THE CONTINUED exclusion of gay and lesbian groups from the St. Patrick’s Day veterans’ parade in South Boston feels increasingly out of place in an evolving city. Both the city and the neighborhood have changed dramatically since the bitter wars over the parade in the ’90s. Yet the battle lines remain as frozen as ever.
This year, though, the city has a rare opportunity to help thaw tensions. On Wednesday, a federal judge ruled that the city is not required to run street sweepers between the main parade and a subsequent alternative parade that allows gay groups to march. The arrival of the sweepers may send an inadvertent signal to the crowd after the first parade that it’s time to go home. So the city should break with recent practice and run the sweepers only after both parades are over. It would be a small step, but by removing a barrier between the two groups, the city could promote the gradual healing of what, for too many Bostonians, still feels like an open wound.
Recently, two local civil-liberties groups exposed the extremes to which Boston police officers have gone to monitor gatherings, protests, and other lawful political activity in the city. The report by the state chapters of the ACLU and National Lawyers Guild painted an especially creepy portrait of the Boston Regional Intelligence Center, one of dozens of so-called fusion centers set up after 9/11 to coordinate local, state, and federal investigations.
Some of the past practices of the Police Department were clearly excessive; officers spied and wrote reports on acts of constitutionally protected speech, such as the run-up to a 2007 antiwar gathering at a Jamaica Plain church. Bostonians had many legitimate public safety concerns back then, and still do. But an appearance by the late social activist Howard Zinn wasn’t one of them.
There’s a dividing line between permissible investigation and threats to civil liberties. And in at least some cases, the Boston Police crossed it. Officers know they aren’t allowed to get search warrants on a hunch. And they have no business investigating ideas and speech absent reasonable suspicion that an individual is involved in criminal conduct or activity.
Most of the egregious cases cited occurred before 2009, when the regional intelligence center revised its policies to better safeguard civil liberties. The majority of the work of the intelligence center focuses on tracking gang feuds in the city as a way to prevent violence and deploy resources, according to Boston Police commissioner Edward Davis. Absent a nexus with criminal and terror-related activities, Davis insists that his officers do not and will not monitor political venues nor concern themselves with protected speech. “We don’t have the time or inclination to do those things,’’ he said.
Davis should be held to his word, and the regional center should be accountable for operating in a manner consistent with democratic values and freedom of expression.
Internal Boston Police Department documents indicate that between 2007 and 2010, police conducted surveillance on antiwar groups that have no apparent connections to crime or terrorism — a violation of federal regulations, civil rights groups say. The documents were obtained by the National Lawyers Guild and the American Civil Liberties Union through a lawsuit filed in August 2011 against Boston Police. Those documents include 13 “intelligence reports” that provide details about antiwar groups.
It’s sad to see this regional difference go away.
In Boston, ‘tonic’ gives way to ‘soda’
For most Bostonians, the carbonated drink is now “soda,” not “tonic,” and the final volume of a new dictionary sheds light on the history of the usage.
Because in this economy what we really need are fare hikes and cuts to services.
Riders blast T fare, service plans
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I love the Hahbah Islands!
Birds of winter charm a Harbor Islands cruise
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Forget the freak show in the GOP. Romney’s the one to watch and to oppose. Residents of Massachusetts should be gearing up to warn the nation what’s underneath the handsome façade.
Romney staffers wiped out records in ‘06
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