Living History Lesson

City Coucilor Francis M. Roache is a resource for Prof. Andrew Buni's history students

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

As patrol officer, police commissioner and city councilor, Francis M. Roache has accumulated a unique personal history of contemporary Boston - a history he is sharing with Boston College students.

Roache is serving as a resource this semester for undergraduate and graduate students of Prof. Andrew Buni (History). Through class appearances, interviews and access to his vast collection of newspaper clippings, Roache plans to provide students with insights into some of the most compelling events and issues confronting Boston, such as the 1970s busing controversy, the Stuart murder case, police-community relations and racism.

City Councilor Francis Roache talks with senior Eric Shaughnessy following a class last week. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Students will have the opportunity to utilize Roache's perspective for writing papers Buni hopes to publish later in book form, for which the students would be credited as authors.

"We're quite excited about this project," Buni said. "It's rare when you have someone who is willing to talk candidly and answer tough questions about his role in major events, as well as share his professional and personal experiences. That adds a lot to any class, especially one on history.

"But it's also important for students to have the chance to research and publish something, and to get the credit for it," he added. "They get a sense of what scholarship is all about."

"I think this is a very good idea - not so much for me, but for these young adults," said Roache, who was elected an at-large city councilor in 1995 after serving as police commissioner from 1985-93. "I look forward to being a resource and doing what I can to help these students. I think it's important they ask the tough questions; there are so many blanks to fill in about recent Boston history."

The idea for the project began when Roache spoke in Buni's Race, Class and Ethnicity in America class last May. He agreed to be interviewed by Buni and Greg Liegel '98, who is using the material as part of his Scholar of the College project, and during the course of last summer spoke with the two for about 20 hours. Roache also provided Buni with eight boxes worth of various newspaper articles he had saved, most of them from his years as commissioner.

Buni invited Roache to be a resource for Race, Class and Ethnicity, as well as a graduate and an undergraduate course on Boston history.

"Speaking with, or listening to, him is really a good way to 'see' Boston and get a feel for what's gone on in the past couple of decades," Buni said.

At a recent Race, Class and Ethnicity class, Roache introduced himself and offered a wide-ranging overview of his career and the issues he has confronted.

"After my experiences with Prof. Buni and the students last year, I realized I had strong feelings about a lot of things," Roache told the students. "I really had had no idea I was in the middle of so much of Boston's history."

Roache said news coverage and popular entertainment had likely raised many questions among the students about race, police brutality and corruption, and police-community relations, especially with regard to Boston. He said he hoped to explore these perceptions, and perhaps help bring about a greater understanding of these issues.

"You can play a profound role in this," he said. "If you listen to me, if you contribute with your good hearts and minds, and we stay with it, at some point we might have something we could share with other colleges and universities."

Roache also answered questions during the class, some of them concerning a controversial television documentary on Boston police filmed during his tenure as commissioner. He and the students discussed what they felt were the show's flaws: that it did not depict the less visually exciting "routine" police work, for example, and that most scenes used were those filmed in Roxbury and Mattapan - leaving the impression that drug abuse and other serious crimes typify those neighborhoods and are not prevalent in other areas of Boston.

"The producers violated an obligation," Roache said. "We didn't learn anything from this show. It simply reinforced notions that are wrong and harmful."

After class, a few students remained to continue talking with Roache. He and sophomore Princess Fenton, a Boston native, engaged in a lively exchange about media coverage of the city that, a few minutes later, became a discussion of shared acquaintances and local landmarks.

"I really liked being able to hear him, and talk to him," Fenton said afterwards. "I think he's trying to set the record straight about a lot of things and it's good to hear this point of view."

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