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Boston Police Commissioner Evans's Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove

by John Spritzler

January 17, 2015

"Someone who rules or controls something with an iron fist is in absolute control and tolerates no dissent. An iron fist in a velvet glove is used to describe someone who appears soft on the outside, but underneath is very hard."--UsingEnglish.com

Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans, who is white, seems to be trying to get himself anointed as Boston's "first black police commissioner" the way Bill Clinton became America's "first black president" by "feeling your pain." Evans has been waging a public relations campaign in neighborhoods all around Boston. His message--the velvet glove--is "The Boston Police are your friends. Boston police are not like the police in Ferguson."

The Velvet Glove

In August of 2014 Commisioner Evans and much of his command staff went to a meeting at Roxbury's 12th Baptist Church to talk with a largely black audience. The Bay State Banner reported:

The news of the police shootings and civil unrest in Ferguson, Mo. provided contrast to the Boston department’s relations with the community, as Evans pointed out.

“They have a police force that is majority white and they’re policing a population that is majority black,” Evans noted, pointing out the heavily black and Latino contingent of command staff officers who accompanied him to the meeting.

“We are from the community,” said Superintendent in Chief William Gross. “We grew up in this community too.”...

“The way we’re teaching at the Police Academy is totally different now,” he said. “It’s all about community policing.

Gross noted that police substations in Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan and the South End assign clinical social workers to the families of youths who are arrested.

“They help the families get services,” he said. “They don’t report back us. They help the families.”

The Boston Globe, in an article subtitled "Officials assure youths they care about same issues," reported on a similar meeting of the police commisioner with black youth later in December this way:

They were gathered Tuesday night at the City on a Hill Charter School in Roxbury for a Community, Youth, and Police Conversation, attended by about 75 teenagers and 40 or so police officials, as well as other community members, who came together to discuss police and neighborhood relations.

“That’s why we’re here tonight, to ask, ‘How are we doing? Can we be better?’ ” Evans told the crowd. “I hear a lot about ‘the police don’t care, and black lives matter.’ Believe me — every life matters to the Boston Police Department.”

At a community meeting I attended around this time in the mainly white Brighton neighborhood of Boston where I live, Evans presented himself as a very humble and kind public servant. He talked about his childhood, how he came from a very poor family and knew how hard that was, how he cared very much about helping poor black youths "get a break" so they could succeed in life, and how his police force was all about helping people and keeping them safe.

Evans: 'Peaceful,' in my book, is when you yield to my threat of violence.

For all I know, Police Commisioner Evans sincerely believes everything he says. But in agreeing to serve as the police commissioner Evans agrees to command the Boston police in accordance with the directives of his boss--the mayor. And unless the mayor suddenly turns into a revolutionary, the mayor makes it a top priority to defend the basic social order--private property rights, i.e., capitalist economic relations. The mayor is charged, in other words, with defending the class inequality in wealth, privilege and power that are based on this social order.

What's the very last thing a mayor will allow? What's the very first thing he will order the police force to prevent when necessary? It's this: People abolishing our social system of class inequality. People removing the rich from power. People creating a society with real not fake democracy and with no rich and no poor. This is egalitarianism, the worst nightmare of the ruling class. Egalitarianism is also what most people want very much (once they hear about the idea). The reason we don't have it is because the Big Money ruling class doesn't want it and they order politicians and police commissioners to use whatever violence is required to make sure people don't get it.

Police Commissioner Evans commands his police force to use whatever credible threat of violence, or actual violence, is necessary to enforce the laws as directed by the Mayor. The violence threatened or actually carried out can range from police officers picking people up and forcibly moving them elsewhere, to handcuffing people and arresting them, to hitting people with a baton or using police horses to injure them, to shooting people with pistols or to flat out attacking people with military-grade weapons. Whatever it takes to maintain the "law and order" of our social system of class inequality, that is what Police Commissioner Evans uses. (He would be fired if he didn't.) The fact that the mere threat of violence or the use of relatively little violence is often sufficient does not at all take away from the fact that when greater violence is required Evans uses it. There is an iron fist inside Evans's velvet glove!

When people respond to the mere threat of violence, then Evans calls this "peaceful." For example, Boston Mayor Menino ordered the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators to leave their encampment at Dewey Square and gave them a deadline. He threatened that they would be arrested (i.e., violently seized against their will) if they remained beyond the deadline. Most of the demonstrators yielded to this threat and left. Evans ordered his police to forcibly (i.e., violently) remove and arrest the minority who remained. Then Evans, with a straight face, told reporters, "Overall, the eviction process was 'peaceful.'" But it was only "peaceful" because the demonstrators yielded to the very unpeaceful threat of far greater violence by Evans's police force.

Evans Threatens the People of Boston with Violence Every Single Day

Almost always, evictions of poor people from their homes are, in Evans's view, "peaceful." When poor people who work a job that pays very little find their rent increased above what they can pay, they get evicted. A judge tells them they must leave their home, and tells them that if they don't leave "peacefully" then police commanded by Commissioner Evans will use whatever violence is required to make them leave. (One can see the police forcibly evicting people in this video and this video.) Most people, of course, yield to this threat of violence. Each year about 500 poor people in Boston living in subsidized so-called "affordable" housing are evicted for inability to pay their rent. They face imminent homelessness and may be barred from using the state emergency-shelter system for three years. These people have a hard time getting new affordable housing because, as the Boston Globe reported in a November 27, 2013 article about Chinatown:

"[B]ecause incomes in Chinatown are so low, many residents can’t even afford affordable housing. Using the city’s formula, a family of four would need to make $67,000 a year to qualify for affordable housing. That’s about five times the average income in Chinatown, according Sheila Dillon, Boston’s director of neighborhood development."

In an egalitarian society people who contribute reasonably to the economy (by working or going to school, or just being children or past retirement age, etc.) would have a right to a decent home to live in for free (there's no money in an egalitarian society, people "pay" for things by working reasonably--period). People who contribute reasonably this way would have the same right to good housing as Bill Gates or anybody else (there would be no rich and no poor).

But in Boston, the poorest people--and this means, of course, many blacks and Hispanics--live every day with Police Commisioner Evans's threat of violence hanging over their head. The threat is that if they don't pay their landlord (often a very rich and large property owner) the rent money then Evans will use whatever violence it takes to drag them out of their home. Poor people yield to this threat every time they put money aside for rent instead of using it to buy good food for their children or prescription drugs they need or just to have a more decent quality of life. Everyday they yield to Evans's threat of violence. Every single day! And yet Evans says to these people in his velvet glove PR campaign for the police, ‘How are we doing? Can we be better?’

Evans: Submit peacefully to the dictatorship of the rich, and then--maybe, especially if you're not black or Hispanic--the police won't mess with you.

Evans makes a big deal about how the Boston police are reaching out to minority neighborhoods, and how he (in the words of his police Superintendent in Chief Gross) "wants to make sure that when police go into a community, they’re not desensitized to the kids.” But no matter how "sensitive to the kids" the police are, the laws they enforce are designed to keep the poor poor and the rich rich. And some of the laws are designed to incarcerate people of color more than others. Why? To stigmatize blacks and Hispanics as criminals in the eyes of white people. To thus create fear and mistrust between people of different races. It's called divide and rule. The drug laws that Evans enforces are racist. To see one example of how this is so, read "How the 18:1 Law Makes the War on Drugs Racist."

But it's not just that certain particularly bad laws are racist and the rest are fine. It is Police Commissioner Evan's enforcement of what many would consider race-neutral laws that targets blacks and Hispanics disproportionately. Why? Because the people most likely to be poor and unemployed are blacks and Hispanics, and because the poor and unemployed are the ones most likely to engage in coping behavior that is illegal. The key point is the one made famous by Anatole France a long time ago when he noted: "In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread."

This is why scholarly studies produce conclusions like this one in the journal, Criminology: "The findings indicate that absolute poverty is more strongly associated with neighborhood crime rates." In Boston as of March 2014, according to the Boston Redevelopment Authority, 9.6% of the overall population was unemployed, with the highest rates of unemployment among the Black/African American population (13.5%), the Hispanic population (11.4%) and the Asian population (10.7%). Not surprisingly, therefore, blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately poor and disproportionately arrested for various crimes. Evans's police force arrests them while the Commisioner's velvet glove PR campaign declares that everybody is treated equally, no matter what their race. It's just plain BS!

In an egalitarian society --the kind most people want and the kind we ought to have!--there would be no involuntary unemployment. Why not? Because one of the top priorities would be to make it so that anyone who wants to contribute reasonably to the economy can do so. The economy would be about creating the products and services that people need or desire, not about profit. Nobody will be told "You can't work because it's not profitable to hire you." Furthermore there would be no rich and no poor. Nobody would find it necessary to "sleep under bridges, beg in the streets or steal loaves of bread." But Police Commissioner Evans isn't paid to enforce egalitarian laws. No! He's paid to enforce the laws that reflect the desires and needs of the rich in our society of class inequality.

As a result, blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately prisoners in Boston's Suffolk County Jail (officially the Suffolk County Correctional System.) It is hard to find statistics about the racial composition of the prisoner population. But if one goes to the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department website here, and then clicks on the "PROGRAMS" tab, one will see a photograph of six prisoners in a classroom with a white teacher, and four of the six prisoners (66.6%) are clearly black, while in 2013 only 37% of the Suffolk county population was non-white. (Statistics are available for the state of Massachusetts: in 2009 Black/African-Americans made up 7% of the state's population but 28% of the incarerated population; Hispanics were 9% of the state's population but 28% of the incarcerated population.) Racist arrests and racist incarceration are the reality in Police Commisioner Evans's jurisdiction, whether his police force acts like the one in Ferguson, Mo. or not. The reason has nothing to do with how nasty or nice Evans is as an individual. It is because Evans's job description is what it is--to keep the rich in power. Evans's real message to the people of Boston is this: "Submit peacefully to the dictatorship of the rich, and then--maybe, especially if you're not black or Hispanic--the police won't mess with you."

The problem with the Boston Police Force is not the headline-making terrible thing it may or may not do some days, it's what it does every day, routinely, to enforce class inequality:

The Boston Police Force Should Be Abolished

When people in Boston rise up against the ruling elite in an egallitarian revolutionary movement, the Boston police commisioner will order the police to use violence against that movement. (The movement can win anyway, as discussed here.) If Evans has a change of heart and quits, he'll be replaced by a new commissioner who will obey the ruling class. As long as Evans has not quit his job, we know that he has not had a change of heart, no matter how much he wages his velvet glove PR campaign to hide his iron fist.

The Boston Police Force, like others in the United States, exists to protect the wealth, power and privilege of the rich, and to prevent ordinary people from making society egalitarian. Everything else the police do is, essentially, public relations to get the public to accept the existence of a tax-supported goon squad to keep the rich rich and the poor poor. The Boston Police Force, like the nation's other police forces, should be abolished, and will be abolished when we make an egalitarian revolution. We have no need of a police force that obeys orders from the rich to protect class inequality. Instead, we can figure out how to organize whatever force or violence is necessary to protect egalitarians from the real criminals--people who hog everything for themselves and who treat others like dirt. For a fuller discussion of this, please visit www.PDRBoston.org .

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We Can Change the World: The Real Meaning of Everyday Life by Dave Stratman

The People as Enemy: The Leaders' Hidden Agenda in World War II by John Spritzler