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Fernando Armstrong-Fumero: Sees racial double standard on disruptive behavior in Northampton

To the editor:

As the Gazette recently reported: The Northampton City Council passed a resolution citing pleasant as well as disruptive behaviors as part of a vibrant downtown, while police reacted to incidents outside of a Pleasant Street bar.

The first of these items emerged from ongoing debates regarding the behavior of predominantly white panhandlers downtown. The second has its origins in a series of late-night incidents that were reported as involving a number of people of color.

There is a telling contrast in the reporting. Panhandlers, many of whom travel here from less generous towns to make a bit of money, never lack people who defend them as “part of the community.” Yet it seems that when any incident involving people with Hispanic names is reported, someone is quick to point out that it was perpetrated by out-of-towners. Panhandling is the subject of ongoing debate, while the Pleasant Street incidents seem like they can generate pretty decisive official response.

Maybe it’s a question of the incidents on Pleasant Street being more violent and destructive than anything else that occurs in town?

I’m not so sure. Let’s not forget that a number of incidents ranging from the jump-rope assault on a 9-year-old girl to more recent robberies and property damage have been perpetrated by people who had once benefitted from this town’s generous inclusiveness.

Given how racially segregated western Massachusetts is, many of our neighbors are more likely to report activities by people of color to the police. And maybe police are just a bit more assertive in pursuing those leads than others. The troubling truth is that many of our neighbors often seem more ready to embrace diversity when it takes the form of people whose skin, language and dress are just a slightly rougher version of their own.

Fernando Armstrong-Fumero


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