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Northampton’s decision to end High-Five Friday spins into media frenzy; Bill O’Reilly says ‘toughen up’ Northampton



@JackSuntrup
Thursday, February 23, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — Bill O’Reilly looked straight into the camera.

“Why don’t you toughen up out there in Northampton, alright?” the Fox News host said Wednesday night. “If you didn’t have the cops the place would be overrun.”

Conservative media far and wide have latched on to the “High-Five Friday” controversy broiling here. Last week, Police Chief Jody Kasper and Superintendent John Provost opted to suspend the short-lived program, where police would visit a different school each week to high-five kids, amid concerns from some parents that a police presence at school would make some students uncomfortable.

Some parents also voiced concerns about the rollout of the program, saying there wasn’t an opportunity to weigh in before High-Five Friday was implemented.

Since an anonymous blogger first wrote about High-Five Friday last weekend, the story has snowballed — first attracting the attention of local Facebook commenters, then the local media, then everyone else.

Some critics have hurled pejoratives Northampton’s way, calling those with concerns “snowflakes” and “social justice warriors” who need “safe spaces.”

O’Reilly joked that the principal and school board should be arrested and given high-fives in handcuffs.

“Northampton, Massachusets everybody. Not on my vacation dance card,” O’Reilly said.

Other critics just want to know why the city did away with a police outreach program — the kind of program critics of police departments have pushed for since controversial officer-involved shootings in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore and elsewhere.

“Insanity,” said radio host Charlie Brennan, who works for CBS affiliate KMOX in St. Louis. “Everyone talks about how the police have to reach out and walk the beat and get out of the patrol car and interact with the kids. Here they’re doing that and people were concerned about the undocumented children.

“Folks, this is why Donald Trump’s gonna get re-elected,” he said Tuesday. “Stories like this.”

Critiques aren’t limited to conservatives. Massachusetts Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, weighed in Wednesday. He would not opine to the Gazette about whether the program should have been suspended, saying he didn’t have enough information, but still said he was “puzzled” by the move.

“It’s so interesting how often adults sort of project their problems and their whatevers onto the children as opposed to just letting things sort out naturally,” he told the Boston Herald. “There isn’t a child getting off that bus who shouldn’t learn and understand that the police are there to help.”

Other outlets, including CBS and ABC, have taken notice. The New York Times wrote Tuesday that controversy swirling around High-Five Friday “roiled” Northampton. A Gazette reporter was asked about the events on HLN, a sister network of CNN, on Thursday.

Police Chief Jody Kasper chuckled when asked if she was surprised that the story had taken off.

“Yes,” she said. Local and national coverage has implied two points, she said — that the police department is no longer committed to youth outreach (it is) and that there’s “some sort of rift” between the school district and the police department (there isn’t).

“I think we all know that this isn’t a story about police officers giving high-fives,” she said. “Issues of race and politics have entered into this story.”

Mayor David Narkewicz, who serves as chairman of the School Committee, said he wasn’t surprised the story took off the way it did.

“I guess nothing should surprise me anymore in the era that we live in,” he said.

He said the way the story was first presented made it inherently political.

“You have to start with how this story got launched by the blogger-who-shall-not-be named,” Narkewicz said, referring to Turtle Boy Sports, the anonymous blogger who wrote on the issue last Friday.

That first post was “laced in misogyny, homophobia, outright racism, frankly,” Narkewicz said, setting the story up to spiral.

The negative attention — and the tweets and Facebook messages — won’t cause Narkewicz to abandon support of Kasper and Provost, he said.

“I’m not going to lose any sleep over it,” he said, referring to O’Reilly’s piece.

Jack Suntrup can be reached at jsuntrup@gazettenet.com.