Easthampton residents seek transparency on police

  • A man attending the 01027: A Knee is Not Enough rally in Easthampton’s Pulaski Park holds a list of names of Black lives lost to police violence as he listens to a speaker addressing the rally from the park’s gazebo on Aug. 1. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • About 200 people march down Main Street in Easthampton toward the police station during a rally organized by the group 01027: A Knee Is Not Enough on Aug. 1. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/18/2021 8:11:15 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Amid tensions between officials and activists regarding how the city has handled police reform, residents speaking at a Wednesday night City Council meeting called for “a direct answer” to whether any members of the Easthampton Police Department participated in the Capitol insurrection in January.

Several residents spoke during the meeting’s public comment period to ask for an answer to this question, though Mayor Nicole LaChapelle told the Gazette that she feels she has addressed these concerns.

Days after the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, Easthampton racial justice organization A Knee is Not Enough (AKINE) asked for the City Council to confirm that members of the Easthampton Police Department did not participate in the attack on the Capitol.

In response to a Gazette inquiry, Easthampton Police Chief Robert Alberti provided a Jan. 15 email from LaChapelle to city councilors and School Committee members in which the mayor said she had not received “any reports or credible information indicating that a city employee engaged in the unlawful events in Washington, D.C., on January 6.”

“Additionally, no city employee has filed a travel form notifying the city that they traveled out of state to Washington D.C., as required under COVID-19 policies,” she continued, adding that “credible evidence of wrongdoing by any city employee” would prompt an investigation and disciplinary action, including termination if an employee did go to D.C. and break the law.

But members of AKINE say that they have not received an answer to their question from city or police officials and called for greater transparency from the city. Representatives from AKINE did not reply to requests for comment this week.

LaChapelle said that for “individuals who have asked that question, I’ve answered very truthfully.”

An employee could possibly break this policy without informing the city, LaChapelle said, but she noted that if an employee broke federal laws by participating in insurrection, the investigation would fall under federal jurisdiction, rather than the city’s.

Kae Collins, who attended the Wednesday night City Council meeting as a city resident and member of AKINE, questioned if the grassroots group “is being singled out as a needlessly disruptive force unworthy of response,” rather than a group of constituents “giving their time and labor to bring to light inequity in our city.”

City Councilor Homar Gomez said he believes that a resolution the council passed in January condemning the Capitol insurrection addresses many of AKINE’s concerns about officers attending, though he recognized that some people want a more detailed answer.

“I don’t know if the resolution was good enough for them,” Gomez said, adding, “I think we should give them the information that they need, because in the end, I think we should be transparent to everybody.”

Pledge Work Group

Jason Montgomery, who co-founded A Knee is Not Enough but has since left the group, said he also feels that LaChapelle and the city have not made meaningful efforts to change police policy, in contrast with their stated public commitment to this issue.

Montgomery was previously a member of the Mayor’s Pledge Work Group, which was established over the summer to review use-of-force policies and develop recommendations for reforming police practices. Montgomery had a “seethingly problematic” experience with the group, he said, stating that police did not provide members with requested information.

Montgomery, who is Chicano and Indigenous Californian, said he resigned from the group shortly after LaChapelle told him during a work group meeting that he scares her.

LaChapelle made the comment at a meeting following what Montgomery described as “an emotional argument between myself and another member of the group.” As a brown man who has previously been harassed for engaging in advocacy work in Easthampton, Montgomery felt that with this comment, LaChapelle “might as well have painted a bull’s-eye on my back.”

LaChapelle did not deny the interaction with Montgomery, stating that she recognizes that while the argument drew from “deep, deep grief of hundreds of years of oppression of his people,” she and other members of the group witnessed angry outbursts by Montgomery.

Gomez, who is also part of the Mayor’s Pledge Work Group, said he thinks that the group has been able to obtain information it has asked for, though inquiries sometimes require follow-up and working through other protocols. But this information may not be as detailed as what some members of the public have asked for, Gomez noted.

“Probably, we should respond more adequately and more quickly to any group when they’re asking for information,” Gomez said. “I think the city officials and the elected officials have been answering — I don ‘t know if that’s as quick or accurate as any particular group wants. Probably we have to fix that, and probably have to do be more clear in our answers to some particular issues.”

The Mayor’s Pledge Work Group plans to have its report and suggestions for reform ready by the end of the month.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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