Anti-police marchers spray-paint slogans, bang on cars ahead of Northampton council budget vote

  • Graffiti is shown on the street in front of the Northampton police station after Tuesday’s protest and march through downtown. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff writer
Published: 6/16/2021 6:51:51 PM

NORTHAMPTON — As the City Council prepares to hold its final vote Thursday on the fiscal 2022 budget, public works crews are removing obscene graffiti from city streets and sidewalks that was left by people protesting the Police Department Tuesday evening.

The council is scheduled to take up Mayor David Narkewicz’s proposed $121.7 million budget in a virtual meeting at 5:30 p.m., making its final decision on a plan that boosts the police budget by 3% while providing $424,000 for the new Department of Community Care.

Activist groups, including Northampton Abolition Now and the Western Mass Anti-Capitalist Network, want the police budget slashed by 50% and the allocation for the Department of Community Care increased to $880,000. The two groups promoted an “Abolish the Police” car rally and march on Tuesday during rush hour that began at the skate park at Veterans Field on West Street. Police said about 40 people marched to the police station at 29 Center St. and on to Main Street.

The following day, Northampton police released photos of graffiti reading “kill cops,” “f--- Noho police,” “abolish police” and “abolish USA” spray-painted along the march route. The phrase “abolish police” was spray-painted several times on the road outside the Police Department.

Much of the graffiti was in the road on West Street, and remained there on Wednesday. Other messages include “Black Lives Matter” and “Free Palestine.”

Banging on cars

Police Capt. Victor Caputo said police received reports of some protesters banging on vehicles in traffic as they walked by.

“A person reported that their young autistic son was pretty upset when (protesters) were banging on the car and yelling and screaming,” Caputo said. The boy was young enough to need a car seat.

Detectives are investigating to identify anyone who may have committed a crime.

In social media materials promoting the protest, organizers told those in attendance to wear masks, write a legal aid phone number on their arms, wear protective eye gear, leave their phones at home or turn off the location settings and “avoid incriminating texts/social media posts.”

Protesters were also told to “respect each other’s diversity of tactics” and “do NOT take pictures” of each other.

The creation of the Department of Community Care was recommended in a March report by the Policing Review Commission. The report envisioned unarmed responders managing wellness checks, suspicious person calls, traffic accidents and misdemeanors, among other responsibilities that would be taken away from police officers.

Northampton Abolition Now said the planned $424,000 allocation is not good enough and will ultimately lead to the new department’s failure. The group has called Narkewicz’s budget “racist.”

Narkewicz’s budget passed the council’s first reading without amendments on June 3.

‘Pivotal moment’

Ashwin Ravikumar, a volunteer organizer with Northampton Abolition Now, said the budget vote “marks a pivotal moment in Northampton history.”

Ravikumar said the national movement to reallocate police resources to unarmed crisis responders has been underway for decades, but it was galvanized by the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police last year.

“City councilors have an opportunity to vote like Black lives matter,” Ravikumar said. “This is not the budget of an anti-racist community. … We need to reject this budget and replace it with one that rises to the occasion.”

Activists envision a model like the CAHOOTS program in the city of Eugene, Oregon, where mental health experts respond to suicide threats, substance abuse issues and problems related to homelessness, and medical staff respond to non-emergency health problems to avoid unnecessary emergency room visits.

“People won’t have their freedom taken away when one of these calls is made,” Ravikumar said.

When asked about Tuesday’s protest and the vandalism left behind, Ravikumar called the acts “a manifestation of anger and concerns that have not been addressed.”

On Wednesday, Narkewicz said it’s “unacceptable” to say that anyone should be killed, and that those sentiments do not belong in the public debate.

“I reject and denounce the graffiti calling for the killing of police, and I hope that Northampton Abolition Now would join me in denouncing it,” Narkewicz said. “Northampton prides itself on the rights of people to peacefully assembly and protest. We ask people to do that in a respectful way.”

Trish Parker, who works in Northampton and said she believes police reform is necessary, worried that the vandalism would affect people’s opinions of the movement.

“I am so sorry our officers are dealing with this hate,” Parker said. “We do not need to abolish police, and good officers deserve deep respect for taking on a challenging and tough career.”

But, Parker added, “Black, Indigenous and Hispanic lives matter. Many officers do not treat people of color with equal respect. How can any reasonable person question that at this point?”

The public can join Thursday’s City Council meeting by going to https://bit.ly/3vfNBKT or calling (929) 436-2866. The meeting ID is 974 0795 0384 and the passcode is 824291.

A virtual special City Council meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 21, at 7 p.m., if necessary, to cover any agenda items that are not taken up on Thursday.

Other items on Thursday’s agenda include petitions from National Grid and Verizon New England to install utility poles on Finn, King, Myrtle and Pine streets, and the reappointment of about 20 members of various city committees.


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