Amherst social justice panel proposes fund to compensate victims of ‘police harassment’

  • Amherst Town Hall FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/1/2022 6:55:39 PM

AMHERST — A victim compensation fund, through which the town of Amherst might provide individuals money based on certain negative interactions with its law enforcement professionals, is being recommended to the Town Council by a newly formed panel.

The Community Safety and Social Justice Committee, a successor to the Community Safety Working Group that was instrumental in proposing the unarmed police alternative Community Responders for Equity, Safety and Service, recently drafted a letter to councilors calling for creating the new fund.

“The town should create a victim’s compensation fund shaped and approved by the CSSJC for people impacted by police harassment and over surveillance,” reads a portion of the letter signed by the committee members, including Allegra Clark and Demetria Shabazz, who are co-chairing the group.

The committee, whose charge is “to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and community safety in Amherst,” met on Thursday and drafted and edited the letter in response to a 54-second video showing police officers interacting with a group of Amherst youths in early July, with an officer informing the teenagers they have no rights.

Most of the letter supports initiatives already underway, including the Human Rights Commission’s call for an investigation into the video, the enactment of a Resident Oversight Board for the police department that is being handled by the new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion department, and the formation of a Black, Indigenous and people of color, or BIPOC, youth empowerment center.

“Effective implementation of these action areas are so critical to the new system of community safety we are trying to create in this town. We know the Amherst community wants to see this and we call upon the Town Council to encourage the town manager and the APD under his authority to support our work,” the letter states.

In addition to the victim compensation fund, the panel is also calling for immediate release of any report associated with an investigation into the video, and for the town to hold “know your rights” workshops for youth and community members.

The committee is seeking a response from councilors by Aug. 16. The Town Council is next scheduled to meet on Aug. 15.

Shabazz said it is an important function for the committee to respond to events, and issue a statement showing compassion, social justice and accountability.

“We should call for accountability based on our charge,” Shabazz said.

The letter has several other recommendations, including freezing all police department hiring until CRESS is operational for six months, holding visioning sessions to help heal the community from systemic and structural inequities, and changing the way the police department operates, including eliminating so-called pretext stops, consent searches, and the sector-based community policing model “to reduce the opportunities for contact between the Police and BIPOC drivers.”

“We do not want our children to suffer for a slowly paced implementation that could prevent harm to our youth and other vulnerable groups in Amherst,” the group wrote.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at
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