Two claim harassment over Easthampton police reform group

  • A crowd kneels for 8 1/2 minutes at the rotary in Easthampton at 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 4, 2020, in a citywide action to protest the killing of George Floyd.

Staff Writer
Published: 9/3/2020 7:19:10 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Two city residents say they have been harassed for their positions on A Knee Is Not Enough (AKINE), a community organization calling for reforms to policing in the city.

Jason Montgomery withdrew his name from consideration for appointment to the Community Relations Committee, claiming he was harassed both online and in person. Meanwhile, Kathy Grey, who was rejected by the City Council for appointment to the CRC, claims that her Zoom meeting with the Appointment Committee was deliberately disrupted by a man who showed up uninvited at her house.

“It has gotten to the point where I don’t feel safe in this community … to try to take any kind of seat on the CRC,” said Montgomery, a member of the Black, Indigenous and People of Color Caucus of AKINE, which serves as the leadership for the group.

The CRC is an 11-member body that was formed in 2018 to “promote positive relations throughout Easthampton’s diverse population,” according to the city website. The committee currently has two vacancies.

Montgomery said that when he was in his yard, he saw a white man in a black car drive by and scream “get out of my town,” followed by a slur. Since he began his activism with AKINE, Montgomery said, he has been given the finger while driving, and he has received messages online asking him to leave the city. Montgomery said that other members of the BIPOC caucus have faced incidences of harassment as well.

Kathy Grey, a former applicant to the CRC, also says she feels less safe in Easthampton than she once did.

Grey’s application to the CRC was rejected by the City Council at its Aug. 19 meeting because of her writings, including an article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette that was critical of August’s AKINE protest.

At that City Council meeting, Councilor Thomas Peake said that Grey’s piece contained “fairly incendiary” comments about AKINE, a group with which the CRC will be working to address police reform.

“I just don’t see how that doesn’t put a bad taste in people’s mouth,” Peake said, of Grey’s comments about a group the CRC will be working with.

Grey’s application was subsequently rejected 8-0 in a meeting where Councilor Owen Zaret was not present.

Around the start of the Appointment Committee meeting that immediately preceded the Aug. 19 City Council meeting, Northampton resident Billy Park came to Grey’s front door and asked to speak to her about her article in the Gazette, she said.

Grey said she asked Park to leave three times “and he wouldn’t go,” after which she went inside and called the police.

She believes Park, whom she’d never met before, came to her house to disrupt her appointment. “This was a planned disruption,” Grey said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”

But Park says he went to Grey’s house because he “loved the article she wrote” in the Gazette, and he hadn’t been able to get ahold of her by other means.

Park thinks that Grey misread his intentions because he had his mask on, and “when you wear a mask, it looks like you’re angry at people,” he said.

Grey countered that she doesn’t believe Park came to her house to be complimentary. She since obtained a no-trespassing order against Park, and Park said he intends to stay away.

AKINE released a statement on the rejection of Grey’s appointment, saying that “AKINE firmly stands against any form of harassment.”

While her Gazette opinion piece demonstrated why she shouldn’t be on the CRC, the statement continued, conversations around her potential appointment “illustrate the lack of diverse voices and voices that have actually faced racism and systemic oppression within the CRC,” the statement says.

Though he withdrew his name from consideration for the CRC, Montgomery has been put forward as a representative to the working group being formed by the mayor’s office to examine police use of force in the city, and LaChapelle confirmed that appointment.

“We think that this is a good step and a good move,” said Montgomery, noting that the group will allow AKINE members to feel that their voices are heard.

LaChapelle is also putting two other members of AKINE forward for appointment to the CRC, Myra Oyedemi and Gaby Stevenson. The mayor said that she makes appointments to the committee based on a first-come, first-served basis for purposes of its independence.

“They’re both intelligent, strong women of color,” Montgomery said of Oyedmi and Stevenson.

LaChapelle said that she was concerned when she saw the reasons for Montgomery’s withdrawal. She also said that it affirms her disdain for social media as a municipal platform.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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