Police Brutality in Springfield

Police in Springfield have, without justification, been assaulting the people they are supposed to protect, said activists at a rally on October 21. “We get calls almost every day from people saying they were the victim of police brutality,” Ellen Graves told the Valley Post. She works for a group that organized the rally. The group has a web page at:

www.facebook.com/AriseForSocialJustice

Dozens of people attended the rally, which was outside at Mason Square in Springfield.

Last week, a judge said a lawsuit against the Springfield police department could proceed. The lawsuit says routine police brutality is a problem in the city. Earlier this year, video was released of a Springfield policeman in February threatening to beat up and plant illegal drugs on a teenager. Ten members of the 15 member city council signed a letter protesting efforts by the police chief to keep the incident secret, and his failure to adequately punish the officer, who still has his job.

Last year, people in Springfield were allegedly beaten by 12 police officers. The local public prosecutor is investigating.

In July, about 1,000 people attended Black Lives Matter rallies in the Valley. That month, police killed African Americans Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. In Oakland, California, more than a 1,000 protesters blocked an interstate highway for hours. In Minnesota, thousands of people attended vigils for Castile outside the school where he worked, and outside the governor’s mansion.

A key demand of the Black Lives Matter movement is accountability for police officers who kill people without justification. Another key demand of the movement is reducing the number of people in prison. No other nation on earth incarcerates such a high percentage of its people. As of 2008, the USA had about 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in population. "England's rate is 151; Germany's is 88; and Japan's is 63." That's according to "U.S. prison population dwarfs that of other nations," an article by Adam Liptak that appeared in the New York Times on April 23, 2008. Those numbers were virtually unchanged as of 2013, the most recent year for which data is available.

About 14 percent of Americans are black. About 38 percent of people in American prisons are black. The book "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond explains why the average black person is much poorer than the average white person. Rich people can afford better lawyers. A group that Works nationally to reduce the prison population has a web site at www.EllaBakerCenter.org.

With about 154,000 people, Springfield is the Pioneer Valley's biggest city. With 48 percent people of color, it is one of the Valley's most diverse cities. The mayor and police chief are white men.

While the chances of dramatically reducing the USA's police brutality and incarceration rates may seem small, in 1989, the chances of Nelson Mandela -- who was then seven years into a life sentence in prison -- becoming president of South Africa were also small. In 1994, Mandela was elected president and one of the world’s most brutal and racist governments was overthrown.

In the United States, 150 years ago, ending slavery seemed unlikely. Women in the USA fought for and won the right to vote in 1920. Mass movements of ordinary people win justice.

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