The following letter was sent to the Amherst Town Council on October 22, 2022
I would like to present this response to the Amherst Town Council as it investigates the July 5 police and youth interaction incident. I am not a resident of Amherst, but my family is a part of the Amherst Regional Public School community and I was one of two adults at the scene that evening. I hope you will take my statement into consideration as you investigate the incident.
After reading the October 14 DEI addendum to the August 14 DEI Memorandum concerning the July 5 police and youth Interaction, and having been named in the addendum, despite having asked for anonymity, I have decided to respond to the addendum.
It is important to note that I arrived after the true police misconduct occurred, some of which is documented in the 54 second video taken by the youth present at the time.
The addendum makes it clear that the police department has still not taken responsibility for the actions of its officers; nor has the department recognized any problems with its protocols or its departmental culture. In order to move forward, the department needs to acknowledge its officers made mistakes, they must apologize for those mistakes, and they must work to ensure similar incidents do not occur.
Instead, the APD has denied making mistakes, ignored or omitted information that might put its officers’ behavior in a bad light, and misled the public about what really happened. Clearly the biggest mistake was captured on video and audio footage. Minors do have rights; in fact they are guaranteed more protections under the law than adults.
What the police report omits is that police responded to a noise complaint expecting a large college party. They arrived to find no one being loud or disturbing the peace and no large group at all. There were three youths talking quietly outside of one residence, three youths near a separate residence, and one youth outside a third residence, waiting for a tow truck, who was later joined by two of his friends after police arrived. The youths, who were at three separate houses minding their own business, were subsequently gathered into one group by Amherst Police officers, ordered to sit together on a curb, detained, told they could not call their parents, informed that they had no rights, then subsequently ordered to call their parents. Would police have responded similarly in a neighborhood of single-family homes after getting a noise complaint? Would they have gone house to house pulling young people quietly talking around a swimming pool or fire pit, from various backyards to force them to sit on a curb as if they were one large group? What if the mother of one of the youths volunteered to drive everyone home? Would the police ignore her?
That is precisely what happened July 5, but this was not a neighborhood of single family homes and the mother who offered to drive the youth home spoke Spanish, so police ignored her and continued to detain the youth (including her son). When the police report that “the officer did not perceive a language barrier,” that is an example of discrimination compounded by insensitivity and a lack of training
When I arrived and agreed to drive everyone home (once my tire was repaired), the police still stayed. The police report cited in the addendum states that “The officers remained on the scene until all the youth were in the custody of a parent or guardian,” which is simply false. The same two parents were there the whole time, from my arrival at 12:40 a.m. until 1:25 a.m. when the tow truck left and we were finally able to drive everyone home. Furthermore, there is no curfew in Amherst and no law stating that youth need to be with parents after midnight (as the original report suggests). Police stayed till after everyone had departed the scene and their decisions and the placement of their cars and lights worsened safety conditions and put pedestrians and drivers at risk.
There is a police response to the charge of racial discrimination in the Addendum that: “The six BIPOC youths were NOT treated differently than the three white youths.” In truth, they were ALL
treated badly because SOME of them were BIPOC.
I have no recording of my interactions with the Amherst Police that night. I witnessed incompetence, discrimination, bullying, and bad judgement. In the aftermath, it seems there has been departmental coverup, omission and distortion of facts, and a scramble to shield officers from accountability.
Perhaps there will be some meaningful change after the de-escalation training trains the trainers to train the officers, and the officers actually undergo such training, but I am skeptical. Change will only begin if there is recognition and acknowledgement that there is a problem.
Denial is a terrible way to create change.
William Stewart is a resident of Leverett