A question on qualified immunity, which provides protection for police officers and other municipal employees when they do something wrong while on duty, proved one of the more dramatic differences among the three candidates for state representative in the 14th Suffolk district - Hyde Park and parts of Roslindale and West Roxbury.
Former City Councilor Rob Consalvo, who answered the question first, in a forum organized by the Southwest Boston Community Development Corp.'s Green Team, said qualified immunity is "so complicated," and an iissue that deserves far more study than it and other police-reform issues got during early morning sessions in the legislature recently (the discussion on the issue starts at 28:15 in the video above).
"There are huge issues that are unresolved," he said. "I have huge concerns about what qualified immunity means for public employees, I don't think we know the impact on public employees, we don't know the impact on state and federal courts who oversee this." He said he's particularly concerned that the public didn't have a chance to weigh in on the issue, since he said he's all about transparency and giving people the right to be heard, rather than having the Senate pass things at 4 in the morning with nobody else around. And so he said he supports a proposal in the House to study the issue and come back with a report next year that the public can weigh in on.
Gretchen Van Ness, a civil-rights attorney who ran for the seat two years ago, however, said simply she wants to end qualified immunity, period. She said qualified immunity has become a tool to protect officers who have done horrible things. "No good police officer has anything to fear by revoking qualified immunity."
If Black lives really do matter, qualified immunity "is where the rubber meets the road" and needs to be ended - now. "You send up something to study when you want it to die," she said. "I do not want this to die."
Duckens Petit-Maitre did not answer the question of whether he would make it a priority to end qualified immunity. However, he called for far more training for police officers. He said doctors, who deal with life and death, are trained for eight to ten years, far more than police officers, who also deal with life and death.
He added that, as the only Black candidate in the race, he would be in a better position to fight to reform police. "As a person of color, I've felt the pain of what you're going through." he said. Referring to his opponents, he added, "they're not living it, you've got to live it to understand it."
Other issues at the forum included climate change and trees. All three candidates say action is needed now on the former and that they want more of the latter.
Consalvo said he supports moves towards all renewable energy by 2030 and that even though the district is well inland, people who live in it will also see impacts, for example along the Neponset River and the Mother Brook. Van Ness said 2030 - and 2050 for other environmental efforts - is too late and that work needs to be done now.
All three supported the Green New Deal. Van Ness added that she would try to move from the current flat income tax towards a more "progressive" tax - in which people who make more pay a higher percentage - to help pay for the infrastructure and training that would be needed to move towards a less carbon-intensive future.
All three also expressed their love for trees. Van Ness and Consalvo said they would support proposals to regulate the elimination of trees by developers even on private property. Van Ness said she would work to create a trust fund to help increase tree planting in Boston. Consalvo said the 27% of Boston that now has tree coverage is outrageously low. Petit-Maitre said he would work on issues specific to the district, such as a smoke-belching diesel engine he says runs up and down the Fairmount Line between midnight and 2 a.m. every night.
The three also discussed housing, in particular how to keep the district affordable.
Consalvo called for measures that would grant tenants a right to a lawyer in eviction proceedings and would give tenants the first right to buy an apartment building if it goes up for sale. He also called for a comprehensive planning study for Hyde Park, now that developers have "found out what we nkow, this is the greatest community in the city of Boston."
Petit-Maitre would look at rent-to-own programs, and stressed that, as the son of immigrants he is the only one of the three candidates who truly knows what it's like to struggle to live the American dream.
Van Ness said she would continue the current Covid-19 moratorium on evictions and foreclosures until after it's clear the virus crisis has passed - and would seek to replace both the BPDA and the Zoning Board of Appeals with agencies more attuned to the needs of people struggling to stay in Boston than the desires of luxury developers.