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Boston’s police remain largely white

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Boston’s police remain largely white

BOSTON — For years, Boston city leaders have vowed to diversify the police department so it looks more like the community it serves. Yet the police force is just as white as it was a decade ago and huge barriers to diversity remain, advocates say.

City officials acknowledge more work needs to be done, but insist their efforts to bring in more officers of color are slowly paying off. But critics say the city has failed to back up its pledges with meaningful action.

Black and Latinx candidates still consistently get passed over in favor of white applicants over decades-old minor brushes with law enforcement or seemingly arbitrary reasons, advocates say. And some critics say the city’s talk of inclusion rings hollow while it continues to fight a long-running case won by a group of Black officers over a promotional exam a judge found was discriminatory.

“It’s an honor to serve as a police officer and serve the citizens of Boston, but to this day, I don’t feel like I have been completely accepted,” said Larry Ellison, a Black Boston police detective who’s been with the department for nearly 40 years. “The problem is we turn a blind eye and then when things explode, we try to do things piecework and we try to do symbolic things.”

The need to have police departments look like the communities they patrol has come under renewed focus amid calls for police reform spurred by police killings of Black people across the US. And new research recently published in the journal “Science” suggested that diversity in law enforcement can indeed lead to improvements in how police treat people of color.

William Gross, Boston’s first Black top cop, said diversifying the department was one of his top priorities when he took the reins in 2018.

Yet, as of early January, Boston police were about 65 percent white, according to numbers provided by the department, even though they make up only about 45 percent of the city. The percentage of officers of color is up slightly compared to 2018, but the racial makeup of the overall force is largely the same as 10 years ago and only slightly more diverse than 20 years ago, according to data compiled in a 2015 audit of the department.

The Associated Press repeatedly requested an interview with Gross, who retired in late January, but a police spokesman said he was unavailable.

His replacement, Dennis White, the second Black man to lead the police force, was placed on leave days after he was sworn in after The Boston Globe raised questions about 20-year-old domestic violence allegations. Superintendent-in-Chief Gregory Long, who is white, is leading the department while lawyers investigate the allegations.

A group of minority officers and local ministers have called on White to be reinstated while the investigation continues and one minister has called White’s treatment a “racial double standard.”

Jeff Lopes, a Boston officer who leads the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, said they saw some progress under Gross’ leadership in getting more officers of color into specialized units and other important roles. Gross’ command staff was roughly 50 percent people of color, but many ranks remain overwhelmingly white.

A 1974 consent decree forced the department to diversify and the percentage of minority officers climbed from 12 percent in 1981 to 25 percent a decade later. A judge lifted the consent decree in 2004, when more than 40 percent of patrol officers were Black, Hispanic or Asian. Today, the patrol force is around 38 percent people of color.

Advocates say hiring processes remain a roadblock to bringing in more minority officers.

Some argue there won’t be significant progress without overhauling or opting out entirely of the civil service system, under which military veterans — who are overwhelmingly white in Massachusetts — get a hiring preference over others.

The city has taken steps in recent years aimed at addressing the issue, like reinstating a cadet program in order to get a more diverse pool of officer candidates. In December, the city council passed a measure to give a hiring preference to Boston high school graduates in the hopes of boosting diversity. But the proposal still needs to be approved by state lawmakers.

The city says its efforts are paying off. The current group of cadets are about two-thirds Black or Hispanic, said Michael Gaskins, the department’s diversity recruitment officer. The last several recruit classes were about 35 percent to 45 percent people of color, which Gaskins said is up from previous years. Roughly 54 percent of police applicants in 2019 were minorities, up from 51 percent two years earlier.

Gaskins said it “will take a little bit of time to catch up,” but said they are committed to hiring officers reflective of the community they serve.

“We would like more change but we are happy with our progress and the incremental changes that have been made thus far. But we are not done,” Gaskins said.

Some question the city’s commitment to diversity while it continues in court to fight a group of Black officers officers who said a lieutenants’ promotional exam discriminated against minorities. A federal judge found the 2008 exam had a disparate impact on minority candidates and last year ruled the officers are entitled to back pay. The city is appealing.

A spokesman for Mayor Marty Walsh, Nick Martin, declined to comment on the case because it is ongoing. But Martin said the mayor, who’s been tapped to be President Joe Biden’s labor secretary, worked diligently with Gross to work toward diversifying the police force.

“Is there more progress to be made? Of course. But it would be a disservice to the hard work of the community, the Mayor and the Police Department not to acknowledge all of the progress that’s occurred under this administration,” Martin said.

Sophia Hall, an attorney who has represented applicants in cases against the department, said candidates of color continue to get passed over for reasons that appear to be arbitrary or “just flat out discriminatory.”

Last year, the state’s Civil Service Commission found the department unfairly bypassed a Black applicant over a case, which was ultimately dismissed. Meanwhile, the department hired three other candidates — who were all white — with multiple and more recent criminal offenses on their record, the commission found.

The commission ordered that man be put at the top of the list of potential hires. He entered the police academy at the end of November.

Gaskins said there’s no data to support the idea that there are racial biases in hiring decisions.

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Author reveals how his brother killed his mother in new memoir

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Author reveals how his brother killed his mother in new memoir

Most memoirs are a recounting of the author’s own life and experiences. “Everything is Fine” by Vince Granata (Atria Books), out April 27, is a memoir of an entire family — and a tragedy that forever changed its members. 

Granata was an only child for the first 4 ½ years of his life. On the day his mother and father returned home from the hospital, he remembers writing “welcome home mommy” in sidewalk chalk outside their Connecticut home. His parents had arrived home with not one but three siblings in tow — triplets Christopher, Timothy and Elizabeth. It was a joyful event. But the birth of his siblings put in motion a tragedy that would take years to unfold. 

On July 24, 2014, his brother Tim, 24, attacked and killed their mother in the family home. Claudia Dinan Granata was 58. Tim suffered from schizophrenia. “I won’t take the medication, the medication destroys me, takes my mind, takes me away from God,” he ranted to his mother on the morning of the attack. He had frequently threatened suicide. 

“Tim’s demons, electric in his ill mind, convinced him that the woman who had made him peanut butter sandwiches when he was a grass-stained child was the source of his constant pain,” Granata writes. “…After he killed her, he dialed 911, sitting on our front steps, clutching a white Bible.” 

This is a memoir about a horrifying crime, but it is also a book about mental illness, and the family’s ongoing attempts to get help for Tim in a system that is hopelessly flawed. Tim was hospitalized at the Yale New Haven Psychiatric Hospital in February 2014. In the weeks leading up to the murder, there were numerous signs that he needed to return, but he refused to go back. 

“Eventually, I had no choice but to look at loss and pain, at all the pieces of my family’s story that I didn’t think I could ever understand,” Vince writes. “It was this process, recognizing the pieces, struggling to put them in order, that almost destroyed me. It’s also what allowed me to live again.” 

Tim was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

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These colleges require students to get vaccinated if they want to live on campus

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These colleges require students to get vaccinated if they want to live on campus

As academic institutions look toward the post-COVID-19 future of education, some are implementing strict vaccine requirements ahead of the upcoming semester as others incentivize or urge students to pick up the inoculations.

Many colleges already require students to provide proof of certain vaccines, but those have been in use for years. The three FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines are all less than a year old.

But now that vaccines are open in many places to people age 16 and up, colleges are beginning to look into how that can benefit their reopening plans.

Colleges that will require proof of vaccination for students who want to live on campus include Oakland University in Michigan, Cornell University in upstate New York, Rutgers University in New Jersey, and Brown University in Rhode Island.

“Students have an option to come to Oakland University and not stay in residence halls,” Oakland President Dr. Ora Pescovitz told Fox 2 Detroit this week. “Only 20% of our students live on campus. The other 80% are commuter students.”

The school is offering religious and medical exemptions to students who provide proof to the dean of students.

But she said more than 1,000 people signed up for vaccines within the first six hours after the school announced the new requirement.

Northeastern University in Boston is going a step further and requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for all students before the fall 2021 semester as part of its plan to return to full-time, in-person learning.

Nova Southeastern University announced last week it would require vaccinations by Aug. 1 – then backtracked after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a statewide ban on “vaccine passports,” citing concerns about individual liberty and patient privacy.

“We will continue to follow all state and federal laws as they evolve,” Nova President George L. Hanbury II said in a statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Mars Perseverance rover takes selfie with Ingenuity helicopter ahead of historic flight

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NASA's Perseverance Mars rover took a selfie with the Ingenuity helicopter on April 6, 2021, using the WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) camera located at the end of the rover's long robotic arm. Perseverance's selfie with Ingenuity is constructed of 62 individual images, taken in sequence while the rover was looking at the helicopter, then again while looking at the WATSON camera, stitched together once they are sent back to Earth.

To the delight of social media users, NASA’s Perseverance rover used a camera on the end of its robotic arm to snap a selfie with the Mars Ingenuity helicopter this week ahead of its historic flight mission.

Shown about 13 feet apart in the pictures taken on April 6, 2021, or the 48th Martian day of the mission, the rover used its WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and Engineering) camera on the SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals) instrument.

In a release, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said Wednesday that the selfie had been constructed using 62 individual images — taken in sequence — that were stitched together.

It noted that the Curiosity Mars rover, which landed on the red planet in 2011, takes similar “selfies.”

Ingenuity, which has been released on the Martian surface, is scheduled to attempt the first-ever powered and controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet no sooner than April 11.

NASA's Ingenuity Helicopter with its blades unlocked acquired by NASA's Perseverance Mars rover using its Left Mastcam-Z camera, on Sol 47, 08 April 2021. Mastcam-Z is a pair of cameras located high on the rover's mastcam-Z.
NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter with its blades unlocked acquired by NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover using its Left Mastcam-Z camera, on Sol 47, 08 April 2021. Mastcam-Z is a pair of cameras located high on the rover’s mastcam-Z.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/HANDOUT/EPA-EFE

Once the team at JPL is ready, Perseverance will relay the helicopter’s final flight instruction from mission controllers, according to NASA.

If all final checks and atmospheric conditions look good, the helicopter will lift off climbing at a rate of 3 feet per second and hover at 10 feet above the surface for up to 30 seconds.

After data and potentially images from the rover’s Navigation Cameras and Mastcam-Z are downloaded, the Ingenuity team will determine whether the flight was a success. 

The results will be discussed by the team at a media conference that same day.

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