OPINION: Safe Communities Act

Me on the porch

The South Shore, once and maybe still a white-flight region for white city folk unwilling to send their children to integrated schools, is more diverse today than it ever was, and growing moreso all the time. Research has shown that diversity improves outcomes, from schools to workplaces and beyond, yet we know that people of color in Hingham and elsewhere are forced to contend with racism on a regular basis. We have read the anecdotes on our town Facebook pages, we have read the report on the increase in hate crimes all over Mass in the Globe, and we know that we have a real problem with racism in this state. Hate-fueled mass shootings erupting around the nation in recent years lend real urgency to the argument that we must address racism nationally and locally.

The Safe Communities Act (S.140 and H.3573) is one step toward creating a more inclusive, more welcoming community by legislatively affirming our commitment as a state to treating people of all backgrounds fairly. The specific goal of this bill is to ensure that immigrants in our community feel comfortable talking to local law enforcement by ensuring that local law enforcement officers are not also agents of federal immigration authorities. The bill would prohibit law enforcement and court personnel from asking questions about immigration status. This is important. Immigrants are part of our community, and are at least as likely as anyone else to be witnesses to or victims of crimes. Putting ourselves in their place, it's easy to understand why witnesses and victims might not come forward even to report a violent crime if they think that doing so poses a risk to themselves, their friends, or their families. For us all to be safer, law enforcement needs witness and victim testimony. To get it, we need immigrants to feel safe walking into police stations. And we know that right now, immigrants don't feel safe and are reporting fewer crimes.

This bill is a practical, compassionate step toward building a better Massachusetts and would provide quantifiable benefits: We would avoid the expenses associated with using our local and state resources to do the federal government's job, we would protect our local agencies and officers from unintentional violations of civil liberties with regard to immigrants, and we would improve the quality of relationships between immigrant communities and local law enforcement by building a statewide framework for trust. More information about the impact of immigration enforcement on local law enforcement can be found in the National Police Foundation's detailed report Local Police & Immigration Enforcement.

More important to me than even the practical benefits is that passing the Safe Communities Act would serve the broader goal of beginning to address racism in this state overall by sending a powerful message locally and beyond that we in Massachusetts will do everything we can do to ensure that every immigrant in our state knows that they will be treated fairly by all our local and state governments. We have a lot of work to do to address racism in this state more broadly and ensure that all our neighbors are safe. Passing the Safe Communities Act and relieving our immigrant neighbors of one potential worry is a good first step.

Melissa Smith

9 thoughts on “OPINION: Safe Communities Act”

  1. I don’t know if you live in Hingham but I feel this is a slap in the face for
    All of us who live here. Please don’t lump us with mass shooters that is unfair. As we have always been a town to come to the help of our neighbors no matter the race creed or political opinion. You are spurring an agenda and using our town to push this agenda. Please stop. Have your opinion but so not disparage our town
    Also your article does not give full
    Information as to legal or illegal so that
    People can understand what you are asking them to sign on to. This is very misleading and insulting to me and I’m sure others in town.

    Reply
    • Laraine – I am confused by your comments. I have lived in Hingham since I was 4 except for college etc but came back to raise my family here. Why is this a slap in the face? Why do you feel she “lumps” us in with mass shootings? Do you think we are immune to mass shootings here? When I went to high school in Hingham, “Hit Lists” were often left behind listing “popular” people that some kids wanted to harm in some way or another. I think it is a blanket statement to say we have always been a town that comes to the help of others. I no longer have the data, but I was the president of the Diversity Club when I was in school and there was a distinct problem with treatment of people of color and most certainly those within the LGBTQ community. Granted our information came from anonymous self-report polls but it did indicate issues across several areas. You also say “Also your article does not give full Information as to legal or illegal”. What does that mean? Legal or illegal immigrants? That is exactly the point. It protects ALL immigrants from questioning of their status so that they can come forward with crimes committed against them. If someone is assaulted or harassed because they are a person of color and feel unsafe because of deportation etc and don’t come forward, we are not in fact “a town to come to the help of our neighbors no matter the race creed or political opinion”. If people want to back this Act, they can research it on their own and make their own independent decision based on research spurred on by this woman’s opinion piece. If not, then ignore it. It’s not like there is a link here telling you to go sign a petition and even if there were, the decision is up to you to click it, read it, and sign. This is an opinion piece to open up a communities mind to a current Act.

      Reply
  2. I am so grateful for this perspective. The Safe Communities Act ensures that law enforcement does their job wo imposing fear and risk to immigrants. Xenophobia is at its height right now as is the racism that accompanies it. Hingham and the south shore are hardly immune. Our shared humanity is on the edge and I hope our state can be a model for others through inclusive legislation that allows everyone access to justice without fear and the hatred that comes with that. Thank you for writing this!!

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  3. Thank you for writing such a clear article on the safe communities act. The xenophobia and accompanying hatred are at their height right now and hingham and the south shore are hardly immune. Our shared humanity is at an all time low. I want to know that no one is in fear of calling law enforcement because of their real or perceived immigration status. I appreciate that this act makes a distinction between these roles. All of us would be safer if this passes!

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  4. Thank you for this excellent piece. In this affluent. largely white town, some people might think that protecting immigrants who aren’t part of Hingham’s dominant demographic as a non-issue. But they would be wrong. Every day I see immigrants mowing lawns, painting and cleaning houses as I drive down the street. And there are many more that I don’t see, nannying our children or working in the kitchens of restaurants, They are as likely to witness or be the victim of a crime as anyone else in this town. They deserve our protection without fear of harassment.

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  5. We absolutely need this, and I’m so thrilled you wrote this, Melissa! Immigrants are very often targeted BECAUSE they can’t safely seek help. Also, this law protects police officers who may want to help but can’t because they previously had to verify identities. And This town isn’t an impermeable bubble. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if victims who were too afraid to come forward in other towns knew that Hingham would help them, no matter their race, religion, citizenship, or anything else?
    Wonderful work, Melissa.

    Reply
    • I wanted to specify that my “bubble” reference was not meant to insinuate that immigrants don’t live in Hingham- they absolutely do and we are so fortunate to have all their wonderful gifts as part of our community. Every single person deserves to be safe on Hingham soil – and this pro-actively inclusive bill makes Hingham.and the people of surrounding towns safer.

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  6. Boy I guess having a difference of opinion is a problem. I have expressed my opinion and had a person called Alissa try to attack me In words for having a difference of opinion and support the town I have lived in for many years.
    Again if you disagree with the agenda the claws come out and every dirt thing they can think of comes out and is twisted to try to state the case I’m sorry for you. I love the town I live in and instead of disparaging it on Facebook I choose to see all the good in the town and the people in it. I will not be bullied on Facebook or stop pointing out the disingenuous agenda the is being soured in this article or any other. And there is a difference in labels versus illegal in anything. There are laws and they should not be broken by anyone. Legal or illegal.

    Reply
    • Laraine if you think asking questions to understand where you are coming from is ‘”attacking you” and “claws coming out” then that is disappointing and sad. I shared my experiences in Hingham to try and make you understand there are problems that need to be addressed. Being an ostrich never helped anyone.

      Reply

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