“This is a moment for reflection and sympathy for the people that are still dealing with this terrible event,” said former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis in a WBZ-TV interview prior to the 10th anniversary of the Boston Marathon murders.
And it’s also a moment for reflection on law enforcement, the heroes of those awful hours after the bombings, but so often the villains of the years since.
Davis says the failures of inter-agency communication and information sharing that helped the killers escape scrutiny are less likely to happen now; for instance, Boston Police are “much more heavily involved in intelligence and planning parts” of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. But could the nightmare happen again? “Absolutely,” but the ability of law enforcement to avoid losing the thread amid a bureaucratic morass is “better now than it was,” he says.
A trickier problem – resurrecting the spirit of April 2013, when crowds of jubilant residents swarmed police cars to thank the cops after the killers were nabbed. “I hope we’re heading back to those days, those minutes,” says Davis. “That’s where we’d like to be. We’d like to have the trust of the community. We’d like to reassure the community that we’re there for good reasons and we’re there to help them.”
Good luck with that after police-involved shootings quickly chased away the good vibes. By August of 2013, the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officials issued a statement of no confidence in Davis, claiming police/community relations had “regressed substantially.” Nationally, the hits kept coming: Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice in 2014; Walter Scott and Freddie Gray in 2015; Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in the years that followed.
“We’ve had some terrible, terrible incidents occur and we have a lot of work to do rebuilding the trust that we’ve lost because of Floyd and the other things that have happened,” says Davis, now a private security consultant. One sign of hope: wider police acceptance of body cameras, which exposed both the grotesque incompetence of the Uvalde cops and the courageous police response at the recent Nashville school massacre. “I like the idea of laying out all the evidence, being completely transparent and letting people make their own decision as to who acted properly. And I think when that happens today, we’re going to slowly move our way back into that position of trust,” says Davis.
Governor Deval Patrick’s shelter-in-place request during the post-bombing manhunt drew little backlash. But the pandemic lockdown was a different story, and the lesson Davis draws from that is “the predicate there is how frightened people are. If people understand that the situation is life threatening, if they understand that there’s a lot on the line here and it’s best to just cooperate with what authorities are saying, they’ll do that…. The problem comes about when people start to doubt the dangerousness, the seriousness of the incident. And I think in the United States, you’ve got a healthy sense of cynicism about what the government is telling you.”
What a sobering twist on FDR’s famous line: the only thing we have to fear is lack of fear itself.
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