Northampton City Council rapped over loss of Walmart’s donated ammunition

  • David Guild of Northampton, talks about the Northampton police department and their relationship with the town while having lunch at Miss Florence Diner. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • From left, Lorry, Bruce and Savannah Walker, of Northampton, talk about the Northampton Police Department and its relationship with the town while having lunch Tuesday at Miss Florence Diner. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jon Steinberg, and Brad Katz of Northampton, talk about the Northampton police department and their relationship with the town while having lunch at Miss Florence Diner. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jon Steinberg, Brad Katz and Ed Orzechowski, all of Northampton, talk about the Northampton police department and their relationship with the town while having lunch at Miss Florence Diner. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • David Guild of Northampton, talks about the Northampton police department and their relationship with the town while having lunch at Miss Florence Diner. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ed Orzechowski, left foreground, Jon Steinberg, and Brad Katz, all of Northampton, talk about the Northampton Police Department and its relationship with the town while having lunch Tuesday at Miss Florence Diner. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/9/2019 12:18:00 AM

NORTHAMPTON — The withdrawal of a donation of ammunition to the Northampton Police Department by Walmart, and the subsequent claim that criticism has negatively impacted police morale in Northampton, has touched a nerve in the city.

Walmart pulled the $13,000 donation in ammunition to the NPD after the City Council decided to send it to committee for consideration on Dec. 20, a move that was criticized by Mayor David Narkewicz.

The decision followed a public comment period in which a number of people voiced their opposition to the donation, including attorney Dana Goldblatt, who characterized police as “violence workers.”

After Walmart pulled the donation, Police Chief Jody Kasper wrote a letter in which she said that a small number of people in Northampton were pushing an “anti-police narrative.”

“If this narrative continues without more support for NPD from City Council, we will continue to lose our valuable veteran officers and will not be able to attract new candidates who meet the high standards expected by our community members,” Kasper wrote.

The Dec. 20 public comment period contrasted sharply with the public comment period at the council’s Jan. 3 meeting, where many people stood up to criticize the council for not supporting the police force.

“Violence workers — really?” asked Andy Trushaw, a Northampton resident and police department veteran, now retired. He added that the use of force is not necessarily synonymous with violence.

“That’s the correct term for people who use violence as part of their job,” Goldblatt said in an interview Tuesday. “I am not advocating for the elimination of violence workers.

“You have to name things if you want to be able to govern them,” she continued. “You can’t regulate something you can’t name.”

At the Jan. 3 meeting, Judith Fine, a former member of the City Council, blasted the body she had once served in.

“I am appalled and disheartened by the seeming lack of backbone and, quite frankly, balls that this body before me has displayed in the past year concerning our police department,” she said.

As examples, she gave the council rejecting the department’s request for putting additional surveillance cameras downtown, and cited pressure on the mayor to cancel the chief’s training trip to Israel in November.

Resident Natalia Munoz said that she admires all the council members, but that she didn’t agree with the council’s decision to send the Walmart donation to committee. She also objected to people generalizing about the Northampton Police Department.

“Yes, police departments have been historically, systemically oppressive and racist,” she said. “But that is not where the Northampton Police Department is.”

Laurie Loisel, co-chairwoman of the city’s Human Rights Commission, said she found herself in the “funny position” of feeling like she had to defend the police department.

“Our police department is pretty progressive,” she said.

She noted some of department’s recent efforts, including anti-bias education, training to work better with the transgender community, and the Drug Addiction Response Team, also known as the DART program. Loisel also said she wished the council would defend the police more.

Blair Gimma, who spoke against the donation on Dec. 20, spoke again on Jan. 3, and noted that it was Walmart that withdrew the donation, not the council.

“People who are upset about the donation should go up to North King Street and talk to Walmart,” she said.

In a phone interview, Goldblatt said she didn’t view the council’s actions as anti-police but as anti-Walmart.

“I think they did not want to give Walmart a free pass,” she said.

She said the council was looking for more information, and during that time Walmart withdrew the donation.

Of the whole affair, she said, “I think it’s been misrepresented.”

The public’s response

On Tuesday, city residents having lunch at Miss Florence Diner had a few choice words about the donation issue.

Jon Steinberg noted the proliferation of firearms in this country.

“We don’t live in some country where people don’t have guns,” he said, adding that the council’s response was “ridiculous.”

Steinberg was eating lunch with friends Ed Orzechowski and Brad Katz, both of whom agreed.

“If Walmart’s going to get a tax break by donating this, so what?” said Orzechowski. “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

That was the consensus at other tables as well.

“It seems like the things that give progressives a bad name,” said David Guild, who added that he himself is a progressive. “I don’t know why you wouldn’t take it.”

Bruce Walker, of Leeds, asked what Walmart was going to do with the ammunition now.

“You want to get it into the right hands,” Walker said. “Who are better people to give it to than police?”

Kim Perez, a librarian at Lilly Library in Florence, also said she thought it was “ridiculous.”

“Walmart made a good gesture to help the city out,” Perez said.

She compared the reaction to the controversy over the police’s now-canceled High-Five Friday program in the city’s elementary schools.

“I thought it was the same silly liberal crap,” said Perez.

She also said that she felt this opposition to the police was coming from a minority of city residents.

“It’s always the squeaky wheel,” she said.

In a phone interview, Emma Roderick, a social worker who recently moved out of the city to Holyoke, said she was supportive of the council’s decision.

“I thought that it was absolutely appropriate for the council to want to talk about it more,” she said, noting the number of questions councilors asked about the donation.

She also said that guns and the police are worthy of more scrutiny than other matters, and that questions regarding how much ammunition the department needs are valid, as is the concern over the corporate influence of the donation.

“We the people should be deciding this,” she said.

Additionally, Roderick said she was struck by the mayor’s and police chief’s responses, saying that it appeared that they were averse to any kinds of criticisms of the police.

Jesse Adams, an attorney and former city councilor, said he believed the donation should have been accepted. He also said that he felt that the police and the community have a good relationship as a whole.

“Generally, the police department reflects the community in many ways, with some exceptions,” he said.

However, Adams said he found the the department’s response to be worrisome.

“This administration is quick to go on the offensive,” he continued. “I find that concerning.”

He views the response as an attempt to silence critics of the police and the department, and said that if this behavior continues, a police-community relations board consisting of representatives from the police, members of the public, activists and government officials should be formed.

“Hopefully, the police can reverse the trend,” he said.

Kasper said that in her letter she was responding not to public criticism but to the actions of the council.

“We’re accustomed to a wide variety of opinions,” she said. “I have no problem with that.”

Kasper said she wouldn’t have responded had the council accepted the donation.

“I would have never written a memo,” she said last week. “It had nothing to do with public comment.”

Kasper said she felt the department had been treated differently from other departments when the donation was referred to committee.

“It would do nothing but save the city money,” she said.

She added that she recently had a good meeting with council leadership and the mayor.

“Generally, I feel like we have the support of city council,” Kasper said. “We’re all public servants.”

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




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