Community Safety And Social Justice Committee Defies Council Decision To Cut Off Discussion On Police

The Community Safety and Social Justice Committee ponder whether to continue after their joint meeting with the Amherst Town Council on October 17, suddenly and unexpectedly adjourned. Photo: screen shot

Report On The Joint Meeting of the Town Council And The CSSJC, October 17, 2022.  Part 2

This hybrid meeting was recorded. It can be viewed here.

Present

Members of the Community Safety and Social Justice Committee: Co-Chairs Dee Shabazz and Allegra Clark, Pat Ononibaku, Debora Ferreira, Philip Avila, and Freke Ette.

Staff: Athena O’Keeffe (Clerk of the Council)

Immediately after Councilor Michele Miller (District 1) introduced a motion on how to move toward restorative justice in the “Amherst Nine” incident between nine youths and two police officers on July 5, Mandi Jo Hanneke (at large) used the “nuclear option” in Section 2.10(c) of the Amherst Home Rule Charter to stop debate and postpone discussion of the motion until the next council meeting, which would be the Finance Committee meeting on October 18. The amount of time (one hour) allotted on the agenda for discussion of the incident with the Community Safety and Social Justice Committee (CSSJC) had expired.

Miller then moved to adjourn the council meeting, saying that it seems inappropriate to continue under the circumstances.

Some members of the Town Council were visibly upset that discussion and action had been cut short when they seemed to be moving toward a hopeful intervention. Councilor Pat DeAngelis (District 2) said she could not discuss the plan for artificial turf on the proposed remodeling of the track and field at the high school after members of the community were treated so rudely. She employed the same charter provision to postpone the artificial turf discussion until the next meeting.

Ellisha Walker (at large) said she was embarrassed to be a part of a council that treats members of the public so poorly, and Dorothy Pam (District 3) said Hanneke’s move reminded her of what men have long been doing to shut down the voices of women. 

Miller’s motion to adjourn the Council meeting passed 7-5, with Hanneke, President Lynn Griesemer (District 2), Andy Steinberg (at large), Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5), and Ana Devlin Gauthier (District 5) voting against adjournment. The council meeting was adjourned at 9:14 p.m.

However, the CSSJC refused to adjourn their part of the joint meeting, with Co-chair Allegra Clark saying that the CSSJC agenda had posted time for public comment and that four members of the public had their hands raised to speak. Griesemer said that public comment had been held at the very beginning of Town Council meeting [prior to the joint meeting with the CSSJC] and that there would be no further public comment.. CSSJC members held their ground and eventually were allowed to continue their meeting and take public comment. CSSJC member Freke Ette left at this time, but the other five members remained.

Forty-five minutes of public comment followed. The remarks are summarized below. 

Public Comment
Eva (no last name given) said she was proud of the CSSJC and the councilors who stood their ground, saying that this is what democracy looks like and that it is unacceptable to be shut down in the middle of moving toward a solution. She urged the group to keep going and to continue fighting “the disregard and disrespect shown to this committee and to our young people.”

That [meeting] was so terrible. I had no idea that the town of Amherst was like this at all. I just want to say I’m so sorry for what happened, and I really hope at some point the town finds some sort of peace with each other.

Madeline Gelnett, UMass student

Vira Cage said that the police chief and president of the council do not represent her. She added, “This town is not ready to engage with communities of color or underrepresented people. It is not ready for true reconciliation and to acknowledge that there are victims who are harmed in an incident that occurred in our community, because to recognize that there are victims is to be held accountable for your violations.”

Paige Wilder asked, “Where’s the revolution? This was the most atrocious thing I’ve seen in my 23 years in Amherst.” 

J. Buentello said the meeting was painful to listen to. 

Zhu (no last name given), a parent of one of the Amherst Nine, agreed that the meeting was hard to listen to, and thanked the CSSJC for standing up to the council. 

Brianna Owen, former co-chair of the Community Safety Working Group (CSWG), also thanked the CSSJC for their bravery, and said that hopefully people will look into the inequities in the town’s charter that perpetuate white supremacy and silence equity and inclusion. 

Amara Donovan, who grew up in Amherst and now works for Cambridge Families of Color, acknowledged the harm done to CSSJC members at the meeting, but said it was normal for Amherst, and similar to what the CSWG experienced in their work.

Edgardo Cancel said he was proud of those who stood up against the council. He added that he thought he saw a ray of sunshine with Miller’s motion [to convene a group consisting of members of the African Heritage Reparations Assembly (AHRA), the Human Rights Commission (HRC), and the CSSJC, along with staff and the town attorney, to collaboratively review the incident and to make a recommendation to repair the harm done to the Town Council]. But this was immediately shut down by Hanneke’s move.

“[I’ve] never been shaken to my core as [I]  was at this meeting.”

Anita Sarro, Amherst resident

Anita Sarro said that as a long-time Amherst resident who is a white woman, she has “never been shaken to my core as she was at this meeting.” She added, ”I will be looking to all of you good people to help me find a way to make it better. If there was ever a reason to burn the charter down, it was what I saw at this meeting. Amherst is going down a very destructive road if we look to the elected leadership.” 

Amilcar Shabazz hoped Miller’s motion to have the African Heritage Reparations Assembly and the Human Rights Commission work with the CSSJC would enable a suitable proposal to be brought before the council.

A poignant comment came from Madeline Gelnett, who said she is a student new to Amherst and was attending the council meeting for a class project. “That was so terrible,” she said. “I had no idea that the town of Amherst was like this at all. I just want to say I’m so sorry for what happened, and I really hope at some point the town finds some sort of peace with each other.”

Several Town Councilors stayed for this portion of the meeting and weighed in. Jennifer Taub (District 3) said she was speechless, and extended her apologies to the CSSJC. She said she hopes that its members can come to the Finance Committee meeting on the following day, October 18.

Pam said, “This is what white supremacy looks like.” 

Pam Rooney (District 4) noted that police protocols and the rules in the town charter ostensibly mean everyone will be treated in the same manner, but it is clear that those who know these rules feel they are free to use them to justify their actions. She added that the town needs to deal with sensitive issues with humanity. 

Walker said she appreciates the work of the CSSJC and feels terrible that town leaders do not.

In formulating their plans to proceed, members of the CSSJC expressed frustration. Pat Ononibaku said the group has to think how they are going to deal with the Town Council. She felt, “We can’t just follow their rules. I can’t see a path forward at this time. We need an apology from the police.”

Philip Avila thanked the town councilors who supported the CSSJC. He felt that by halting debate, Hanneke was practicing white supremacy, and that “[she] knew exactly what she was doing and how to do it.” He urged the public to vote Hanneke out of office in next November’s election (2023), and suggested a protest for Saturday, October 22.

The CSSJC will continue this discussion at the Finance Committee meeting of October 18, the Human Rights Commission meeting of October 19, and the AHRA meeting of October 24. The timing of the next CSSJC meeting will be determined this week.

The CSSJC adjourned at 10:00.

The Next Day
At the joint Finance Committee/Town Council meeting on October 18, Griesemer said she had polled members of the CSSJC and council, and most were available for a joint meeting on Tuesday, November 1 at 6:30. A joint meeting will be held at that time.

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1 thought on “Community Safety And Social Justice Committee Defies Council Decision To Cut Off Discussion On Police

  1. I seem to remember references to the “tyranny of the minority” when certain matters did not go a particular way in Town Meeting. Discussions certainly could be prolonged, making for a very long evening. Yet when someone “called the question,” it took a 2/3 vote of members present to end the discussion. It is illuminating to see the control invested in an even smaller minority who now sit in a position of much greater power.

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