By Gordon Davis
Two days ago four Black (all) Lives Matter protesters were summoned to a Clerk Magistrate hearing at the Worcester Courthouse.
The Clerk Magistrate ruled that there was not sufficient evidence for the assertion by the City of Worcester that the four protesters were disorderly. But he did rule that there was sufficient evidence for a complaint of disturbing the peace.
The evidence presented by the City of Worcester consisted, to a larger extent, of a police report. Although mentioned in the hearing, a video was not shown. The police report is suspect, as the police were not witnesses to the protest at Kelly Square. One of the protesters, summoned to court, never entered the roadway and was at least one block away. The police report said another protester was wearing clothing he was not actually wearing. The report went on to say that the manner by which the police identified the protesters was from interviews days AFTER the protest.
The Worcester Police Department has been known for its secrecy and lack of transparency, which allows it to escape public scrutiny. It is an environment which can lead police officers to be less than truthful or unable to resist unlawful instructions from superiors.
Worcester City Manager Ed Augustus and Worcester Police Chief Gary Gemme stated in the media that they only pursued the summons after they saw a video. They ordered an investigation. Based on knowledge and belief the police report was ordered to be written by Chief Gemme and City Manager Augustus. They pressured officers to create the inconsistent and possibly false police report presented at the Clerk Magistrate hearing. It will be interesting to see how the writers of the report respond to questions under oath at the trial.
I believe the complaints brought by the City Manager and the Police Chief against the protesters are political. They both say they would withdraw the charges if and when the protesters promise not to demonstrate in the streets. A non-political complaint would not have such a condition.
There may be a violation by the City of the civil rights of the protesters. This violation is a separate violation from the issue of disturbing the peace. The City is threatening jail time and fines in order to gain a political end.
The BLM protesters have a right, under the first amendment, to protest the unjust killings of unarmed Black men in America.
The issue is whether the City Manager and Police Chief conspire to deny the protesters their first amendment rights.
The complaints have had a chilling effect on some people.
There seems to be some evidence that the City Manager and Police Chief applied pressure to some police officers to create an inconsistent and possibly false police report. This issue of conspiracy to violate civil rights should be an issue brought to the Department of Justice when it comes to Worcester. This harassment and intimidation of the protesters by the City Manager, Chief of Police and the mostly white Worcester City Council might not rise to the level of a civil rights violation, but it is something that should be investigated. It is certainly a large political mistake.
A much better way for the City of Worcester to achieve the goal of a stop to protests is to engage the protesters in honest dialogue.
It is what the protesters have been demanding. The protesters talked of increased scrutiny of the Worcester police – a civilian review board.
A civilian review board is something that seems to be needed, given the recent arrest of a Worcester police officer for civil rights violations. We hope District Attorney Joseph Early Jr. makes public the videotape of the Worcester police officer allegedly beating the man – in a Worcester police holding cell – sooner rather than later. It is public record and the public has a right to see/know. Most likely city officials fear the video will be like so many videos that have gone viral over the past year in America. It will inflame passions.
It is not their job to control how the public will react to public information.