Editor’s Note: The following letter was sent to the Amherst Town Council and Town Manager on October 12, 2020.
Thank you for the invitation to be a part of the Community Safety Working Group Interview process. For the reasons outlined below, we will not be participating.
The goal of the Racial Equity Task Force of Amherst’s proposal was and continues to be to engender more community participation. The type of participatory work envisioned begins with a broader group of community members and is informed by the needs and wants of residents, and not solely by the Town Council and Town Manager. In addition, such a group would center police accountability and the redistribution of police resources. Since it was first proposed on September 14th, the current process has had a managerial design and focus.
In contrast, we felt that the Town needed a grassroots process that would maximize public input
and participation in taking a deep look at our community safety issues, defunding the APD, and establishing a community body that could look at and build a credible process for complaints and stopping any practices that unfairly target black, indigenous and people of color and areas where they live. We felt we could move straight away to create a Commission on Police Practices that could begin to study APD data and convene public hearings toward developing a strong system of accountability. And as for the budget reform work, on September 14th, we asked that a “working group” be created as an advisory unit to the town manager, free from Open Meeting Law regulations, and able to get right to work studying APD workload and identifying work that does not require an armed, sworn officer that could be shifted elsewhere.
What we have now, however, is a multi-part process planned by the Town Manager that is lengthy and top-down in nature. It begins with the selection of an interview team that goes through an applicant pool and recommends individuals from that pool to a nine-member Community Safety Working Group. This working group then begins its work and generates a report to the Town Manager who in turn writes his own report to the Town Council which then debates and decides whether or not to create a Commission on Police Practices to institutionalize police accountability as well as to defund the APD in any operational areas.
Our Task Force prefers to focus our limited time and resources on reaching out to community residents and providing accessible spaces for broader participation. These issues are much broader than police relations. Our Task Force remains open to meeting with you and to providing input to the Town Manager and the Town Council.
Dr. Amilcar Shabazz
Dr. Demetria Rougeaux Shabazz
Ms. Isolda Ortega-Bustamante