Heavy police presence at Northampton protest questioned

  • Protesters and police officers during a protest organized by Black Trans Lives Matter Saturday, June 6, 2020 on Gothic Street in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • State police cruisers parked on King Street on Saturday, June 6. SUBMITTED PHOTO/ALEX KAHN

  • A military-style state police vehicle driving downtown on Satruday, June 6. SUBMITTED PHOTO/MAYA MALACHOWSKI BAJAK

  • State troopers in a King Street parking lot Saturday, June 6. SUBMITTED PHOTO/ALEX KAHN

Staff Writer
Published: 6/7/2020 6:56:46 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Eight police officers stood guard outside the city’s police station at a protest against racial violence and police brutality that drew several thousand people on Saturday.

But nearby, in the police station and at the Hampshire County Courthouse, other officers, including some from the state police, were stationed.

Police Chief Jody Kasper stated in a Facebook post that police from Amherst, Easthampton, Hadley and UMass Amherst, as well as the Hampshire County Sheriff’s Office were there to assist “if the peaceful protest turned violent.” She noted that Northampton police did the same at a recent Easthampton protest.

Photos circulated online over the weekend of many state police cruisers parked in a lot on King Street, of officers filing into the courthouse, and at least one armored, military-style vehicle driving downtown.

“Unfortunately, we did our best to have them get into the court building very early,” Kasper said of the state police. “Unfortunately, they weren’t able to get in without people taking pictures and spreading it around on social media. Unfortunately, that got people really focused on the presence of the MSP [Massachusetts State Police] there.”

When asked how many state police and how many total officers as backup there were, Kasper said she didn’t have a number.

On social media and in emails to the Gazette, people took issue with the heavy and militarized police presence.

“I am heartbroken, disgusted, and profoundly disappointed in both of you for the militarization you authorized and presumably requested in connection with today’s peaceful protest in Northampton,” Gaby Immerman wrote in a letter to Kasper and Mayor David Narkewicz that she shared with the Gazette. “You embodied exactly the reactionary, white supremacist, violent, fearful impulses that so much of humanity rises up against in this moment.”

Explaining the police presence on Saturday, Kasper said, “With four to six thousand people coming into our community, we’re going to have backup units available.” She added that some business owners reached out with concerns about the protest as well.

At a protest held earlier in the week, on June 1, “We had vandalism. We had people climbing on the building,” Kasper said. “Some of our officers had things thrown at them … We had that experience on Monday which is very different from past protests for us.”

There were no arrests at the June 1 protest, which drew more than a thousand people, but police pepper-sprayed several protesters and several incidents, including vandalism and someone throwing rocks at police officers, occurred, according to Kasper.

Asked if officers were in the crowd posing as protesters on Saturday, Kasper said, “I’m not going to make any statements about how we might use that resource.”

Police did use drones to track the crowd as it moved through downtown Saturday, which allowed them to figure out where to block off streets, according to Kasper.

“We had the drones up because we didn’t want any police officers near the protest,” she said. “We know we are a catalyst for a lot of people’s outrage right now.”

Some protestors wondered how much money the extra officers cost the city on Saturday. The state police don’t charge for providing backup — the state pays for that, Kasper said — but municipalities can charge. She said Northampton will likely be invoiced by the other departments present, but wasn’t sure how much it would cost.

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


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