By Gordon T. Davis
There were a few surprises at the Worcester City Council meeting on January 13, 2015.
Worcester City Manager Ed Augustus spoke a few words about the good things being done by the City of Worcester to resolve issues. He said these efforts were not well known. He said the next class of City of Worcester police officers was half “minority.”
The surprise is not that what the City is doing is unknown to residents, but that City Manager Augustus spoke at all. He has been an absent voice.
When, during the city council meeting, the Black Lives Matter people rose up singing and walked out after the passage of Worcester City Councillor Konstantina Luke’s community-splitting resolution, that moment was a surprise.
As the Black Lives Matter folks were leaving the city council chambers, Worcester Mayor Joe Petty thanked them for their input. This was an interesting surprise, as it showed that there are people in the City who do not see themselves as interlocutors between the people and the powers that be.
Indirectly related to the events in Worcester: the blockade of I-93.
It is a surprise to many how much energy this issue of police accountability is generating. It should not be a surprise if this actually becomes a new American Civil Rights Movement. And Worcester is 20 paces behind.
It was not a surprise that the Worcester City Council voted for Councillor Lukes’ resolution to support the police unconditionally and at the same time bash the Black Lives Matter protesters.
It was something of a surprise that two City Councillors voted against it. This might have been a Profile in Courage moment in their political lives. Their votes might affect their political careers. I think City Councillor Rivera is fairly safe and will get reelected. She is a District Councillor in a district that likely supports better police accountability. The same cannot be said for At Large City Councillor Rushton. He may pay a price at the polls for his political courage.
Before the Worcester City Council meeting it was reported that the Mayor sought some compromise either from Councillor Lukes or from the so called minority communities, or both.
Councillor Lukes was at one time a reasonable person and would have compromised, but her personality has changed within the last few years. She refused to change one single word of her resolution. This was not a surprise.
In a meeting with the so called minority communities Councillor Rivera came up with wording that softened Councillor Lukes’ resolution and a decision was made to make the new wording a friendly amendment. This was surprising, as Councillor actually went out on a limb for previously marginalized communities.
A group of protesters and residents spoke against Councillor Lukes’ resolution. This was not a surprise, given the numerous protests that have continued since the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Councillor Luke’s reactions to the Black Lives Matter protesters were a surprise. She became very emotional and said police could not help her drive out trouble makers who live near her property in the Canal District. She never made clear the connection between her resolution and the trouble in her Canal District property.
Councillor Lukes sounded distraught when Mayor Petty came to her rescue by telling the audience that she deserved respect.
It was not surprising that Councillor Gaffney – some people say he is a member of the Tea Party – gave a “I am not a racist “ apology for voting with Councillor Lukes. Gaffney spoke on how he had to work hard to get where he is. He went to school at Worcester State College and worked a full-time job at the same time. Like Councillor Lukes getting distraught over crime in the Canal District, the connection between Gaffney’s hard work and the black experience – and Lukes’ resolution – was unclear.
It was not a surprise when Mayor Petty would not allow the friendly amendment written by Councillor Rivera to come to a vote.
Instead, he bowed to the wishes of Councilor Lukes.
The Mayor allowed Councillor Rivera’s amendment to be voted on as a separate resolution. It was not a surprise that City Councillors seeking political cover voted for this separate resolution.