BOSTON/Government Center—After an hour of testimony from police officers, neighborhood activists, civil rights organizations and concerned citizens, tempers flared at City Hall Tuesday afternoon as the city’s top lawyer accused District 4 Councilor Charles Yancey of “grandstanding,” calling his hearing on the racial diversity of city departments a “farce.”
The heated exchange, coming near the end of the Boston City Council’s Committee on Environment and Human Rights’ hearing on the city’s personnel practices and contracting policies, drew several members of the municipal police to the entrance of the council’s Iannella Chamber.
The hearing, called by committee chair Yancey, was held for the purpose of investigating the disparity between the racial makeup of many city departments and the diversity of Boston’s multi-ethnic population, took a turn towards the adversarial when corporation counsel for the City of Boston, William Sinnott, took exception to the fact that representatives of the administration were only allowed to speak after members of the public had their say and were allotted only a few minutes to respond.
“Frankly, I’m mystified as to why we’re left with two and a half minutes of time,” said Sinnott, who sat on a panel with Boston Police Superintendent-in-Chief Dan Linskey and Vivian Leonard, director of Boston’s office of human resources. Sinnott accused Yancey of allowing individuals to slander city officials who were not able to defend themselves, adding that the council doesn’t have jurisdiction over administrative and disciplinary matters. Sinnott also termed the proceedings “reckless” and “inappropriate,” while angrily stating his belief the city government “deserves an apology.”
Yancey responded by refusing to “dignify [Sinnott’s statement] with a response,” adding that department heads were invited to attend Tuesday’s hearing.
According to Sinnott, the law department has 28 attorneys, five of whom are persons of color. “We’re not happy with that number,” he said, but added that 18 percent is higher than the percentage of attorneys of color at the city and national level. Sinnott stated that his department actively recruits attorneys of color, and that he has worked with the Boston Bar Association’s diversity task force and his staffers seek to mentor attorneys of color.
The two did speak briefly following the hearing, but the conversation appeared only marginally more amicable than the one they had during.
Sinnott has been Boston’s corporation counsel since 2006, while Yancey has represented Dorchester and Mattapan since 1983, and has been one of the most outspoken critics of Mayor Thomas Menino’s administration during that time.
The committee also heard shocking testimony from a female Asian-American member of the Boston Police Department, who was allegedly raped by a white male colleague, and claims the incident was covered up by superiors.
“I’m here before you today, because I would not name a number, take money and go away, while crimes committed by a white officer against a minority officer are covered up,” said the woman, who did not wish to be identified by name. “If there are any questions as to the veracity of my testimony, I took a lie-detector test about being raped by a white officer, and passed with no deception. That same white officer, I’ve been informed, has refused to take a lie detector.”
According to the female officer, despite passing the polygraph exam, she has been the subject of retaliation while no action has been taken against the officer who allegedly assaulted her.
“Internal Affairs and Anti-Corruption has been institutionally corrupt, and though it has been publicized that the patrolman’s union is sexist, racist and homophobic, they’ll not find any greater sexism, racism, homophobia, as well as cronyism, than from some of those in command, within Boston police headquarters and right here at city hall ...
“What it boils down to is: if you are connected, of the right gender, the right skin tone, or some combination thereof, there is no crime that will not be covered up for you. But if you are of the wrong gender or skin tone, there is no line that will not be crossed to retaliate against you.”
Acknowledging the seriousness of the allegations, Yancey requested the officer provide a written transcript of her testimony to the city council.
Superintendent-in-Chief Linskey, while not responding directly to the anonymous officer’s allegations, did take issue with her characterization of the BPD as racist.
“I take offense to that,” he said. “I think the officers who I serve with take offense to that. Do we have issues and concerns like any agency and any organization in this world? Yes, we do. Are we a racist police department? No, sir, we are not. We take diversity, the mayor takes diversity, the commissioner takes diversity very seriously.”
The Boston Fire Department didn’t escape the hearing unscathed either, as Darrell Higginbottom, a lieutenant with the BFD, who has been with the department for 14 years and serves as first vice-president of the Boston Society of Vulcans, described how hiring practices within the BFD provide a significant obstacle to achieving greater diversity.
“The current hiring practices of the Boston Fire Department, and the Boston Police Department, are bound by a civil service system that is broken and creates an unfair hiring practice and, therefore, has an adverse effect on women and people of color,” said Higginbottom. “The hiring statistics don’t represent the demographics of the city of Boston and are only getting worse.
“We, the Boston Society of Vulcans, are here today to represent the problem to the city and the city council and to offer our assistance in creating a viable solution ... that is fair to all citizens, regardless of who they are and who they know.”
According to Higginbottom, of the 1,409 employees of the BFD, 68.8 percent are white, while 31.2 percent are black, latino or other minorities. Furthermore, 80 percent of lieutenants and 80 percent of BFD captains are white. Between 2005 and 2012, the fire department hired 402 individuals, 78.1 percent of whom were white.
“Although the department’s higher ranks also lack diversity, we must first address the lack of hiring so that reaching these ranks is even a discussion,” said Higginbottom.
The hearing was originally set for Friday, Dec. 14, but was pushed back due to a City Council scheduling mixup. With another hearing set for 4:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Yancey allowed members of the public and officials from the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), among other organizations, to testify first, city department officials were given little time to respond. Yancey recessed the hearing shortly before 4:30 p.m. after allowing city officials to speak briefly.
Bob Marshall, a veteran educator with 35-years of service to Boston Public Schools, testified on behalf of the Black Educators’ Alliance of Massachusetts (BEAM) about the need to make the racial makeup of Boston’s schools better reflect that of its students.
“I think people need to look at the facts and figures and there needs to be some real action on the part of the mayor,” said Marshall. “The diversity of the city of Boston and the students who attend Boston Public Schools is not reflected in the teachers serving in the schools. More than half the residents of Boston are people of color, and 87 percent of BPS students are students of color. In contrast, 38 percent of BPS teachers are teachers of color.”
Marshall continued, outlining how BPS has been in non-compliance with federal segregation laws for the past several years.
“Federal court segregation orders mandate that BPS maintain a minimum of 25 percent black teachers and 10 percent other minority teachers,” Marshall said. “In the 2012-13 school year, BPS has 22.1 percent black teachers and 16 percent other minority teachers. The percentage of black teachers actually declined since the 2011-12 school year, and in each of the previous four years.
“BEAM believes the BPS has been in non-compliance with teacher segregation orders for too long and that it is urgent and imperative that the school department improve teacher diversity as a strategy for reducing the persistent achievement, opportunity to learn gaps.”
All three panelists agreed that diversity numbers are not where they need to be, but said the administration is taking steps to rectify that fact.
Some, like Julian Tynes, a commissioner with the MCAD, testified to the contrary.
“I want to comment on some of the commission’s findings with regards to the city of Boston,” said Tynes. “At the present time, the commission has approximately 89 complaints against the city of Boston in various departments, and those are just the ones we were able to research quickly.”
Larry Ellison, President of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers (MAMLEO), an organization with a lengthy history of calling the BPD onto the carpet for its perceived lethargy in terms of addressing diversity concerns, acknowledged that the department is making strides, but said there is still work to be done.
“I know MAMLEO has been working very closely with the Boston Police Department, trying to attack, and make sure the BPD is being diversified in all ranks,” said Ellison. “I know there have been some issues that we don’t agree on, but we are working on those issues that we do. I want to publicly acknowledge that there is some movement, but I think we have a ways to go.”
Also discussed were city contracting policies and whether or not disparity exists when it comes to bidding and attaining contracts.
“Disparities in hiring, terminations, promotions and contracting may contribute to the higher unemployment rate and lack of professional advancement for many residents of the City of Boston,” Yancey said in a press release announcing the hearing.
According to 2010 census data, people of color comprise 53 percent of Boston’s population, yet 100 percent of Boston Police Department captains who command each police district are white, and 87.1 percent of the 62 police department employees who bank upwards of $100k per year are white, while 9.7 percent are black and 1.6 percent are Asian and the same percentage Latino.
Joining Yancey at the hearing were Tito Jackson (District 7), and, briefly, at-large Councilor Felix Arroyo, although representatives from the offices of committee co-chair John Connolly and Councilor Ayanna Pressley were also on hand.
The committee heard testimony from Luzmar Centeno-Valerio, a representative of Latino political organization Oiste, testified on behalf of executive director Alejandra St. Guillen.
“Diversity within city government and all its departments, including the police and fire departments, is an integral part of our work and speaks to the core of our mission,” she said. “We believe that the opportunity exists to build a pipeline that links talent to jobs available and trainings to access those jobs.”
The committee also heard from people of color representing Boston’s treasury department, the assessing department and the Boston Water and Sewer Commission, who were passed over for promotions.
According to Terrence Williams, a 24-year employee of Boston Water and Sewer, there are no top minorities within any department, and favoritism is rampant. “At Boston Water and Sewer, like every job I apply for, somebody who knows somebody gets the position,” said Williams.
Yancey made it very clear that he would be reopening this discussion again in the near future, and stressed that the hearing was being recessed, and not adjourned.
Video of the entire hearing can be found here [Real Player required].