Racial activist group declines role in Amherst manager’s safety task force

  • Amherst Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/17/2020 3:11:43 PM

AMHERST — An Amherst organization created in the aftermath of George Floyd's death at the hands of police in Minneapolis is opting against participating in the process to identify individuals to serve on the Community Safety Working Group being formed by Town Manager Paul Bockelman.

The Racial Equity Task Force, in a letter to Bockelman this week, announced that it would not have any of its members involved in the interview committee for the working group, in part because it had hoped to see a Commission on Police Practices set up immediately “to study APD (Amherst Police) data and convene public hearings toward developing a strong system of accountability.”

The task force views Bockelman’s process as “managerial design and focus,” according to the letter signed by Isolda Ortega-Bustamante, Amilcar Shabazz and Demetria Shabazz.

“In contrast, we felt that the town needed a grassroots process that would maximize public input and participation in taking a deep look at our community safety issues, defunding the APD, and establishing a community body that could look at and build a credible process for complaints and stopping any practices that unfairly target Black, Indigenous and people of color and areas where they live,” they wrote.

The nine-member Community Safety Working Group is to make recommendations to Bockelman on alternative ways of providing public safety services to the community, as well as changes to the current organizational and oversight structures of the police department.

“I would have liked to have someone on from the Racial Equity Task Force, but I understand their reasons for not participating,” Bockelman said Tuesday.

He also responded to the task force in writing, “I appreciate that your approach differs and respect your decision to focus your limited time on reaching out to community members directly.”

Bockelman said he hopes to get interviews started this week with people who have filled out special citizen activity forms that can be found on the town website.

In a memo to the council in September, Bockelman said his appointments to the interview team would include an Amherst resident chosen by the Racial Equity Task Force, as well as Keisha Dennis of the town’s Residents’ Advisory Committee; Matthew Charity, chairman of the Human Rights Commission; and Sid Ferreira, a member of the Human Rights Commission and resident director of the ABC House.

They would be joined by a Black, Indigenous or person of color (BIPOC) who is also a public safety employee for the town or University of Massachusetts, an Amherst resident BIPOC consultant who has worked previously providing anti-racism training for town or school employees, and an Amherst resident chosen by the Defund 413 Amherst group.

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