33°
UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

2-26-24 PDF
February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

Breaking the BRIC: Exposing systemic racism in Boston

On Oct. 4, the Boston City Council approved $3.4 million dollars in grants for the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (1). Boston Regional Intelligence Center is a contentious, federally funded center formed in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, when major changes were being made to America’s Department of Homeland Security. Centers like BRIC were created to make sharing information among law enforcement organizations easier. Boston Regional Intelligence Center specifically works to collect and analyze data about crime and gang activity by excessively surveilling Black and Brown people in their own neighborhoods. (2) As a result, organizations such as the Muslim Justice League and the American Civil Liberties Union have adamantly opposed additional funding for BRIC. The Massachusetts Attorney General Office’s investigation into racial bias in BRIC has also raised serious concerns about the center’s effectiveness.

All of these anxieties about the ethics of BRIC did not deter the Boston City Council’s decision: The measure passed seven to five. All seven White councilors voted yes and all five councilors of color voted no. Of the seven White councilors, three were liberal. It is typical for right-leaning politicians to support expanding police funding, but eyebrows were raised when liberals did the same. A simple answer can be concluded: Racism affects both sides of the political spectrum. White politicians, regardless of political affiliation, have continued to maintain the systemic operations that oppress people of color. These decisions are made in the name of “maintaining public safety” when, in reality, they are a result of discrimination and harmful prejudice.

The City Council’s decision to approve more funding raises an important question: Why do liberal politicians routinely defy their progressive campaign promises? Mayor Michelle Wu won the mayoral election in 2021 by promising to dismantle BRIC. As a city councilor, Wu voted against the same grants she approved this month. (3) Similarly, most of the other liberal City Council members campaigned on promises of police reform, but only some have followed through. In the case of approving grants for BRIC, only the non-White city councilors remained consistent. Once a politician is voted into office, there is no expectation that they must adhere to their proposed policies. Unfortunately, this means that countless political officials essentially abandon many of the progressive ideals they held prior, and the ideas that could have bettered their city simply become a way of gaining votes.

These failures within the government have serious consequences. A proposed measure is more than words: It is action and impact. Continuing to fund BRIC is facilitating Boston’s historical tradition of targeting Black and Brown citizens. Boston Regional Intelligence Center is much more than a system of surveillance cameras. As of 2019, 66.47 percent of suspected gang members in their database were Black, while only 2.3 percent were White. (4) In order to determine who is associated with gang activity, BRIC uses criteria such as the ownership of gang paraphernalia and being seen with a person who is already in the database. If an individual is determined to be a gang associate, their personal information is entered into the BRIC database. This can be accessed by local law enforcement, Boston School police and the Department of Homeland Security. No one knows they are on the database until after they are arrested or under threat of deportation.

Shrouded in secrecy, BRIC works to target, label and violate the privacy of innocent citizens. Despite lawsuits, protests and calls for change, the Boston City Council has decided to funnel more money into the center’s operations. This decision again reveals how systemic racism is maintained. With the support of Mayor Wu, all seven White city councilors have not simply voted to fund policing efforts; they effectively enabled a historic tradition of racial discrimination, profiling and privacy violations. Promises were made, but not kept. Black and Brown Boston citizens will continue to pay the price.

 

SOURCES:

(1) https://www.wbur.org/news/2023/10/04/boston-police-gang-database-funding

(2) https://data.aclum.org/2020/07/22/break-up-with-the-bric-unpacking-the-boston-regional-intelligence-center-budget/

(3) https://www.bostonherald.com/2023/09/25/boston-mayor-wu-flipped-on-police-intel-funding-after-gang-database-was-cleaned-up/

(4) https://www.wbur.org/news/2019/07/26/boston-police-gang-database-immigration