- Associated Press - Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Boston Globe, Sept. 18, 2014

When Mary Bonauto, a lawyer for Boston-based Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, began working to secure marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples, even many political liberals viewed her cause as quixotic. But Bonauto mapped out an approach involving years of state-by-state litigation. With bans on same-sex marriage falling in states from coast to coast, and a Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality a distinct possibility, it’s now evident that Bonauto possessed a rare kind of foresight. And so the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation acknowledged when it honored Bonauto with one of its so-called “genius grants.”

The awards, worth $625,000 each, honor people who have shown unusual imagination in their chosen field. The role of such creativity in social activism is easy to overlook. In hindsight, progress toward tolerance and greater protection of civil rights always looks foreordained - the inexorable march forward of the American ideal. At the time, though, it’s nothing of the sort.

This dynamic doesn’t apply only in the civil-rights field. Indeed, one common thread among many of Bonauto’s fellow honorees is that their work opens up new horizons that others quickly build on. Harvard mathematician Jacob Lurie’s work in the field of algebraic geometry has provided a powerful framework for other researchers. Yitang Zhang, a Chinese-born mathematician whose unlikely path to the University of New Hampshire faculty included stops as a delivery worker and Subway sandwich shop employee, made a major advance last year in solving a long-standing question in the world of prime numbers.

But for all the visibility of the same-sex marriage debate, the significance of one individual’s insights can be harder to spot amid a sprawling and suddenly fast-moving social controversy than in many academic fields. There are same-sex couples from California to Maine who have never heard of Mary Bonauto - but owe their marriages to her.

The Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph, Sept. 17, 2014

In a foreword to the book, “Community Policing: The Past, Present and Future,” Bart Lubow of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum noted that, “Some observers are concerned that the nation’s focus on antiterrorist activities will be the death knell for community policing.”

That was 10 years before a police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and just about the time that the federal government was deciding that local police are on the front lines in the fight against terrorism and, as such, should have access to some of the same weapons as our soldiers in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

We think it’s healthy that people are now questioning the wisdom of equipping community law enforcement officers with assault weapons, armored vehicles and machine guns that are better suited for the battlefield.

Community policing, at its best, involves police taking a “we’re all in it together” approach and engaging residents to make them part of a jurisdiction’s law enforcement solutions. It is the sentiment captured in the iconic Norman Rockwell painting “The Runaway,” that shows a large policeman sitting at a lunch counter, talking to a small boy who is obviously running away from home. The policeman could easily overpower the child and take him home, but the cop knows the outcome will be more lasting if the child comes to that decision on his own.

It is a philosophy which recognizes that while police are vested with the power of law, their real authority resides in the trust and relationships they have established with the people they are sworn to protect. Without that credibility, the laws themselves don’t mean much, which is one of the lessons that have unfolded in Ferguson.

Mobile machine gun nests mounted atop armored vehicles are the antithesis of community policing, and shame on the federal government for its complicity in encouraging the stockpiling of such weapons.

There are certainly times - as we saw in Nashua recently when the SWAT team arrested a felon suspected of a home invasion in Massachusetts - that police need more than a cruiser and a badge. Nobody begrudges them that, but some of the scenes in Ferguson have carried the overtones of a “police state” that would have been familiar to some people living behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War.

The public has begun to ask whether there is such a thing as too much firepower, and whether there is a point of diminishing return at which police lose the credibility of the governed when they put too much armor between them and the people they are trying to help.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the events in Ferguson has been the way some apologists have tried to invoke images of the weekly shootouts on the streets of Chicago or Detroit, where murders happen all the time.

“Where’s the outrage over black-on-black crime?” they ask in a blatant attempt to create a diversion by changing the subject.

Black-on-black violence is real and disturbing and undoubtedly deserves more attention than it gets. But the issues raised in Ferguson - the disconnect between police and residents, the militarization of a small-town police force, and the statistical propensity of police to treat blacks different from whites - stand on their own. Those who would ignore them by adopting a, “Hey-look-over-there” strategy do neither the police nor the public any favors. Because, unless we address those issues in a forthright fashion, we might well be looking at the decay of community policing.

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