people make the wrong choice. And we have to be willing to police ourselves. We have to be willing to call each other out, to call our peers out. And we have to be willing to pass laws that will do that on our behalf when we are not the one right there to call someone out, and enforce on a colleague. And I made that my inaugural speech because I truly believe we can do both. We can be proud to be a member of this profession and we can say, sometimes we and our peers err and we need to be held accountable for it.

On that day, I was not attacking anyone else in this chamber. I was not attacking anyone else who holds the title of elected official by saying that there needs to be reform in our profession. Similarly, no one in this body, in this legislature, and no one protesting on the streets, is attacking anyone in the law enforcement profession or anyone who stands with them—unless you stand between the person being victimized and the officer taking that person’s life and dignity. If you are shielding that person, yes, I am attacking you. And we should all be attacking that. That’s what it means to have a duty to intervene.

There are good officers. Almost all police officers are good. And make good choices, make difficult, burdensome, gut-wrenching, and lifesaving choices everyday. And I honor them for it. Just in the same way that there are good politicians who make lifesaving decisions in our work, even though it’s not as immediate, and who bear heavy burdens. And there are also people in both professions who fail in the moment. We still pass ethics laws, because we know we have a duty to intervene. We all watched that video. Most of us have probably been at vigils where we have stood in silence for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. And, I don’t know about you, but what fills my mind during those eight minutes and forty-six seconds—and this is what filled my mind when elected officials of color had our press conference out in front of this building about a month ago, when we had that eight minute and forty-six second moment of silence—is, I looked around at the people who were immediately around me. And I was grieved to think about how many of these people would intervene when the call comes to them. You know, we all like to think, if we were the officer on the scene that day, of course we would have intervened, of course we would have broken in, of course we would have pulled Officer Chauvin off of that poor man. But we’re not police officers. We’re elected officials. And we have to blossom where we are. We have to intervene where we are.

This is how we fail to do justice, to do racial justice, in the 21st century. This is how America fails to do racial justice in the 21st century. It’s not because most of us would put a knee on a person’s neck and watch him suffocate. And it’s not because most of us would watch another human being do that. But in that moment, understand that I’m sure those other officers did not think what they were doing was so bad. And I’m sure they were weighing, I may be uncomfortable with this situation. But I’m also uncomfortable with calling out my colleague. What’s going to happen in my professional relationships? Am I going to be ostracized? Am I going to be criticized? It’s going to be uncomfortable for me professionally. And that’s what causes people to not intervene.

We are all confronted with the same prospect of discomfort in our lives and in our professions and in our relationships today. And yesterday. And tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that if this continues. This is how we fail to do racial justice in America in the 21st century. It is by pretending. It is about making choices about where we will center our attention. Whose pain will we focus on. And how we will say what a debate is about on any given day. We have to choose to make ourselves uncomfortable. We have to be willing to bear that discomfort. To center and prioritize the pain of people who we watched get killed on video. The pain of parents who have to talk to their children when they become pre-teens about how to come home alive and intact from an interaction with the police. And the people, the young people, who have a statistically much higher chance of ending up incarcerated than any of the children of any of the people in this room. To choose to center the pain of the mother of black boys in America who have to carry that worry every day, every day they have to raise those children, and think about the statical odds they are up against.

Now, I want to say a word about bringing people together instead of dividing them. The Senate President did bring people together in this process. Explicitly, consciously, intentionally. She appointed a racial justice working group. IT was a bipartisan working group. It was a working group who had people at the table who were explicitly bringing the perspectives of law enforcement. The experiences of law enforcement. The political wishes of law enforcement. The Senate President’s office, Ways and Means, myself—we met with stakeholder groups from law enforcement and wove their input into the bill. Does it have everything they want? Of course not. Does it have everything people from Roxbury want? Of course not. And I have to live with that discomfort.But to suggest this process did not bring people together, I am calling BS on that. People were at the table.

This bill only has a few days left, we can all do the math. We know how many steps it has to get through. And we know the calendar for getting a bill to the governor’s desk, with time to get it back should he choose to amend it or veto it. And everybody here knows—and I’m just going to say it, since we all know it and we’re just pretending that we don’t—that if this bill doesn’t get done by the end of this month, I question whether we will come back to it. And you all know that even if we do, the political strength of people of color in Massachusetts will be significantly reduced. Americans and Bay Staters are going to forget how they feel in this moment. And all of us know that every day we delay this bill, we are choking the breath out of this bill and out of the political strength of communities of color and people who are pushing for racial justice right now. We have a duty to intervene. Let’s debate this bill and get it done. Thank you, Madam President.


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