Police Brutality Review Board Begins, Faces Community Charges of Tokenism
ON NOVEMBER 14 two brothers, Buddy and Edward Walton, were arrested for drunkenness, taken to the Cambridge police station, and booked. But there the similarity to other arrests ends. The Walton brothers are black. They were beaten at the station by six officers, later identified by the Waltens, and refused medical attention. There is little doubt that the beatings occurred: after their release from the police station the Waltons went to Cambridge City Hospital and were treated for head and back injuries, a broken hand, a sprained ankle, and lacerations of the face.
But somehow the city fathers have managed to steer the problem away from the specifies of the Walton case (and three other complaints of police beatings) onto a new course which talks of a Citizens' Review Board designed, in the City Manager's words, "to handle citizen complaints and recommendations for improved service."
Members of the black community accepted the committe idea only after it became apparent that Corcoran was not going to do anything about their original demands to have the Police Chief James K. Reagan and the six officers responsible for beating the Waltons fired. Since the City Council refused to use its power of coercion over the City Manager by threatening him with removal if he did not fire Reagan, there really was no alternative for the blacks but to try the committee idea and keep on pressing for the original demands through other channels.
Ann Jones, who has often acted as spokesman for the black community before the Council, said after the first two meetings of the committee. "This committee is just tokenism. We are moving on to the state and federal levels with this now. I have spoken with the state attorney general's office and they expect to have someone out this week to investigate the case." Probably nothing will result from a state investigation but at least the black community is not going into the review committee with blinders over their eyes. They have heard Corcoran say too many times that he has three men investigating the Walton case, but they haven't come up with a finding yet, and anyway any disciplinary action for the policemen would really have to come down from the chief.
Admittedly, some members of the Council are concerned and would like to see action taken in the matter. Barbara Ackerman's motion, passed by a 5-4 vote, to "direct the Chief of Police to suspend without pay any officer engaged in acts of brutality within 12 hours" is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, however, there is no mechanism for enforcing such an order.
When members of the black community agreed to serve on the Manager's committee, they were careful from the beginning to keep the purpose clear. Saundra Graham, a representative from the Riverside neighborhood, objected to the vague wording of the Manager's proposal and she and the City Solicitor, Philip M. Cronin, sat down and reworded the order to make it more specific.
Already, however, Corcoran is water-ing down the purpose of the committee. In his recent report to the City Council on the progress of the committee he again emphasized the fact that only he has the power to hire and fire in the city. Quoting five paragraphs of President Nixon's Commission of Police-Community Relttions, he said, "We must work, and find new methods, to develop a positive approach to police-community relations."
Unfortunately Corcoran has taken no action to coincide with his rhetoric. As he probably foresaw, the committee on police brutality has met twice and spent the whole time discussing who the fifth member will be. The selection of a fifth member that can be mutually agreed on by the two representatives of the black community and the two city representatives will probably take another two months. By then the committee will be functioning well as the kind of delaying instrument Corcoran meant it to be.