Report On The Meeting Of The Amherst Human Rights Commission, Wednesday, March 22, 2023
Philip Avila (co-chair), Rani Parker, Tyler Matsuo, and Juliana Shepard, Liz Haygood.
Staff: Pamela Young (Director of the Department of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) (DEI) and Jennifer Moyston (Assistant Director of DEI and staff liaison for the Human Rights Commission)
The meeting was held on Zoom and was recorded. The recording can be viewed here. The number of members of the public present was not reported.
The meeting was called to order by Philip Avila, who asked for Public Comment, but moved on to Member Reports when no members of the public requested to comment. Liz Haygood started off by reporting back from the meeting she and Avila had both attended with the Affordable Housing Trust. Haygood stated that the Trust will hold a listening session on May 4, during which both residents and non-residents can come discuss living conditions and cost of living in Amherst. Haygood explained that it is important for non-residents who may work in Amherst but cannot afford to live in town to attend the event to represent their perspectives on the issue.
Avila reported to the group that another listening session will happen this Saturday, March 25, with the Community Responders for Equity, Safety, and Service (CRESS) department in the Town Room, in Town Hall, at 2 p.m..
Next on the agenda was a joint discussion with the Community Safety and Social Justice Committee (CSSJC) on the most recent Town Manager Report published on March 6. Present were Allegra Clark, Demetria (Dee) Shabbazz, Freke Ette, Deborah Ferreira, and Pat Ononibaku.
Ononibaku started off the conversation by reminding those present of the July 5th “Amherst 9” incident, stating that she has yet to see resolution of the controversial climate it has created here. She reminded everyone that while the Town Manager has issued an apology, the chief of police has yet to do the same. Ononibaku also stated that she would like to see the report generated by the Community Safety Working Group (CSWG) in 2021 included in town discussions of community safety.
Rani Parker agreed, and added that although the Town Manager Report’s section on community visioning was a good start, she feels that the report largely limits itself to what has already been done, and does not address the work that still needs to happen. Parker also stated that she would hope for more community engagement as well as and collaboration between the experts outlined and “everyday people” than what the Manager’s Report describes, Furthermore, Parker said, she would like a review of the decision-making process for deciding when CRESS should address a call and when the Amherst Police Department should.
Allegra Clark noted that the Manager’s Report calls for an outside consultant to do research that the town claims it needs, but the Community Safety Working Group (CSWG) has already done much of it. She shared her concern that this research would become “pro-police” instead of the “pro-accountability” position that the CSWG worked from. Additionally, Clark took issue with the description of CRESS as “fully funded and staffed”. She explained that the original plan was for CRESS to be operational 24/7, which it currently is not funded and staffed for. Lastly, Clark questioned why the BIPOC Youth Cultural Center was placed on the Recreation Department section of the report, rather than the DEI. She added that she believes there should be more youth representation in the planning of that project.
Tyler Matsuo emphasized the need for community engagement, also expressing concern over hiring an outside consultant who may not be familiar with the specific needs of the Amherst community.
Deborah Ferreira added that along with community engagement there should be more outreach efforts to include marginalized Amherst residents. Redoing the research that was already done by the CSWG in 2021 is just another way for the town to stall on actually implementing projects such as the Resident Oversight Board, she said.
Closing out the conversation, both Fereirra and Dee Shabbazz emphasized the need for translational services to ensure that all Amherst residents can voice their needs, not just the English-speaking residents.
The two committees then moved on to discuss their upcoming meeting with the Town Council, which they have proposed for April 24. Ononibaku suggested that the Town Council clear all items other than public comment for that meeting, so that the HRC and CCSJC can have adequate time to present their report to the Council and go over the specific items in the report, as well as how the items fit into the FY24 budget.
The two committees agreed to have a joint meeting on April 2 to review their report and ensure that they are prepared to present it to the Town Council. At this point members of CSSJC left the meeting and the HRC went on to discuss the bylaws project they are currently working on. Avila, Matsuo, and Parker stated that they have submitted their recommendations for language changes to DEI.
Juliana Shepard updated the group on the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) celebration, which will be held on May 7, with more details to come.
Lastly, it was decided that the Youth Hero Award ceremony will happen on June 10, and will be accompanied by a basketball tournament.