Town Manager Indicates He Will Not Reappoint Social Justice Committee Co-Chair


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Report on the Meeting of the Community Safety and Social Justice Committee (CSSJC), June 12, 2024

The meeting was held over Zoom and was recorded.

Present: Debora Ferreira (Co-chair), Allegra Clark (Co-Chair), Everald Henry. Absent: Isabella Malmqvist and Lissette Paredes. The committee currently has two vacancies.

Staff: Camille Theriaque (Director CRESS)

The number of members of the public in attendance was not announced. 

The meeting was held without the presence of a quorum. Co-Chair Allegra Clark determined that it was permissible for the committee to meet but that no official actions/votes could take place.

There was no packet posted for this meeting. The last posted packet for the CSSJC was for the meeting of April 10, 2024.

Member Reports
Debora Ferreira reported that her term on the committee ends on June 30 and that she began corresponding with Town Manager Paul Bockelman in early March concerning her reappointment. Bockleman informed her in an email dated June 10 that he did not intend to reappoint her to the committee because he tries to limit people to two consecutive terms of service on any committee and that he considers her previous service on the Community Safety Working Group, the body that preceded the creation of the CSSJC, to be the equivalent of service on the CSSJC.

Debora Ferreira

Ferreira disputed Bockelman’s interpretation of her time of service with the CSWG, noting that the CSWG was designated as a working group, not a town committee, and said that she is seeking reappointment for a second term of service with the CSSJC. She also noted that there are plentiful examples of Amherst residents who have served for more than two terms on various committees.

Ferreira described Bockelman’s refusal to reappoint her as retributive, noting that they had strong disagreements on a number of issues concerning social justice and the needs of Amherst’s BIPOC residents. Most recently, Ferreira protested the temporary leadership team that was appointed to oversee the town’s alternative community responder service (CRESS) while they were searching for a new director; Ferreira fiercely objected to a police officer serving on the interim leadership team and to the team holding meetings at the Amherst Police Department, noting that CRESS was established as an alternative to the police and should operate free of police involvement. She had expressed worry that the interim leadership team and the town manager had been moving CRESS away from its original mission, envisioned by the CSWG as providing unarmed responders who would be especially sensitive to fears of the police in the BIPOC community. She has also objected to the many delays in creating a Community Oversight Board for the Amherst Police Department and the demands for more consulting on that initiative when CSWG had already done extensive background research and consulting in collaboration with the Law Enforcement Action Partnership more than three years ago. 

Ferriera said that she increasingly found herself speaking out about the needs of BIPOC residents of Amherst, needs that she felt were being ignored or minimized in efforts to move CRESS in a new direction and to protect the police from resident oversight and accountability.

Ferriera indicated that in response to her protests about not being reappointed, Bockelman offered to allow her to remain on the committee until he can appoint her replacement later in the summer. She said that this is not acceptable and that, given the many incomplete initiatives before the committee and the fact that there are already two vacancies, populating half the committee with new members would hinder the ongoing committee efforts to support CRESS in its original mission, as well as to establish teen resources, protect efforts to address the unmet needs of BIPOC students in the Amherst schools, and to provide police oversight. She concluded, “The committee needs people who look like me — and I have demonstrated that I am willing to give the necessary time and investment in spite of significant personal obligations, being a single mom with care duties for an elderly parent. To me this feels retaliatory because I have been outspoken on behalf of things that need to be addressed in this town.”

Ferreira added that she has received an outpouring of support from people throughout the community who reported that they have been writing to the town manager to protest her non-reappointment, especially with so many outstanding issues impacting BIPOC residents before the committee.

UMass Arrests
Allegra Clark reported on inquires she had made about the participation of Amherst police in the violent arrests of UMass student on the UMass Campus on May 7 amid peaceful pro-Palestine antiwar protests (see also here). She said that she had reached out to Bockelman shortly after the arrests because several residents had reached out to her and the CSSJC because of concerns over the level of brutality that had been observed.

She said that Bockelman’s memo in response to her inquiries reported that the Amherst Police Department (APD) had initially only provided a police van to the campus police but that later in the day, six APD officers had been dispatched to the campus in response to a request for mutual aid from the UMass police. The Amherst police officers, he wrote, had served on the perimeter of the police action but were not involved in any arrests. Clark added that the new APD chief, Gabe Ting, will attend the July CSSJC meeting to take questions.

Clark reported that she has requested a copy of the mutual aid agreement between the town and UMass, but has not yet received it.

Committee Vacancies
Clark reported that there are currently two vacancies on the CSSJC. One is for a youth member, a position that has been left open since the formation  of the committee, and the other is the seat formerly held by recently elected Town Councilor Freke Ette (District 1). Bockelman has not indicated a timeline for filling these vacancies.

Public Comment
Fourteen people offered public comment. Twelve people objected to the Town Manager’s intention not to renew the appointment of Ferreira and testified about her skilled leadership and integrity, as well as to the importance of having BIPOC representation in matters of public safety and social justice to the ongoing work of the committee .

Those testifying in support of Ferreira’s continued service on the committee were: Tem Blessed, Vira Douangmany Cage, Brianna Owen, Pat Ononibaku, Amber Cano-Martin, Nadine Mazard, Linda Ziegenbein, Philip Avila, Evelin Aquino, Amilcar Shabazz and Town Councilor Ellisha Walker (at large). Walker and Owen were co-chairs of the CSWG. Avila is a former member of the CSSJC and the former co-chair of the town’s Human Rights Commission. Ononibaku is a former member of the CSSJC.

Walker also commented on CRESS noting that “The main purpose of CRESS is to be alternative to the APD and to especially serve those members of the community whose needs are not being met by the APD  or who are unable to have any trust in the APD.   This is the main point that came out of the CSWG’s work.  Let’s be careful not to lose sight of this.”

Shabazz invited the community to join the Black Business Association of Amherst Area for their annual Juneteenth celebration at Mill River Recreation Area on June 19 from 1-4 p.m.

Martha Hanner announced that the League of Women Voters Amherst will sponsor a welcome reception for the new CRESS director at Mill River Recreation Area on June 30.  Many of the CRESS responders will be there as will new APD Chief Gabe Ting.

An unidentified speaker, asserting confidentiality as a victim of domestic violence, claimed that they had been denied services by the Amherst Survival Center in violation of the law and have filed a complaint with the state. They read a prepared statement into the record.

DEI Update 
Camille Theriaque, the new Director of CRESS, read a report from office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Director Pamela Nolan Young about the responses to their requests for proposal for technical assistance for the development of a Resident Oversight Board for the Amherst police.

According to Young’s report, DEI will offer limited youth programming this fall even though it is not under the department’s purview. 

CRESS Update
Theriaque also provided an update on the CRESS program. She reported that CRESS responded to 73 calls in April and 135 calls in May. The vast majority of those calls were either made directly to CRESS or were a result of public encounters; and did not come through town dispatch. She explained that people do not want to call the police, and the uptick in direct calls to CRESS is a result of CRESS being more visible now, with more people becoming aware that they can call them directly.  Among other efforts to raise visibility, she said that CRESS has been maintaining a presence every Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market, reaching out there and meeting members of the community.

She reported that the town is currently working with the Government Performance Lab at Harvard to finalize standard operating procedures (SOP) for the town’s dispatch center. She said she expects them to be ready for implementation in the next few weeks.

Everald Henry asked if any calls to the APD had been forwarded to CRESS. Theriaique said she doesn’t know because no one in CRESS is certified yet to review the call logs at dispatch, although certification  is in the works. She reported that she has been working with Police Chief Gabriel Ting and is about to complete the SOPs. She noted that when she came on board, there were no Standard Operating Procedures for dispatchers with respect to CRESS.

Henry asked if she thinks CRESS is able to fulfill its original mission. She replied, “I do, though there is much work to be done. We’re now reviewing resumes for a [grant-funded] administrative assistant. We are providing services to all kinds of needs. We are working on de-escalation. We’re getting more calls directly.”

Ferreira wanted to know more about plans for youth empowerment. If youth empowerment  is not the purview of DEI, she asked, where is its home?  She mentioned that Jennifer Moyston,had taken on responsibility for youth empowerment initiatives when she was the assistant director of DEI. . Theriaque responded that the town’s recreation department has received a $500,000 grant for youth programing, and perhaps the responsibility was shifting to that department.

Ferreira also asked whether CRESS is looking for an assistant director, something that CSSJC has emphasized as essential to make the department sustainable. Theriaque responded that there is no funding for an assistant director in the budget. 

Ferreira noted that she has heard from people in the community who are worried about CRESS becoming a co-responder agency in partnership with the APD. Theriaque responded that she has not heard anything of that sort and that her vision of CRESS is as an independent agency.

Clark expressed concern about recent CRESS service in the schools, including CRESS responders working in the high school cafeteria. She worried that CRESS will come to be seen as a stop gap measure helping the schools’ fill positions that have been reduced or eliminated  because of  the budget crisis, including the entire restorative justice program. 

Theriaque said that she has been clear with school administrators that CRESS responders in the schools are on-call as responders and cannot be relied on to provide stop-gap services.

Next meeting
The next meeting of the CSSJC will be on July 10. Ferreria asked that clarifying the state of youth empowerment initiatives be placed on the agenda.

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