Northampton officials assess protest’s aftermath 

  • Protesters react to being peppered-sprayed during a confrontation with Northampton police officers during Monday’s rally against police brutality. GAZETTE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A protester writes on the Northampton Police Department during a protest of police violence and racism on Monday.  GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Police pepper-spray protesters as the officers retreat from them at a rally in Northampton on Monday. GAZETTE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 6/3/2020 6:35:04 PM
By GRETA JOCHEM

NORTHAMPTON — While there were no arrests at a largely peaceful protest against police brutality on Monday, Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper said police are working to identify those who took part in vandalism.

A police cruiser’s windshield was smashed, the flag in front of the police station was found burned, and some protesters wrote in chalk and spray paint on the police station, according to Kasper. At one point, a group of protesters encountered police in an alley and, Kasper said, “started throwing rocks at them.”

More than 1,000 people flooded Center Street on Monday afternoon, protesting against police brutality outside the city’s police station. The rally came in response to the killing of George Floyd, a black man from Minneapolis who died after a white police officer pinned him to the ground by kneeling on his neck for nearly 9 minutes May 25.

“On the whole, I think it was a successful event in that there were no arrests and serious injuries,” Mayor David Narkewicz said.

Questions remained after the protest ended, though, such as why the state police were called in with riot gear.

“Any time we have large-scale protests where we believe there’s a propensity for violence, we would always reach out to additional partners … to provide support,” Kasper said Wednesday. “We hope that we aren’t going to need that kind of support, but you never know. Our job is to be prepared for the very worst.”

After organizers declared their part of the protest over, many in the crowd stuck around. At one point in the afternoon, a group asked police to kneel with them. Police declined, and went back into the police station. Protesters followed, and as the door was still ajar, police sprayed pepper spray out the door. The action was taken to hold off the crowd so officers could deter people who were trying to hold open the doors, according to Kasper.

“That’s not a public area of our building. It’s challenging for us to do our operation if protesters take over our station,” she said, adding, “That was a very dangerous situation.”

Caleb Schmitt, 18, was pepper-sprayed and said another teenager near him was, too. Schmitt said he wasn’t holding the door open. “They could have ended it by taking a knee at the beginning,” he said. “All we ever wanted them to do was take a knee.”

The protest ended at around 6 p.m. when Kasper, Northampton Police Lt. Alan Borowski, and State Police Maj. Mike Habel took a knee before protesters at the entrance to the parking garage behind the police station.

At the protest, some spoke in favor of cutting the Police Department’s budget, which is set to see an increase in funding amid a difficult fiscal year. The Police Department is expecting a $193,579 increase in funding in Narkewicz’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Roughly $140,000 of that is for contractual salary increases, $8,000 is for training, and around $45,000 will go toward replacing several cruisers with hybrid vehicles, according to Kasper.

Narkewicz proposed the budget earlier this month, saying the city’s revenue picture is “dire,” as the city is feeling the financial effects of the pandemic. The budget includes cutting the equivalent of 17.25 full-time jobs, which amounts to 20 full- and part-time positions.

No cuts are proposed for the Health Department, Fire Department, emergency dispatch, or the Police Department “as they are critical to the city’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 public health emergency,” Narkewicz wrote in his proposed budget.

“Generally, police are first responders. Often they are the first person to arrive at a scene before paramedics arrive,” he told the Gazette. “They’ve been asked to do additional security around social distancing and things like that.”

He added that some had had to quarantine themselves because of possible exposure to coronavirus on the job.

Public hearings on the proposed budget were scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday evening over Zoom.

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




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