Sen. Ed Markey’s recent call to bar police from using “weapons of war” and ban tear gas, rubber and plastic bullets and bean bag rounds amid weeks of protest in U.S. cities prompted criticism from the Massachusetts Police Association, whose leader urged Markey to step down after the “slap in the face” to law enforcement.
In a statement, the 18,000-member organization denounced Markey’s Sept. 14 tweet, which asserted that “Portland police routinely attack peaceful protesters with brute force.” In a letter to Markey, James R. Guido, president of the police association, made the case that police “have been battling disrespectful outright lawless rioters nightly in Portland and throughout the country.
“It is hard to fathom that a United States senator could make such an outrageous statement that is non-factual and a slap in the face to the men and women of law enforcement who put their lives on the line everyday protecting their communities,” Guido wrote. “There is a difference between peaceful protesting and what is actually taking place in Portland, which could be considered domestic terrorism in our own country.”
John Walsh, Markey’s campaign manager, argued Markey’s position was about protecting Americans.
“It’s about removing weapons of war from our neighborhoods and communities,” Walsh said. “Senator Markey, with Senator Bernie Sanders, introduced legislation that would prohibit federal, state and local law enforcement officers’ use of tear gas and rubber bullets by banning federal officers’ use of riot control agents and kinetic impact projectiles. This legislation is in keeping with the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which the U.S. is a signatory, which bans the use of riot control agents – including tear gas – in warfare.”
The Democratic senator’s calls for police reform have become an early flashpoint in his race against Republican challenger Kevin O’Connor. O’Connor, an attorney and small business owner, said in a statement that “brave members of our law enforcement community put their lives at risk every day to ensure our neighborhoods and communities are safe, but liberal Ed Markey is taking his hostility towards police officers to a whole new level.”
The Markey campaign declined to respond directly to O’Connor’s comments. The pair will take the debate stage on Monday, Oct. 5 on GBH.
Guido, whose organization offers a legal defense fund and other support to police officers and their families, added that he had backed the senator throughout his lengthy career in Congress, but now calls on him to step down, suggesting he’s “out of touch with the American people.”
Since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, which sparked protests across the country and in the Bay State, Markey has called for expansive police reforms to prevent excessive force and to eliminate qualified immunity, which shields government officials, including police, from being sued for on-duty actions.
In June, a Suffolk University poll released by GBH, MassLive, The Boston Globe and the State House News Service showed compelling signs that the majority of Massachusetts residents support protesters and wants police reform. Strong majorities called for bans on officers using chokeholds, military-style vehicles, tear gas and rubber bullets. Half of those polled believed “police budgets should be reduced, and money transferred to social services,” compared to 41% who did not.
The city of Portland has been embroiled in both violence and politics, with President Donald Trump routinely blaming unrest on Democratic leadership. The president in July ordered a surge of federal agents in Portland and several other cities amid violence.
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