Northampton Arts Council votes to support cutting police budget

  • Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper, right, and Police Capt. John Cartledge march with the Northampton Police Department down Main Street during a Northampton Memorial Day parade in Florence. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/21/2021 8:18:35 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Joining a chorus of others, the city’s Arts Council voted last week to sign on to demands by the group Northampton Abolition Now and support cuts to the city’s Police Department budget. 

The demands ask for the immediate reallocation of $880,000 that was cut from the Police Department budget last year and creation of a new Department of Community Care. The demands supported by the Arts Council also include cutting the department’s budget by 50% in the coming fiscal year and reallocating money in a participatory budgeting process led by “people who have been most harmed by policing and state violence.”

A report by the city’s Policing Review Commission published last month recommends the city create and fund a Department of Community Care — a department independent of the police that would provide unarmed emergency responses, such as peer responses to mental health crises — in the coming fiscal year. The mayor has not said whether he will include funding for the Department of Community Care in his coming budget proposal.

Of the 11 voting members on the Arts Council, eight members voted to sign on, one member abstained, one member voted no and one was absent.

“Arts are supposed to be the foremost support of inclusion across the Valley,” said Arts Council member Kent Alexander. “Therefore, to make a stand in support of inclusion and safer neighborhoods and for all people is an important step forward for an arts council.”

Mayor David Narkewicz noted that while the appointed, volunteer board exists to fund and present community-based arts programming, “to the extent that they want to take public positions on other important city issues, I fully support that.”

Explaining why he voted to support Northampton Abolition Now’s demands, Alexander said, “number one, I think that policing is founded on slave patrols. This is my work, I’m an antiracist consultant … I give workshops on tracing the history of policing from slave patrols.”

Alexander said he would like to see funding redistributed. “I’d rather see money go into community health at this point than anything else,” he said.

Member Jesse Hassinger brought the idea to the group, and the council discussed the demands over several meetings, according to Danielle Amodeo, chairwoman of the council. 

“Whenever a board member raises any issues,” Amodeo said, “anything that is in the scope of our work, we discuss it. … I think initially, there was some confusion as to why we would be involved. The question I kept getting asked was, how does this relate to the scope of our work?”

Amodeo pointed to the group’s equity statement, which she read at last week’s meeting, and states in part, “We affirm the need to redress historical inequities in the arts and cultural sector and commit to supporting equitable and inclusive practices through all aspects of our work.”

Thulani Davis, another member of the Arts Council who supported the demands, recounted a story about a negative interaction her family had with Northampton police. 

“As a child who grew up here, in the arts, I do not yet see change, which is why I also wanted to get on this board, to advocate for what it means for the arts to make a difference for our community and for our people,” Davis said.

Member Freeman Stein cast the sole dissenting vote, though he told the council he supports the group’s goals. “I very much believe the desired outcome that NAN (Northampton Abolition Now) has is something that I can sign on to completely — or almost completely if not completely,” he said. “I don’t agree with the strategy.” 

Amodeo voted to sign on. “I really believe that investing in community care is the thing that is going to help keep our community safe,” she said. “And I want to live in a Northampton where everyone is safe and everyone feels welcome and affirmed at no one’s expense.”

The Arts Council is the first city board or agency to sign on to the demands, Northampton Abolition Now said in a statement.

“It was so moving to hear such an outpouring of support from the board, and to see them collectively voice that supporting Black Lives Matter means supporting defunding the Northampton police by 50% this year,” Ya-Ping Douglass, an organizer with Northampton Abolition Now who spoke to the Arts Council, said in a statement.

Amodeo hopes other groups will sign on. “I hope that other boards will follow our lead or at least consider having a conversation with the folks at NAN,” she said.

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




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