Photo: Amherst Police Department

I feel very strongly about the recent murder of George Floyd.  It sent me back to the sixties – civil rights – Vietnam war protests, police brutality, and a deeply divided country.  Encouraged by the strong international response, I want to support that rising attention and energy.  More important is to harness that attention and energy to result in substantive and meaningful improvements to current conditions.  

My call for action does not reflect dissatisfaction with Amherst or Amherst policing, but is a request for us to stand up as a community and make a visible, public commitment to be part of the solution to the racial and social injustice that plagues our nation

Our nation needs our attention.  Former President Obama has called on all mayors to do a comprehensive review of current policing practices.  Amherst must do this.  We as a town must make a public and ongoing commitment to follow the current best practices of policing and criminal justice. The Amherst Police Department (APD) should strive to be a model of best practices.  And as a town, we must demand this same commitment of our state and federal government.  Racist practices need attention and correction, but the problems are deeper and wider.  

Here are a few actions that we could undertake in Amherst:

1.  The APD should consider making some visible public commitment to be a model police department committed to monitoring current research in best policing practice, and adopting new practices when appropriate.

2.  APD should take the Obama Pledge: a  call for mayors, city councils, and police oversight bodies to address police use of force policies. 

3. APD  should become a My Brother’s Keeper Community, joining over 250 others communities across the country in promulgating policies to better serve the needs of the community’s youth.  

4.  The Town Council should appoint a Committee on Policing as part of a greater effort to contribute more actively to the current imperative to eliminate racism wherever it persists.  The primary purpose of the committee would be to ensure that the structure and practice of our Police Department is reflective of current best practices and continues to remain current as research and experience leads to new ideas.  This work would not only benefit Amherst but would be in support of a national initiative to review and if necessary revise the size, the scope and the structure of Police Departments across the country.  This is a large, important and timely matter.  Part of the work would entail a review of the role of police unions in relationship to public safety and best policing practices.  Examining complaints of police malpractice would be an important secondary role of the committee.  As an opening suggestion, the composition of the committee might include two members of the police department, one town staff, one town councilor and seven citizens from broad and diverse background – racial, economic, ethnic, age, etc. 

5. The Town should explore ongoing campaigns to promote police accountability to see what might be applied effectively here in Amherst. (See for example Campaign Zero and Creating a New Era of Public Safety).

Our community should show solidarity with other communities that are trying to ensure that their practices reflect current best practices, and be models for good community policing and law enforcement.

I am willing to help anyone who may want to work up a suggestion or set of suggestions for the Town Council, the Town Manager, or the Police Chief to endorse or adopt.

Robert Greeney is a 26 year resident of Amherst, Professor of Physics at Holyoke Community College, and an avid amateur potter, poet, painter, and photographer.

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  1. Bob: Not very long ago — perhaps a couple of weeks ago — I might have agreed with you. Your recommendations seem sensible and feasible, while calls to “defund the police” would have sounded like sheer madness.

    I have changed my mind and can no longer support a “review of policing practices,” no matter how comprehensive that review may be. The entire system is rotten, rooted as it is in the oppression of Black, Indigenous, and people of color, as well as in efforts to use violence to deny working peoples’ right to organize. Individual police officers may be blameless; I am sure that most officers are decent, civic-minded people who do their jobs with the best of intentions. It is the system that is corrupt, violent, and destructive of the social fabric.

    What I have come to understand is that you cannot build a just and peaceful society when authority is delegated to people who are charged with enforcing that authority with guns, who carry with them at all times the threat of lethal violence. It may have been a police officer’s knee that choked the life out of George Floyd, but it was the sidearm strapped to the officer’s hip and the deep racism in his heart that made the knee an instrument of murder.

    Defund and demilitarize the police. Regular police officers should not carry sidearms. And if officers feel unsafe and unable to protect themselves and the public without the ready option of deadly force, they should find another line of work.

    I am adding my voice to the call to cut the Amherst Police Department’s budget in half. The money saved should be used to hire social and community workers who are trained to respond to the bulk of calls that are currently answered by police: Psychological emergencies, noisy parties, vandalism, and the like. Give these non-police community workers the authority to issue fines for violations. We will still need some police for moving traffic violations, domestic abuse, robberies, public safety emergencies, and potentially violent, life-threatening situations.

    Reallocate money away from the APD and provide it to assist BIPOC people who want to start a business in town, or use the money to finance transitional housing for the unhoused. Use public money to help the public, not to threaten them with violence.

    As Simone de Beauvoir famously said of putatively liberal France’s response to the brutal colonization of Algeria, “To protest in the name of morality against ‘excesses’ or ‘abuses’ is an error which hints at active complicity. There are no ‘abuses’ or ‘excesses’ here, simply an all-pervasive system.”

    Violence — and the very threat of violence — only begets more violence. Defund the police.

  2. Alex and Bob,

    Since the UMass police force is an even larger presence on and near the university campus, and since they have a formal cooperation agreement with the Amherst police, it’s crucial the measures that each of you suggest should be considered for both forces.


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