William Barr, the Attorney General of the United States under Donald Trump, visited Boston for a few hours last Thursday, purportedly to meet face-to-face with our police commissioner, William Gross, in his office. The meeting included a photo opportunity, which was shared on social media by someone on Barr’s staff.
The photo was the first notice that the meeting had happened at all. And it was followed by stinging critiques from many in city government, including City Councillor Andrea Campbell, who zinged: “Defund whatever the hell this is.”
Gross soon responded with an impassioned defense of his rationale for meeting with Barr. “As police commissioner, I often have to put my personal feelings aside,” he said. “The top law enforcement official in the country requested a meeting with the Boston Police Department and I would rather take the opportunity to educate someone on what we are doing in Boston, on how we value and work with the community, and how we support our officers in this work, than close a door.”
Gross said he had schooled Barr on what it is like as Black man— and a police commissioner.
“A meeting does not mean I agree with his policies in any way, but I hope he walked away knowing a little more about ours,” the commissioner said.
The spirit of Gross’s open-door stance would be easier to embrace if Barr’s behavior and the Trump administration’s proven track record were not so caked in the grime of three-and-a-half years of race-baiting and menacing immigrants and those who count ourselves their allies, including Mayor Walsh, who, it seems, was unaware that the meeting was even taking place. (When asked later, he said that he had advised Gross against receiving Barr.)
“Attorney General Barr and the Trump Administration do not share Boston’s values or my values,” Walsh said in a statement posted on Twitter. “His actions and general lack of respect for people and their rights are a danger to our city and the future of our country.”
As if to underline that sentiment, within hours of his Boston drop-by, Barr sparked yet another crisis by brooming out the chief federal prosecutor in New York City, lying about it, and then having Trump fire the man when he refused to leave his post voluntarily. The police commissioner’s admirers— of which there are many, including this writer— have been divided over the issue. What else is new in this polarizing moment?
My first reaction was to recoil at the image of our police leader seemingly being used by the top lieutenant to this president. Gross’s defense of his decision to meet with Barr did give me pause. As a Black man— and a veteran cop— perhaps Gross could drum some sense into the national leadership.
Ultimately, the real question comes to motive. Why was AG Barr so eager to fly to Boston, pop-in to Schroeder Plaza, and then fly off? Was it merely for the prize image of marketing the “law and order” brand to the Trump base, which includes many Boston police officers. Was it to use as leverage when the regime amplifies its assault on Boston and other pro-immigrant cities?
We aren’t likely to ever know for sure, since— unlike Commissioner Gross— the attorney general refuses to answer reporters’ questions about his visit, leaving his host to manage those awkward questions solo. That certainly seems like the modus operandi of an opportunist in search of an election year bump rather than enlightenment from our top cop.
No surprise there. The Trump regime has more than proven itself unworthy of our trust, let alone our hospitality, here in Boston. We hope that next time they won’t be granted the courtesy of an audience.
- Bill Forry