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Editorial: Monday Mix on tweets, tensions and cops at school

  • A sign at the Starbucks in Amherst has been damaged and is in need of repair, Town Manager Paul Bockelman posted April 24 on Twitter. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO


Sunday, May 07, 2017

OK, it might be an overstatement to say that President Donald Trump has met his Twitter match in Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman. But when Bockelman took to the Twitterverse recently to chide Starbucks, he made creative use of this 21st-century soapbox.

Trump has stirred both admiration and derision for his tweets making indelicate foreign policy statements, bragging about his (crowd) size and slamming his political enemies. Political leaders, journalists and citizens have grown accustomed to having their morning coffee over the latest dispatch from Trump’s itchy finger.

Bockelman (@Amherst_Paul) is generally more pedestrian in his online bursts, writing or retweeting on such topics as the Amherst Survival Center, Town Meeting and the Amherst Sustainability Festival. But on April 24, he took direct aim at the giant coffee chain.

Walking through downtown, Bockelman noticed that the circular sign marking the Starbucks at 71 North Pleasant St. was broken. Instead of carrying the familiar image of a white mermaid on green background, the sign featured an empty interior and dangling wires on one side.

Unable to get an answer on when the sign would be fixed from local Starbucks staffers, Bockelman tweeted his mind. “Hey @Starbucks. How long before you fix this broken sign at the center of @TownOfAmherst?” he wrote. “It’s been weeks.”

If the corporate response was a cup of joe, we’d send it back for being stone cold. A Starbucks spokesperson said that the sign should be fixed … uh, soon.

***

One of the beauties of Easthampton is its economic and social diversity. Affordable homes and storefronts, rejuvenated mill buildings and a blend of blue-collar, white-collar and artistic residents make for a lively and ever-changing cityscape.

But with that diversity have come some of the tensions over race and class that increasingly roil and define a changing America.

While the neighboring communities of Northampton and Amherst easily declared themselves “sanctuary cities” for undocumented immigrants, Easthampton residents engaged in a sometimes nasty debate and arrived at zero consensus. More recently, students, parents and teachers have reported a long list of incidents involving alleged racial slurs, swastikas and other types of harassment at Easthampton High.

Some parents accused Principal Kevin Burke of turning a blind eye to the problems, calling for a full investigation. They recently provided school, city and law enforcement officials with a detailed list of alleged incidents, all based on unnamed sources. We’re happy to see that officials are taking those reports seriously, but also handling them with appropriate care.

School officials have asked students and others with direct knowledge of incidents to come forward, and they have retained the respected Collaborative for Educational Services to gather facts and present recommendations by the end of May. They have pledged to keep student identities confidential, an important measure.

It shouldn’t have taken a public outcry to draw official attention to what appear to be deep-seated issues at the school, but we credit officials with taking the necessary steps to define the problem and address it. More than likely, the hateful behavior is limited to a small group at the school.

But any hate poisons the entire community, and the community — students, teachers, administrators, parents and elected officials — must not rest until it’s wiped away.

***

In Northampton, officials also have taken a good step toward resolving a controversy in the schools. After plans to break down barriers between kids and cops with a High-Five Friday program divided the community and made national headlines earlier this year, school and police officials settled on a promising — if modest — alternative.

In addition to his regular patrol duties, Officer Douglas Dobson will serve as the police liaison to the city’s four elementary schools. The officer will spend an hour or more weekly at each of the schools, providing a regular presence in a way tailored to each school’s needs.

While the idea of having cops give kids high fives on the way into class was well-meant, it also raised anxieties among families where children had fears of police officers rooted in personal experience, racial tensions and cultural turmoil.

If all goes as planned, Dobson will become an increasingly familiar and comfortable presence, showing the children that while police sometimes have to get tough, they can also be a friendly force.