By Jacob Lintner, Communications Intern
It’s always important to monitor where we get our news and how we talk about marginalized communities. With rampant vocal ideological division ever-present, this becomes paramount. We’re in an age where just about anyone can build a platform and spread their ideas to a wide audience. That means that fact checking and personal accountability are incredibly important.
Take, for example, the recent discourse about the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC). This “fusion center” was established by the Department of Homeland Security as part of a network of organizations that would facilitate the flow of information between local law enforcement agencies, and it is operated by the Boston Police Department. BRIC’s purpose, as stated in their Privacy, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Protection Policy, is to promote and protect individuals’ civil liberties while “increasing public safety and improving national security.”
The organization recently came under scrutiny by a number of city councilors because they are slated to receive an $850,000 grant from the city on top of their $3.8 million annual budget. This is just a fraction of the BPD’s total budget, which stood at $414 million in 2020.
The primary issue most have with BRIC is their “gang database”, which is supposed to be a resource to prevent organized crime. In reality, it’s a list comprised almost entirely of people of color that the BPD can use to create criminals who may not have any gang affiliations.
Attorney Kerry Doyle, who defended a client BPD had marked as a gang member in a deportation case, said police often use flawed evidence in determining who is a gang member. She told The Bay State Banner: “There’s no system to get out of the gang database. The entire database is people of color. For immigrants, it’s an extraordinarily blunt tool that’s wielded against already traumatized young people.”
In that same article, Kade Crockford, who heads the ACLU of Massachusetts Technology for Liberty Program, said that she’s “never seen a shred of evidence that the BRIC is making Boston safer.”
So there’s an organization housed within the BPD that apparently engages in profiling and is ineffective – at best – in its work. And this organization is also asking for more city funding.
Their response, coming from BRIC Director David Carabin, was diplomatic. Carabin said, “A lot of our work goes toward proactive police measures. Some folks look for metrics in this regard. We have a lot of success stories, but a lot of proactive police measures are difficult to evaluate.”
Carabin sidestepped the question about measurable results because his agency hasn’t produced any. Multiple reports in the past decade (like this one and this one) have found little to no evidence of these kinds of centers making good on their purpose statements.
Perhaps the most influential of these reports was a 2012 bipartisan review conducted by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which found that fusion centers had “not yielded significant useful information to support federal counterterrorism intelligence efforts.”
These fusion centers, BRIC included, often do increase incarceration rates in their assigned areas, but they fail to do the job they’re assigned. BRIC’s mission statement of increasing public safety sounds great on paper. The problem is that there’s no proof that they’re doing that. The one thing they have definitely succeeded on is increasing Boston-area deportations.
Since 2014, more than 100 student incident reports within the Boston Public Schools have been shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) through BRIC. A nonviolent incident in 2016 was reported to ICE by BRIC and led to the student spending a year in an ICE detention center before being deported to El Salvador.
There are plenty of voices advocating to keep politics and politicians from interfering with law enforcement funding, while calls to cut police spending grow louder by the day. The point is that everyone has an agenda. Whether it’s an individual, a news outlet or a government agency, anyone releasing a public statement is hoping that you’ll agree with them. That’s why it’s so important to interrogate your news sources and dig deep to understand what agencies are trying to say.
BRIC is supposedly in the business of “ensuring individual privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties,” yet in nearly 20 years of existence, the only hard evidence of their work are lives that have been locked up and displaced. It begs the question of whose privacy and rights the organization is out to protect.
Similarly, when chants of “Back the blue” break out, it creates an adversarial relationship in which those who have near-legal immunity see themselves as diametrically opposed to those whom they’re supposed to protect and serve.
News coverage of these organizations is not exempt from criticism. As has been discussed widely in the past year, news reports and headlines can serve to distance the offending parties from their wrongdoings. Headlines with phrases like “officer-involved shooting,” or that are written in passive voice like “More than 60 million residents of U.S. cities have been placed under curfews” obscure the simple truth of the story.
In the former, two police officers in Colorado shot and killed a 47-year-old man. In the latter, dozens of local legislators placed restrictive curfews on their citizens in an attempt to stop protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
It’s not always natural or easy, but it’s imperative that we all understand exactly what news we’re taking in, regardless of what you’re reading, watching or listening to. This is especially true when those who are supposed to be providing the news are not always going to be forthright with the truth.