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Mass. police chiefs blast Sen. for remark on ‘racist’ criminal-justice system

“Labeling the entire criminal justice profession as ‘racist’ spreads false and damaging information about our members”

Mark Sullivan
Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass.

DUDLEY — Police chiefs in Massachusetts have responded angrily to a remark by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren that the American criminal justice system is “racist ... front to back.”

Ms. Warren, a potential Democratic presidential candidate, was speaking before an audience at historically black Dillard University in New Orleans Aug. 3 when she delivered what she called “the hard truth about our criminal justice system: It’s racist ... I mean, front to back.”

Ms. Warren cited disproportionate arrests of African-Americans for petty drug possession; an overloaded public defender system; and state laws that keep convicted felons from voting even after their sentences are complete.

The Massachusetts senator’s remarks drew a strongly worded response from the president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, Dudley Police Chief Steven J. Wojnar.

“Labeling the entire criminal justice profession as ‘racist’ spreads false and damaging information about our members,” Chief Wojnar wrote in an Aug. 7 letter to Ms. Warren.

“When our elected officials make generalized and inflammatory statements about our entire profession, without any information to back their position, it creates further hostility toward our officers and can damage the positive relationships with our residents that we have worked long and hard to establish,” the chief continues.

“In recent months, we have seen the murder of two officers in Yarmouth and Weymouth. In only the last two weeks, two officers were shot in Falmouth. All of these officers were simply doing their jobs when they encountered dangerous individuals. The outpouring of community support for these officers would appear to be contrary to your position.

“At bare minimum, we are requesting an explanation for your comments. As law enforcement professionals, as well as your constituents, that is deserved.”

Chief Wojnar’s letter was posted to the Facebook page of the Yarmouth Police Department on Aug. 10.

A Yarmouth officer, Sgt. Sean Gannon, was shot and killed in the line of duty in April.

Yarmouth Chief Frank G. Frederickson wrote on Facebook that Ms. Warren’s statement was “an insult to the hard-working men and women of the Yarmouth Police Department” as well as a “slap in the face” to other law-enforcement personnel, prosecutors and judges.

“It is more bothersome that a short time ago Sen. Warren made some efforts to pay respects to Sgt. Sean Gannon and Sgt. Michael Chesna (a Weymouth police officer shot and killed in the line of duty in July) who lost their lives protecting us all,” Chief Frederickson wrote.

“Sen. Warren’s recent statement tarnished us all and diminished the sincerity of her condolence efforts. I now cannot trust her actions or words are real.”

A spokeswoman for Ms. Warren’s campaign, Kristen Orthman, on Sunday relayed via email comments the senator had made in response.

“I appreciate Chief Frederickson’s thoughtful comments,” Ms. Warren said Friday when asked about the Yarmouth chief’s post. “The men and women in law enforcement work in incredibly dangerous situations. We honor those in uniform who put their lives on the line every day and those who have been killed in the line of duty to keep the rest of us safe.”

The issue also was raised at a campaign stop Saturday in Eastham. “There are a lot of terrific people, hard-working people, dedicated people who are (working) in our criminal justice system ... and they get up every day trying to build a system that is fair, a system that is just and a system that reflects the best in America,” Ms. Warren said. “They also have said — many people at every part of that system — that we need significant reform.”


©2018 Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass.