Tag Archives: police misconduct

Lincoln Square 6/20 – Some thoughts on our police force after participating in the First Responders’ Lives Matter rally

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Balloons at Lincoln Square …

By Ron O’Clair

I was honored to have attended and participated in the “First Responders’ Lives Matter Rally” held at the World War I monument at Lincoln Square, Saturday, June 20, from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

I stayed nearly an hour holding signs and supporting our men and women here in Worcester and the surrounding communities who go out of their way to help people – often at the risk of their own safety and well being.

I believe it is important to support our local police, fire and emergency medical services personnel.

I believe strongly that Worcester is more fortunate than many other communities throughout our country where there have been many cases of misconduct. Sure, we have a certain degree of problems with official misconduct being ignored and actually having been covered up by a corrupt system that long held sway here, in the second largest City in New England. Worcester was once a hotbed of political cronyism, outrageous nepotism and flagrant disregard for the rights of the accused to be treated as innocent until proven guilty. But I believe Worcester has been making progress …

The recent events, such as the arrest and conviction of one former Worcester police officer for rape and indecent assault, and the arrest of another Worcester police officer for mistreating a prisoner and using racial epithets can only serve to make our Worcester Police Department more aware of the consequences of using the authority vested in each officer improperly and that this can lead to consequences.

I have personally been mistreated by the police in the past myself, but I cling to the belief that as imperfect as it can be, our system is the only thing preventing us from becoming another battleground like Ferguson or Baltimore.

It is important that we support the police, the fire, and the emergency medical services people, and if we have grievances, we need to address them through the proper channels.

To this end, I believe that there should be more effective means for aggrieved citizens to have their concerns addressed fairly and impartially.

The current process leaves a lot to be desired, such as the case in which I reported a police officer for an unprovoked physical attack upon my person to the Bureau of Professional Standards of the Worcester Police, only to have the complaint dismissed as “unfounded” or “not sustained” – even though in that case another police officer witnessed the offending officer assaulting me.

The “Blue Wall” of silence needs to be reviewed.

I would have been sufficiently content with a simple apology on behalf of the officer who transgressed upon me as I understand the stress they operate under.

When and if you find yourself in the position of having your rights violated, or taken for granted, the best course of action would be to endure the mistreatment and make a complaint later.

It is not wise to antagonize, or argue with an officer, which will just lead to more, and worse mistreatment.

On the whole, I am optimistic that Worcester has come a long way to address these issues, and to ensure that the trend continues so that all citizens are treated equally under the law, providing that they are law-abiding citizens and not criminals engaged in criminal activity who resist arrest when apprehended.

In those cases, if you get hurt by failure to obey the lawful commands of an officer of the law, what results is your own damned fault, and I have no sympathy for you.

A few surprises at the January 13 Worcester City Council meeting

walk_outsingingWalking out singing …

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.

 

Public Review of the Worcester Police

By Gordon T. Davis

The rebellions in Ferguson, MO, regarding the killing of Michael Brown by the police have been the cause of some talk about a civilian review board for the police in Worcester.

A civilian review board is good public policy, as all public agencies need an effective periodic review of their work.  Police misconduct is an indication of the effectiveness of Worcester policing and law enforcement. There is today no real review of the Worcester Police Department’s work, whether that work is useful, ineffectual, or bad failure. There are no meaningful statistics collected or kept, and what information is kept is not available to the public.  Who can say if there is racial profiling or other type of bad policing happening?

The City Manager in theory reviews the work of the police department, but as we know from the past such reviews by the Manager are just rubber stamping of what the police Chief provides to the Manager. The Manager is supposed to be the “civilian review” of the police. He objectively is not.

We in the public are not able to have an objective opinion of the work or failings of the Worcester Police, as we just don’t have enough information or transparency.

I went to a Worcester Human Rights Commission meeting recently, and the good people there were reviewing a quarterly report of complaints brought against the Worcester Police. The report was cryptic, part of it being in code. The code was for the type of complaint. The Commissioners had a hard time with the report. Even if they could have figured it out, the Worcester Human Rights Commission could not release their findings without the permission of the Manager.

To be effective, a review of the police should be independent and free of conflicts of interests. The City Manager is certainly conflicted about anything negative about his administration.

Before going further I need to make full disclosures: I have been arrested four times, I have worked on the Justice for Cristino Hernandez Committee, I have relatives who are police officers, and I know that many cops are good people. I have an open mind on the issues.

In Worcester, public review of the police will take a form that might be different from anything else. Certainly it would be different than the Civilian Review Board found in Cambridge, MA. Worcester once had that type of review board which was a part of the Worcester Human Rights Commission. It had the power to investigate complaints against the City of Worcester. In the 1980s the Police Department rammed through a charter change that prevented the Worcester Human Rights Commission from investigating any complaints against the City. The commission cannot issue ANY report of any type without the approval of the City Manager.

The review of the police in Worcester will likely take the form of a nongovernmental agency that takes complaints against the police, helps complainants with their cases, and issues reports. To some extent these needs were performed by the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, when Ron Madnick was executive director. It still does work in this area, recently winning a case against the City in Federal Court. Chris Robarge and the attorney Beverly Chorbajian were significant protagonists for the plaintiffs, but that is a story for another day.

Hopefully, the talk of a public review of the police precipitated by the rebellions in Ferguson will result in the good public policy of civilian review of the police in Worcester, a rational outcome of the repeating story of Ferguson, MO.