Community meeting due; manager supports 4 of 5 steps
UPDATED, Oct. 15: For the third straight Select Board meeting, public commenters expressed varying degrees of fury with the process that returned Lt. Rick Pedrini to his job following his racist comments in a statewide publication a year ago.
Twenty-seven spoke during the citizen open forum Oct. 7 on that issue, even as Chair Diane Mahon said a community meeting to hear all sides would be held soon. Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine, the target of a number of commenters, told YourArlington he expects to announce that meeting this week.
A petition was submitted to the acting chief, Juliann Flaherty, and the manager. Read it here >> Lynette Martyn, representing a citizen group called Arlington Fights Racism, said Oct. 7 that the petition had more than 1,000 signatures.
The petition asks officials to take five steps to address the officer's published remarks, which include anti-immigrant screeds, pointedly described objections to cop killers and calling "meeting violence with violence."
'Some already underway'
Mahon said Chapdelaine agrees with four of the five points. The manager confirmed to YourArlington a report by WBZ News about those steps: "Some of it's already underway, or at least we're trying to put the pieces in place to get it underway. It's the fifth one — the establishment of a civilian review board — that, I've told petitioners, I'm not opposed to, but I didn't feel it was appropriate for me to take the initiative to create."
He confirmed that it was more appropriate for the board to be created by citizens through the town's initiative process at Town Meeting.
Mahon reiterated that the board has "no recourse" regarding personnel matters. Long a defender of police, she called firing "not on the table."
First Parish support for petition
Among the nearly two hours of public comments, here is a representative sampling, which range from conciliatory to demanding:
-- The Rev. Marta Flanagan, minister at First Parish for 10 years, said she had been impressed with responses to her questions about this issue from town officials. She reported the church governing board had voted unanimously to sign the petition.
There "as a religious person," she noted that "forgiveness requires three things" -- understanding the damage done, acknowledging damage to others and engaging in a in reparational act.
Despite what she called a "closed" process of restorative justice, she said the town had yet to engage in actions to repair damage. She said she saw reason to restrict the officer's work in his department.
She added that the matter is "larger than one officer ... We are all implicated in this. We have not listened enough."
-- Mary Fusoni read letter that she said was written anonymously by another resident, an African-American who is "not prepared to make a target of my family for supporters of Pedrini." The letter writer asked: "What will you and Select Board do to help make us feel safer?"
-- Stanley Pollock, Fusoni's husband, finished reading the letter It expressed sympathy for the town manager, asked to address past harms and urging him to call the officer's words racist -- a theme among a number of speakers, including Rajeev Soneja.
-- Michaiah Healy, one of the cochairs Envision Arlington Diversity Task Group, remained positive. "I feel a lot of hope," she said. "We all want the same thing. adopt a code of conduct to enforce."
-- Esther Kingston Mann, a 30-year resident, said she was also speaking for people of color, who fear retribution. "I'm a social-justice warrior," she said, referring to the phrase Pedrini used derogatorily. She urged the public to take the petitioners seriously to restore public trust.
'Trust me ...'
-- Sarah Glover, a nine-year resident, said she attended a recent Coffee with a Cop and was told by another officer not to assess Pedrini by his written words. She said she was told: "'Trust me -- he's a good cop.'"
-- Lynette Culverhouse, a resident since 1984, noted the need to express anger in this matter and asked "to hear from each of you publicly," apparently referring to the Select Board. She went over the three-minute speaker limit, and Mahon stopped her.
-- Laura Kiesel, a journalist who has published reports about Pedrini based on numerous public-record requests, told of the pain of abuse and loss that she experienced in childhood. Transitioning from those experiences to the officer, she said that Chapdelaine had not read Pedrini's columns in full when she met with him last March.
-- Jordan Weinstein sought to clarify a misunderstanding about the petition -- that is does not seek the officer's dismissal. He as did others read anonymous statements supporting the petition.
-- John Sanbonmatsu, an ethic professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, pointed out that the town's decision not to dismiss Pedrini ignores what he calls a trend among municipalities to fire officers making racist remarks. He cited a case in Leominster case in which an officer remains fired following arbitration. Read about the 2013 case >>
-- Kathleen Lentz, a psychiatrist, noted that people can change, that restorative justice was inappropriate in this case and that the town should get help for the lieutenant.
-- On the other hand, June Rutkowski blasted Chapdelaine for not trying to fire him and expressed shock that the Select Board voted, 5-0, Sept. 9, to support the manager. "I would like to see you all admit your mistakes," she said, to applause.
-- Gwendolyn Wong claimed Pedrini, who she called a "rogue cop," has a new multiyear contract, but has expressed himself in ways that are not suitable for an officer and he should not be armed.
-- Wearing T-shirt that says "Stand Against Racism ...," Elizabeth Dray talked about a town she believed is welcoming wasting a year in dealing with the issue. "Others have a different realty," she said, referring to the perception about the town. She said it is "not welcoming to everybody."
"You have abdicated your responsibilities," she said. Referring to the ACMi audience watching, she added, to applause: "It's up to you at home. Discomfort to make things happen."
Citizen group full statement
As posted by Martyn on Facebook:
"This week marks the one year anniversary of the publication of Lt. Pedrini’s hate speech. We are here today to formally submit our petition asking the town to develop and announce a plan for repairing community trust by November 1, 2019. We will continue to collect signatures until that date but as of now we have over 1000 signatures, including over 15% of Arlington’s TMMs and well over two dozen respected social justice organizations.
"It has been one month since residents first came to these chambers to express our concerns about the town’s accountability in this case. During that meeting Mr Dunn assured us that the CBI report was just the first step, Mr. Hurd expressed his surprise that you all had not heard from us sooner. Ms Mahon and others emphasized that they could not address this personnel matter in these chambers even as you placed it on your own agenda and proceeded to express full confidence in the Town Manager’s handling of the case thus far, despite the serious reservations citizens brought to this very room.
"It has been three weeks since the CBI report came out and there has been no commentary whatsoever from Town Leadership regarding the report or next steps. It has been one year, one year, since the racist words were published and no attempt has been made to address the populations that Lt Pedrini targeted with his words. Let’s move past this forum. Concerned citizens have been provided no other forum but the three minutes each here. We have been provided no avenue for back and forth, no opportunity for Town Leadership to respond to our feedback or to address accountability issues that have arisen in our well documented concerns. I’ll remind the audience that the Town Manager did not take part in any of the CBI report discussions. When are he or the Board or any town leaders going to address our questions? This week marks one year.
"The CBI report contains fifty suggestions, but fails to prioritize them, potentially enabling the town to cherry-pick easy asks and ignore the harder ones. Over half of the stakeholders involved in the report prioritized five asks that were not highlighted in the report. The primary ask being that Lt. Pedrini remain on permanent administrative assignment if termination is demonstrated to not be possible.
"I have heard several of you ask, why aren’t we hearing from those targeted in Lt. Pedrini’s articles? You won’t hear from these vulnerable people until leadership demonstrates they’re worthy of hearing those voices. I hope you will listen carefully to some of those voices tonight. Many of the people involved in this cause have heard from scared people who don’t feel safe going to the police; who’ve thanked those who’ve spoken up to say this isn’t right; who’ve said, I don’t feel safe coming forward but thanks for being an ally. These residents NEED TO HEAR FROM TOWN LEADERSHIP that Arlington has their back, that they’re safe.
"The town’s message has consistently been, we want this to go away so we can be perceived as a good place again; let’s get rid of the division. Our message to you today is we don’t want to just look good, we want to do good and stand by all Arlington’s citizens. Silence creates division, action creates healing.
"Please take action and stand by the side of those who were harmed. Please do not let the heinous words of one police officer ruin the reputation of many fine Arlington Police Officers. I was at Coffee with a Cop last week, one of the officers asked me if I was prejudiced against all of our officers, if the crimes of one doctor would keep me from returning to all doctors to get treatment.
"My response to that officer was absolutely not, I would continue to trust doctors but I would certainly not return to a medical practice that let that individual doctor, that committed a crime keep his license. I would not return to the practice if they let this doctor return to treating patients whom the doctor expressed a clear hatred of. If however, the medical practice named the doctor’s crime, censured that doctor and either fired them or guaranteed targeted patients would never have to interact with that doctor again, then I would respect the organization for their strong stance and support them for their bravery."
Arlington Fights Racism (citizen group)
WBZ News, Oct. 11: Manager vows to restore trust
Oct. 7, 2019, Select Board, ACMi >>
Sept. 11, 2019: Status of Lt. Pedrini spurs sharp comments -- from board, public
This news announcement was published Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019, and changed to a summary Saturday, Oct. 12. It was updated Oct. 15, to correct the number speaking about the officer.
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