Guest columnist Joy Ohm: Questions leadership amid protest response

  • Protesters gather during a stand off between protesters and police officers during a Protest organized by Black Trans Lives Matter Saturday, June 6, 2020 on Gothic street in Northampton. gazette file photo

Published: 6/21/2020 5:00:15 PM

Dear Chief Jody Kasper and Mayor David Narkewicz:

    I have three daughters, ages 13, 10, and 7, who were all born at Cooley Dickinson Hospital. My partner and I have chosen to raise them in Northampton because we have found it to be such a welcoming and loving community.

We love walking downtown and running into friends, colleagues and teachers. We love supporting our local businesses, artists and farmers. We love our rainbow crosswalk, the History of Women in Northampton mural and the sign at the garage that announces this as a place where the coffee is strong and so are the women.

Every year we eagerly anticipate the Summer and Winter Strolls, Bag Day and the Sidewalk Sales. We give back to the Hot Chocolate Run, Monte’s March, the Survival Center and other local organizations that provide important services for city residents. I am proud of our Northampton community and the values for which we stand.

On Saturday, June 6, for the first time, I was ashamed to be a resident and deeply disappointed in your leadership of our city, which I have previously admired. While I understand your job is to prepare for the worst, I believe your decisions to call in what appeared to be a massive outside police presence for a rally were a clear betrayal of the progressive policies you’ve claimed to support.

It was a disproportionate response that makes me question the competence of our local officers and leadership to keep the peace without resorting to the very violence that the rally was calling out. At a time when millions of people across our country and the world are demonstrating against police brutality and the systemic racism that allows it to flourish, your decisions to escalate displayed a lack of empathy, listening skills, judgment and communication.

Strategically, I think you’ve made a serious miscalculation, as this show of force has destroyed the goodwill of much of the community. Instead of keeping the peace, you’ve given my family a glimpse of what a police state looks like and how quickly we can descend into one. You’ve shown my family that our voices are not valued and our rights to congregate and peacefully demonstrate are not important. You’ve shown my family that might makes right.

In dramatic fashion, you’ve demonstrated exactly what the protesters are saying: That excessive police force — whether a knee to the neck or armored trucks in the street or dozens of state troopers — is inherently silencing and unjust.

This is not the city that we know and love. Northampton has suffered a major wound from this distressing breach of trust, and I implore you to please recognize and understand the pain and sadness that many of us feel right now, and work to heal our city so that we can all move forward into a more just and equitable society.

Joy Ohm lives in Northampton.


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