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City Council

I Go To City Council Meetings # 19

The council gets shamed for requesting more information from the NPD and Walmart

by Blair Gimma

On Thursday January 3, the Northampton City Council held its first meeting of the year. Approximately ten people attended.

For Context

Though very little was on the meeting agenda, a number of people showed up to speak at public comment in response to the council’s 6-3 decision in the previous December 20, 2018 meeting to send a proposal to accept a donation from Walmart to the City Services committee for further review. The donation consisted of an estimated $13,000 worth of bullets. In the previous meeting, five people spoke at public comment advocating for the council to reject the donation citing Walmart’s terrible labor practices and requesting more community input into the role that violence plays in policing.

A particular detail of the donation that concerned almost every councilor, including Councilor Bidwell who in the end did not vote to send the proposal to committee, was the fact that in light of the Councilor Klein’s independent research on the specific ammunition to be donated by Walmart, many of the bullets were ones that the NPD does not use. A number of councilors expressed that they would rather Walmart perform the labor of giving the NPD the bullets they could use rather than have the city in charge of that task. Days after the council sent the donation to committee, Police Chief Jody Kasper reported that Walmart had informed the NPD via verbal conversation that it was cancelling its offer to donate the ammunition due to public backlash.

Public Comment

Andy Trushaw who served with the NPD for 40 years told the council he took issue with the term “violence workers,” used by Attorney Dana Goldblatt in the previous city council meeting, to describe a team of responders that is equipped with weapons and allowed to use violence as a tactic to achieve its goals. “I am not nor ever have been a violence worker,” he said. He distinguished between “doing” and “dealing” saying, “Dealing with violence is part of what police do.” As he continued his advocacy for the council to accept a large amount of ammunition, he shared that violence dealing is “small part” of what police do. He continued, “Use of force in itself is not violence,” and that “police investigate violence that has occured to others.” Trushaw did not mention the recent police brutality committed against Eric Matlock by NPD officers.

Judith Fine, a former city councilor and former president of the Chamber of Commerce, said that though she once felt “safe, insulated, and protected from the horrors beyond our city,” but that recent actions by the city council have changed that sense of security. (Fine did not specify which horrors she was referring to.) Citing certain genitalia as a necessary attribute for her ideal decision maker she said, “I am appalled and disheartened by seeming lack of backbone and quite frankly balls that this body before me has displayed in the past year concerning NPD.”  She commented on the council’s recent decision to restrict surveillance cameras, dismissing the concern of many residents and councilors that houseless people would be specifically targeted by ten hi-def police surveillance cameras filming 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on Main St, saying, “After much brouhaha you rejected cameras because loiterers may be able to be viewed,” She continued, “Are you kidding me?” Though the city council as a body had no jurisdiction over Chief Kasper’s recent planned trip to Israel, Fine reprimanded them as a body for pressuring the Mayor to cancel the trip. She asked, “Where is your leadership in protecting the morale of our department?“ As she interrupted Council President Ryan O’Donnell when he told her that her three minutes were up, she asked the council to make decisions using, “Consensus, sound facts and knowledge, not emotional pleas by people with an agenda.” Fine did not mention the recent police brutality committed against Eric Matlock by NPD officers.

Natalia Munoz told the council, “I respect you but I don’t agree with what you did with this donation.” She differentiated the NPD from other departments in Staten Island or Baltimore, possibly noting those places due to the death of Eric Garner and Freddie Gray at the hands of each department. She did not mention the recent police brutality committed by the NPD against Eric Matlock. She went on to say, “I get discouraged when I hear people question integrity of NPD, as if we were dealing with monsters. Historically systemically oppressive and racist for sure.” Regarding the donation, Munoz said that Northampton should say “thank you Walmart,” and asked the O’Donnell to reach out to Walmart to reconsider.

Laurie Loisel who works for the District Attorney listed the trainings the NPD has done and praised Chief Kasper’s progressive record. “I feel there is sort of an inaccuracy going on about the NPD. I don’t think they are violence workers and I think our police department is pretty progressive.” She cited a one day anti-bias training the NPD did in 2016, the DART program, the Open Data Portal on the NPDs website, and a training on how to interact with the transgender community as examples of the exceptionalism of the NPD. (Loisel didn’t mention that the 2016 “anti-bias training” she praised didn’t have a record of any test results because officers took a take home test online. The public will never know if officers are biased. Likewise, the Open Data Portal, while a welcome step in the right direction, came without democratic oversight of the police. Kasper’s department adopted the ODP in accordance with Obama’s “Commission on 21st Century Policing.” One plank was, yes, more data transparency, but another was democratic oversight or a citizen’s commission to oversee the police, something Northampton lacks.)  “I feel like they do things to train to be better community police officers.” (It should also be noted that in her own book, in the chapter entitled, “The End of Community Policing,” Chief Kasper concludes that the community policing is an outdated model of policing considering the nation’s new concern of terrorism.) “I wish that you guys would defend them a little bit. They are working people. They must feel they don’t have any support from their elected leaders.” It should be noted that as Councilor President O’Donnell reported to the Gazette that during his tenure as councilor, with the exception of police surveillance cameras on Main St, the Northampton City Council has approved every budget request submitted in regards to the NPD. Loisel did not mention the recent police brutality committed against Eric Matlock by NPD officers.

Larry Hop shared, “I am here because I am not pleased with tenor of conversation recently.” Like Munoz, he stressed that the NPD is an exception in regards to brutality happening in other departments, “The police in what I have read and heard, they have been tarred with same brush with actions that have happened in other communities.” He went on to state that he was unclear why the council rejected the donation. (The council did not reject the donation.) He continued saying that the rejection (that did not happen) was an example of “taking political correctness too far” and asked, “Do we have a scale by which we judge every profit-making business in the city?” He conceded that Walmart has a blemished history, but went on to list other projects that have blemished histories like hospitals funded by the Koch brothers to apparently argue for…inaction (and nihilism?). He went on to accuse the council of “simplistic thinking” in its efforts to get more details about hundreds of rounds of bullets donated by a shady corporation. Hop did not mention the recent police brutality committed against Eric Matlock by NPD officers.

Dan Felton stressed the fiscal benefits of accepting the donation, “We had an opportunity to make a fiscally prudent decision and instead we turned it into a political issue.” (It should be noted that despite Councilor Nash’s request that the NPD budget be cut by $13,000 if the donation was accepted, Mayor Narkewicz vehemently rejected the idea.) Felton went on to describe Walmart, which has 11,277 stores in 27 different countries, as “a local business.” Felton did not mention the recent police brutality committed against Eric Matlock by NPD officers.

Blair noted that Walmart was located on North King St. and directed those who took issue with the withdrawal of the donation to speak to the party that withdrew the donation, not the city council.

Blair Gimma is a co-editor of The Shoestring. They are alive in Massachusetts. 

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