Racism and Police Violence are Transportation Problems

We are devastated by the recent incidents in Louisville, Georgia, Minneapolis, and New York’s Central Park that have put the pervasive racism, white supremacy, and anti-Blackness in our country on acute display. We are angry about the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and so many more. As an organization that envisions a world where streets are safe, vibrant public spaces that connect people to the places where they live, work and play, this includes more than fighting for protected bike lanes, crosswalks, and bus lanes. When we talk about death on our streets, it means aiming for a larger vision than just the elimination of traffic fatalities and serious injuries. When we talk about “safe streets” -- this must encompass safety for all. We have work to do to ensure that people are not arrested, criminalized, or killed because of the color of their skin. 

As transportation advocates, we saw the methods and choices made by the Boston Police Department (BPD) and the MBTA during the protests on Sunday night as against the stated values of these agencies. These specifically include: 

BPD using vehicles as weapons: We were dismayed to hear reports of Boston Police cruisers speeding through crowds of protestors on Sunday night in a way that was dangerous and escalatory. In many cities across the country in the last few days, including in New York and LA, we have seen police officers using vehicles to brutalize protestors by ramming directly into crowds. Using a police cruiser or any vehicle as a weapon to intimidate, disperse, injure, or kill people is deeply disturbing. These actions are unacceptable and run counter to the very concept of street safety and Vision Zero that the Boston Police Department is supposed to uphold. 

MBTA stranding protestors: During the Sunday night protest in Boston, the MBTA bypassed downtown stations and bus stops, impacting the ability for protestors to depart the area promptly and safely. Running more frequent service (as was done during the Boston Women’s March in 2017), rather than limiting access, is the best approach to both accommodating an influx of people and reducing crowding to limit the potential spread of COVID-19.

These are just two recent examples of the larger issues of police brutality and structural racism that are systemic in Boston and across the country. 

It’s time that as transportation advocates we think more deeply about the connection between our street space and the police that enforce it -- and how we can advocate to reallocate funding from the police department to expand the resources available to social workers, service providers, addiction counselors, medics, and transportation planners to provide aid, support, and better health outcomes for our most vulnerable communities.  

How to be a White Ally 

Being anti-racist requires constant, active, uncomfortable work and self-examination. What actions can you take as an individual in your own life? Who are you talking to about white supremacy and police brutality? Are you calling in your family members, friends, colleagues? Where are you spending your money? Are you donating to Black-led organizations and supporting Black-owned businesses? If you are choosing to attend demonstrations, are you using your body to intervene and stand between police and Black protestors to protect them or de-escalate potentially violent situations? 

Tamika Butler, Toole Design’s Director of Equity and Inclusion/ Director of Planning for California, shares five questions for white people to hold, answer, and act on every day in her most recent blog post

  1. Do I understand that not being racist isn’t the same as being anti-racist?
  2. Why am I so afraid to be brave enough to confront my power and privilege?
  3. What am I waiting for to decenter whiteness and realize just because I have never experienced it (or seen the research to prove it) doesn’t mean it isn’t real?
  4. What am I doing every single day to force myself to think about racism and white supremacy?
  5. What am I doing every single day to stop the killing of Black people?

If you are in a position to do so, we urge you to consider donating to these organizations that are on the frontlines of the work for racial justice in Boston:

Where We Are; Where We’re Going

To be candid, we struggled writing this, in part because so many of the statements issued in the last few days feel hollow, and statements in and of themselves don’t make change. It's easy to call out the racist, violent actions of others. It is much harder to look inside and acknowledge your own contributions to upholding white supremacy culture. 

LivableStreets is a majority-white organization, and we know we have a long way to go towards becoming an anti-racist organization. Writing a statement isn’t the real work. Working towards dismantling racism and white supremacy in everything that we do is. 

We will continue to address racial equity in small and larger ways. For us this means reforming our hiring and board recruitment practices and examining our culture and communication norms. It means centering our advocacy on the most vulnerable and oppressed, not on the loudest voice in the room. And it means supporting legislation like An Act Relative to Pedestrian and Traffic Stop Data, a bill sponsored by Sen. Chang-Diaz designed to prevent racial profiling in all traffic stops. 

There is much more work to be done. You should anticipate hearing more from us about these issues in the coming days and months. For now we hope you will consider taking action in one or several of the ways listed above.