By Gordon Davis
The order by a city official to arrest community activist Chris Horton at the Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast came as no surprise to me. The City of Worcester has a history of misusing its police force to solve what are social issues.
In the 1990s, then Mayor Raymond Mariano ordered the police to arrest students not in school during school hours, despite the fact that the Worcester Public Schools had truant officers who did the same job. This practice was opposed by a small group, the International Committee Against Racism, which argued police arresting children was a traumatizing event. The City leaders did not listen. The practice of the police arresting children for playing hooky was effectively stopped by a complaint made to the State Department of Labor Relations. The Hearing Officer ruled that arresting children for playing hooky was outside of the police contract.
Recently Mayor Joseph Petty and others passed an ordinance allowing the arrest of panhandlers. The proponents of the use of police force against this social issue used the pretext of “public safety.” In memory there was never anyone injured by a car while panhandling. Hundreds of people were wrongfully arrested under this ordinance. The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled the ordinances unconstitutional. The ACLU and a small group of activists, Real Solutions, opposed the unconstitutional ordinances.
Last year the Worcester City Council instructed Worcester City Manager Ed Augustus to put police officers full time in the Worcester Public Schools. The City Council and Worcester School Committee had assigned full time police officers to each of the high schools. They did this BEFORE the Safety Report was completed. They did this BEFORE the State of Massachusetts required Memorandum of Understanding was completed. It is still not completed.
There is no evidence that the Worcester Public Schools had a serious safety issue. There is no evidence that police in the schools have made any school safer today.
There is evidence that more students are being arrested at school for non-criminal activities that should be handled by the State mandated disciplinary policies found in M.G.L. Chap 222, Acts of 2012.
There is evidence that these arrests are traumatic experiences for the students and contribute to the school to jail pipeline.
Two small groups, Mass. Human Rights and the Progressive Labor Party, are opposing the arresting of students at school.
The groups are hosting a “Students’ Rights Forum” on January 30 at 1 PM at the Worcester Public Library, 3 Salem Square.
The most obvious misuse of police force was the malicious prosecution of the BlackLives Matter protestors after the Kelly Square demonstration of 2015.
There was not enough evidence for either the police or the DA to file charges. City Manager Augustus then ordered the police department to use an unauthenticated video to take to the Clerk Magistrate.
The Clerk Magistrate ruled that there was some evidence of disturbing the peace. At the trial the police sergeant said he did not see anyone at the demonstration do anything criminal. The judge has ruled that there were no criminal penalties. At this point: 3 of the 4 have been fined $100 each for disturbing the peace.
Phil Niddrie, co-chair of the MLK Jr. Breakfast, could have talked to Chris Horton BEFORE he called the police.
The so called liberals in our city government are quicker to use police force than to talk about other solutions.
In each of the events above there was an element of direct or disparate racism impact. This is especially true in the Worcester Public Schools, where thousands of students face an increased risk of arrest for non-criminal matters.
Many in the Black Community wonder aloud how did the MLK Jr. Breakfast get hijacked by the political establishment???
The use of police force to solve social problems is a sign of laziness and a lack of creativity among our city officials.
There is certainly a need to consider this when choosing who controls the police in our city.