Big caravan of protesters pressure city councilors to defund Northampton police

  • Diana Sierra prepares her car for a caravan protest; demonstrators went to the homes of Northampton City Council members with demands to defund the Northampton Police Department. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jim Nash, Ward 3 city councilman, responds to questions during a caravan protest; demonstrators went to the homes of Northampton City Council members with demands to defund the Northampton Police Department. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Finley Janes encourages the crowd to make noise while Diana Sierra asks Ward 3 Councilman Jim Nash questions during a caravan protest; demonstrators went to the homes of Northampton City Council members with demands to defund the Northampton Police Department. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jim Nash, Ward 3 city councilman, responds to questions from Diana Sierra during a caravan protest; demonstrators went to the homes of Northampton City Council members with demands to defund the Northampton Police Department. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Brian Zayatz prepares his car for a caravan protest; demonstrators went to the homes of Northampton City Council members with demands to defund the Northampton Police Department. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jim Nash, Ward 3 city councilman, listens as Diana Sierra asks him questions in front of a crowd during a caravan protest; demonstrators went to the homes of Northampton City Council members with demands to defund the Northampton Police Department. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jim Nash, Ward 3 city councilor, responds to questions during a caravan protest; demonstrators went to the homes of Northampton City Council members with demands to defund the Northampton Police Department. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Diana Sierra, front, and other protesters block Bridge Road outside the home of Ward 1 City Councilor Michael Quinlan, Jr., Thursday, June 18, 2020 to rally for defunding Northampton police. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Protesters block Bridge Road outside the home of Ward 1 City Councilor Michael Quinlan, Jr., Thursday, June 18, 2020 to rally for defunding Northampton police. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Protesters drive past the home of Northampton Ward 5 City Councilor Alex Jarrett on High Street in Florence, Thursday, June 18, 2020 to rally for defunding the Northampton police. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Protesters dance in the street outside the home of Northampton Ward 5 City Councilor Alex Jarrett on High Street in Florence, Thursday, June 18, 2020 to rally for defunding the Northampton police. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Protesters drive past the home of Northampton Ward 5 City Councilor Alex Jarrett on High Street in Florence, Thursday, June 18, 2020 to rally for defunding the Northampton police. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Protesters walk along Bridge Road toward the home of Ward 1 City Councilor Michael Quinlan, Jr., Thursday, June 18, 2020 to rally for defunding Northampton police. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Northampton Ward 5 City Councilor Alex Jarrett, center, fields a question from Annie Ricotta when protesters arrived at his home on High Street in Florence, Thursday, June 18, 2020 to rally for defunding the Northampton police. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Protesters drive past the home of Northampton Ward 5 City Councilor Alex Jarrett on High Street in Florence, Thursday, June 18, 2020 to rally for defunding the Northampton police. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Protesters stop at the home of Northampton Ward 5 City Councilor Alex Jarrett on High Street in Florence, Thursday, June 18, 2020 to rally for defunding the Northampton police. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Protesters, some hiding their faces, walk along Bridge Road toward the home of Northampton Ward 1 City Councilor Michael Quinlan, Jr., Thursday, June 18, 2020 to rally for defunding Northampton police. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Protesters drive past the home of Northampton Ward 5 City Councilor Alex Jarrett on High Street in Florence, Thursday, June 18, 2020 to rally for defunding the Northampton police. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 6/18/2020 4:01:34 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A group of more than 100 honking cars — decorated with colorful balloons and signs reading “Abolish the police” and “Black Lives Matter” — flooded High Street in front of Alex Jarrett’s house on Thursday afternoon. Many masked protesters got out of their cars to rally outside the councilor’s house and make noise, some with instruments including an accordion and drums.

Jarrett told the group on his doorstep that he was in favor of defunding the police department, but when asked by the crowd if he would cut the department’s budget in half, he said “not now.”

“When?” a protester on a bike shouted back.

The caravan of protesters drove around the city on Thursday afternoon to pressure members of the City Council to support cutting the Northampton Police Department budget in half. After meeting at Sheldon Field, their first stop was at the house of Ward 3 Councilor Jim Nash, who said he is in favor of making changes to the NPD budget, but only with a plan — not cutting it in half overnight.

One protester was dressed as a bee and came bearing the message “Bee brave, defund today” as others passed out lists of their demands to neighbors they spotted out and about.

Diana Sierra, one of the organizers of the action and a city resident, told Nash she’s one of his constituents. “We are at peak levels of suffering in this country,” she said. “Black and brown people are tired of seeing their loved ones murdered with impunity.”

Sierra later added, “We need police funding reallocated to essential services, like health care and education.”

Nash told the crowd outside his house that Mayor David Narkewicz and City Council president Gina-Louise Sciarra would talk at Thursday night’s City Council meeting about ways to improve the police department.

“We are not here for reform,” said Finley Janes, one of the organizers. “We’re here to disband the Police Department starting with a 50% cut.”

At about 2 p.m., the caravan of cars headed to the house of Ward 2 Councilor Karen Foster, with drivers honking their horns. “Do the cops keep us safe?” asked one of the organizers, starting a call and response in front of Foster’s house. “No, we keep us safe!” the crowd shouted.

The caravan protest was the second in two days meant to pressure city councilors — at their own homes — to significantly reduce the police budget in advance of the council’s second and final vote on the city budget Thursday night. On Wednesday evening, protesters stopped at the house of other councilors, including Council President Gina-Louise Sciarra.

“We rally outside of the city councilors’ homes because they have left us with no other choice,” the protesters stated in their list of demands. “Hundreds have attended City Council meetings, providing hours of public comment demanding police defunding and abolition. In recent weeks, thousands have turned to the streets to protest.”

In addition to a 50% cut to the department’s budget, other demands include making police officers’ records public, eliminating police officers in schools, using an alternative to police for crowd safety at mass gatherings, and not allowing officers to carry lethals weapons and use chemical agents.

“Cutting the police budget is a critical step toward police abolition,” the demands read. “Abolition is a framework to fundamentally transform how we as a society take care of one another. It is a long-term project that requires the building of alternative institutions to ensure collective well-being.”

Hundreds rallied downtown Wednesday to advocate for a major decrease in the Police Department budget. Over the past few weeks, City Council budget hearings have drawn hundredsof people for the same reason.

Originally, Narkewicz’s proposed budget for next fiscal year included a $193,579 increase in funding, much of it for contractual salary increases. Amid public pressure, he submitted a new public proposal that cut the NPD’s budget by $19,000, or 0.28%, by purchasing two hybrid police cars instead of five.

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


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