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See Something, Say Something #15

“Winston will also work to provide comfort and support to the department’s police officers”

Defund 413 recommended a 52% decrease to the Amherst police budget. Instead, the police are getting a puppy named Winston. The dog was named as a part of a gratuitous social media stunt, where members of the community could weigh in on the name. He now sports his own Instagram account, where his handlers post pictures frequently, demonstrating the utility of Police P.R.. 

In a Gazette story, titled “Winston gets sworn in,“ reporter Michael Connors presents a human interest tale that tops the paper’s last “comfort animal” piece in terms of openly admitting how puppies protect and serve police interests. Beyond being fodder for “copaganda,” the article plainly states, “Winston could be a helpful partner in sensitive case investigations ‘where someone is apprehensive to talk to the police’”. In other words, the article clearly states that Winston is a police tool to get information — a snitch. 

Comfort animals are often presented as therapeutic. The Northampton comfort dog, Douglas, was introduced with the pretext that he would be used to talk “to kids that need someone to talk to and would benefit from the presence of a comfort dog,” such as after a traumatic event. The article about Winston, on the other hand, doesn’t entertain that justification, and instead suggests that the dog will be used to obtain information and comfort the police, noting that the dog will “provide comfort and support to the department’s police officers, ‘in good times and in bad’”. —Will Meyer

Cold cases 

“It’s never too late to solve a murder,” a feature piece on MassLive proclaims about the 1992 unsolved killing of Susan Taraskiewicz, a woman who was found in the trunk of her car at an auto body shop in eastern Mass. Embedded within the article is a 2014 video produced by the Mass State Police with bizarre production. In it, Taraskiewicz’s mother proclaims: “I am a very healthy woman, and I am not going away. You’re going to look over your shoulder until the day that I go, but I will get you.” 

But despite the heavy-handed proclamation and regurgitation of a State Police press release, MassLive didn’t report on an actual event that happened locally, when the friends and family of Jafet Robles came together on September 11th for a car parade to remember the life and demand justice for the slain social justice organizer. Robles was found murdered with gunshot wounds in Szot Park in Chicopee the morning of September 11th, 2017, and was likely killed the night before. 

A year after the murder, the police came up with a blurry picture of an SUV as their only lead. When The Shoestring reported on the case in 2018, reporter Andrea Schmid quotes Johnny Vernon, who said: 

Today marks one year [since] my brother has been murdered. You need to tell me that now, one year later, you came up with a photo of a vehicle leaving the scene. What happened to the day after the murder? What happened two days after the murder? What happened three days, four days after the murder?” 

If this was a young white girl or young white boy murder this would have been solved earlier. If this was a young man from Chicopee, they would have put more resources into the case, but because this is a young man from Springfield, they really don’t care—let Springfield deal with it. We see it every day, young black men and young Latino men being murdered on the street, and nothing being done about it.

By covering a 1992 cold case and ignoring Robles’, when there was a public event to commemorate the anniversary, MassLive is merely confirming Vernon’s suspicions. —WM

“Victim’s advocates” 

On August 11th, Boston Globe journalist Andrea Estes published an article titled “Supporters pull back after Massachusetts Bail Fund posts bond for registered sex offender who had pending rape charge.” This was a hit piece against the Massachusetts Bail Fund for bailing out someone facing sexual assault charges. The article alleges that the bail fund carelessly bailed out a man named Shawn McClinton, who then committed rape and attempted murder. Ms. Estes cites  “victim’s advocates,” as well as Attorney General Maura Healey, to discredit the Bail Fund. One of the prominent figures quoted in the article is “progressive” District Attorney Rachael Rollins, who is the first Black woman to become a DA in Massachusetts, and campaigned on reducing the use of cash bail. Rollins makes the reductionist claim that incarceration is the only means of not retraumatizing survivors and keeping them safe. Sexual assault survivors are not political pawns. We refuse to let the carceral system and its supporters use our pain and trauma to justify mean-spirited and disingenuous attacks on the Mass Bail Fund. If AG Healey and DA Rollins actually care about sexual assault survivors, they need to support work spearheaded by grassroots organizations, especially Black feminists, to build tools and structures for community-based resources to prevent sexual assault and offer support and healing for survivors. In addition to the Mass Bail Fund, organizations like Whose Corner Is It Anyway, Survived & Punished, and INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence do vital work around violence prevention and survivor support. 

As a survivor of sexual assault and a volunteer for the Mass Bail Fund, I would like to formally condemn Ms. Estes’ piece and offer my full support to the Bail Fund. Ms. Estes’ piece promotes the idea of what critics describe as carceral feminism, the notion that policing and incarceration protect women from violence. As many survivors can attest, police and incarceration can, in fact, cause and exacerbate sexual and gendered violence, particularly against those in marginalized communities. And, as legal scholar Victoria Law writes, “Casting policing and prisons as the solution to domestic violence both justifies increases to police and prison budgets and diverts attention from the cuts to programs that enable survivors to escape, such as shelters, public housing, and welfare.”

By attacking the Massachusetts Bail Fund for paying bail for someone awaiting trial for sexual assault charges, Ms. Estes’ piece does nothing to support survivors. What the article fails to acknowledge is that prisons and jails are prime sites for sexual violence and traumatization of incarcerated people. The Bail Fund’s work directly supports survivors; as Michael Cox, the Bail Fund’s administrator states: “I am a survivor of incarceration. I am a survivor of sexual violence while I was incarcerated. This myth exists that the carceral system is used to eradicate sexual violence and violence in all forms and that’s not true. We’re merely moving people around and then giving the illusion and myth that somehow those problems have gone away. They haven’t, they’ve just moved.” By positioning incarceration and policing as solutions to sexual violence, Ms. Estes’ article promulgates the dangerous idea that incarcerated survivors and survivors of sexual and gendered violence at the hands of police and correctional officers, do not matter. Furthermore, focusing on arresting and incarcerating perpetrators of violence ignores how police are disproportionately likely to commit acts of sexual or domestic violence. Statistically, police are four times more likely to commit domestic violence than any other profession. The Boston Globe itself highlighted this reality in their recent piece on the former head of the Boston police union being charged with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old child. These realities make one thing clear: survivor justice and ending sexual violence means abolishing prisons and policing. The Mass Bail Fund’s work around decarceration and making sure as many people as possible are freed from traumatic situations like prisons embodies this necessary movement. We must move towards abolitionist feminism and addressing the root causes of violence, including policing and incarceration. —Anonymous

Will Meyer is a co-editor of The Shoestring.

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