THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION is now trying to juggle the reopening of the state’s economy while formulating a legislative response to the George Floyd protests over policing.
At a State House press briefing on Wednesday, Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito declined to go into specifics about the legislative response, but the governor said several times he was talking with the black and Latino communities, lawmakers, and clergy about specific actions that could be taken to address police accountability and transparency.
“The dialogue has been productive and we’re working on ways to enhance transparency and accountability across the Massachusetts law enforcement system,” he said, adding at one point that some of the ideas raised by lawmakers on Tuesday are under discussion.
“The murder of George Floyd was a tragedy,” Polito said. “It was wrong and it was an act of racism. We cannot and will not tolerate these injustices. We must listen, learn, and make progress in this fight.”
Both Baker and Polito applauded protesters who make their points about racial injustice peacefully while condemning those who turn to violence. The governor brushed aside suggestions by President Trump that the military be called in to disperse protesters.
“The vast majority – and I mean the vast majority – of the people who are participating in these protests are there to make a point and to make it peacefully,” Baker said. “That is so obvious that I’m amazed anybody could say anything other than that, at least here in Massachusetts.”
Baker indicated some people are taking advantage of the situation, however. “There are some very bad actors who are operating under the cover of these protests and inflicting property damage, physical damage on businesses, on public buildings, on automobiles, and on people, including members of law enforcement.”
On the COVID-19 front, Baker said he will announce on Saturday whether phase two of the four-phase reopening can move forward as planned on Monday. The coronavirus data look good right now, with the percent of people being tested who test positive down 77 percent since the beginning of May and the three-day rate of hospitalizations down 50 percent over the last 30 days. Baker called the data very important.
Here is what else Baker said:
- He said it’s hard to predict what will happen as the economy reopens. He said many expected traffic to pick up as offices opened in Boston this week. “It didn’t,” he said.
- He said he planned to visit his father soon, now that open-air visits have been approved at long-term care facilities starting on Wednesday.
- He indicated he would not prevent people from protesting in large groups, even if that raised COVID-19 concerns. “First Amendment rights like that are a balancing act for us,” he said.
- He said the state is currently testing 4.4 percent of the state’s population each month, but wants to ramp that up significantly. He said the state will receive $374 million from the federal government to expand its testing capabilities. He is boosting daily testing capacity at the state lab from 1,000 to 2,300 and launching serology testing, with a capacity of 1,600 tests a day. Serology testing attempts to detect COVID-19 antibodies, thus determining whether the individual was previously infected.