Groups host festival in support of divesting from police

  • Ashwin Ravikumar of Northampton Abolition Now helps kick off a slate of speakers, testimonials, and performances for the "Spring into Abolition Festival" at Pulaski Park, Sunday in Northampton, MA. Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2021

  • Northampton Abolition Now and other community organizations joined forces at Pulaski Park Sunday for a "Spring into Abolition Festival," promoting divestment from policing in favor of community-led safety. Aya Mares, of Decarcerate Western Mass, reads to the crowd during the festival in Northampton, MA. Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2021

  • Javier Luengo-Garrido sings a song for the crowd at the “Spring into Abolition Festival” at Pulaski Park, Sunday in Northampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

Staff Writer
Published: 4/18/2021 7:50:54 PM

NORTHAMPTON — In traveling to Pulaski Park on Sunday, Ashwin Ravikumar, a volunteer with Northampton Abolition Now, said he noticed signs of new life, like cherry blossom trees.

But, the joy of spring was “muted by the rage I feel,” he told a crowd of about 100 people gathered in the downtown park on Sunday for the Spring into Abolition Festival. Ravikumar spoke about Daunte Wright, a Black man shot by the police at a traffic stop in Minnesota last week, and the killing of Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old recently shot by the police, “in Chicago — a city I call home.”

Ravikumar asked the crowd, “Are the Northampton Police miraculously an exception to these patterns?” The group shouted in return, “no.”

But, Ravikumar said, “here in Northampton, we have a tremendous opportunity.” He called on the city to create a new Department of Community Care that is independent from the Police Department.

That was the top recommendation from the city’s Policing Review Commission report, released last month. The commission recommended that the city create the new department to respond to some 911 calls, like sending peer responders to mental health and substance use crises.

Around the park Sunday afternoon, organizations sat at tables with signs and flyers talking to people about their work. Groups included Northampton Abolition Now, the Trans Asylum Seeker Support Network, A Knee is Not Enough, Touch the Sky, and the Wildflower Alliance.

“A growing number of cities across the United States are transforming their municipal budgets to reduce their reliance on police and move towards meeting the real needs of people in their communities,” a statement from the groups organizing the event read.

In Northampton, Mayor David Narkewicz is slated to present his proposed budget in mid-May, “one week before the first anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by police,” the statement reads. “We have a historic opportunity, right now, to win a concrete local victory in defense of Black Lives by divesting from policing and investing in a bold new vision of community safety in Northampton.”

At the event, a number of activists from different organizations spoke. Aya Mares, a member of Decarcerate Western Massachusetts, read a poem written by Josh, who Mares said is incarcerated in the Hampden County Jail. Mares read Josh’s writing about the difficulty of re-entering society after incarceration. “There’s no such thing as rehabilitation here.”

Before Javier Luengo-Garrido, a member of the city’s Policing Review Commission, played the guitar and sang, he spoke to the crowd. The Department of Community Care must be “accountable to those it serves and led by those it serves,” he said. “There is no other way.”

Alternatives to the police, “need to be peer-led,” said Ya-Ping Douglass, a member of Northampton Abolition Now. She told the crowd about the group’s demands, which include reallocating the more than $800,000 cut from the police department budget last year, creating a department of Community Care, and cutting the Police Fepartment budget by 50% and reallocating the funding.

Douglass encouraged people to contact the mayor and City Council, and said the group plans to do door-to-door canvassing soon.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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