AF-AM News bits


All I can say is that we have all experienced losses caused by the Covid pandemic but the loss of Dennis Terry probably affected me much more than most others. We roamed the streets of Springfield together for years before we eventually ended up as roommates at Howard University from which we both graduated in the same year with Economics majors and Business minors. He went his way and I went mine but we always remained in touch and often reminisced about how unlikely it was that we had both survived and raised good, solid families when the single-parent life we lived as youngsters could have been so much less generous. But his mother, Sally, was my second mother and my mother, Jeanette, was his. And as much as anything, I attribute their strength and perseverance and strict intolerance of youthful nonsense as among the primary reasons for our success. He was my brother and he will be missed.

I met Scott Stearns way back in the early 60s when he was working with a nonprofit whose goal was to improve housing in the Mason Square area. I didn’t know him well but I knew that he and those with whom he worked (including the late Chet Gibbs) were doing good work. I met him again in the 80s when I was the Western Massachusetts Commissioner for the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) and he was being accused of housing discrimination by way of a preliminary complaint that my staff had to investigate. As was the established routine, I first attempted to bring the parties together for mediation. I had experienced so many irate and defensive landlords and realtors, most of whom were visibly dismayed and anxious at the thought of having to defend themselves. Only rarely had I encountered a subject of an MCAD complaint as genuine and disarming as “Scotty”. No defensiveness, no anger, no angst but definitely a glint of amusement as he gently conveyed the clear message to me that he hadn’t done anything wrong and would not entertain a settlement offer. The complainant, who I met with separately, withdrew the complaint after I explained Scotty’s position. Obviously the complainant knew Scotty as well as I came to know him many years later when we shared membership in a social group. (Scotty got a kick out of periodically reminding me that he beat the MCAD case.) We became good friends and one day he invited me to his house to view his black history memorabilia collection which he ended up gifting to me in its entirety. I remember when he told me he would be joining St. John’s Congregational Church in Mason Square where my wife and I were members. He joined. And I wasn’t really surprised because Scotty was among the most unaffected White guys I have known. If he had a trace of racism in him, I couldn’t find it. He’ll be missed.

Of course, Ernest Hemmingway’s book was titled “To Whom the Bell Tolls” but I couldn’t resist borrowing his title by way of paraphrase to emphasize the cost to the taxpayers of Springfield for the legal fees generated by Mayor Domenic Sarno’s foolish effort to defend in court his refusal to comply with the City Council ordinance creating a five member Police Commission to replace his preferred single commissioner model that most of us believe doesn’t work very well. My bet – and as I write this I don’t know but I’ll risk being publicly wrong – is that Sarno will use more public money to pay private attorneys for a hapless appeal of a legal theory that never had a chance in court in the first place. In case you don’t know what I am writing about, the Springfield City Council took Mayor Sarno and others to court to compel him to enforce its ordinance for an independent police commission because the mayor claimed that he and he alone had the power as strong mayor to decide what the makeup of the police department should look like regardless of the council’s ordinance, which he vetoed and the council overturned. Although I am a lawyer, it doesn’t take a legal mind to understand that, stretched to its limits, the mayor’s legal argument giving him absolute power over the police department could extend to every city department and, if it were legal, would make him a dictator and make the council powerless and of no effective use. No court would buy that constitutionally defective theory and that is why Sarno lost in the lower court and will lose on appeal and waste the people’s money twice over.

She has always come across as petulant and clueless but Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood has outdone herself with her most recent comments in The Republican (April 22, 2021) on the Derek Chauvin trial. Reporter Patrick Johnson wrote: “At a time when the attention of the world has been turned to the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer convicted in the killing of George Floyd, Clapprood said it is important to also show the full side of policing.” Before repeating Clapprood’s direct quotes, I must say that my anger had already been worked up by the inferences in Johnson’s lead up. Dissembling is the only word I could think of as I pondered the mis-notion that we who call for police reform are not aware that most cops are “good” cops. We also know that those “good” cops – including Commissioner Clapprood – routinely practice the “don’t snitch” philosophy even as they condemn Black and Brown folks who do the same…most often out of distrust of those same “good” cops and fear of the many bad ones “good” cops have a history of protecting. Several good cops (the truly good cops) testified against Chauvin who was deservedly convicted on all charges while the “good” cops who stood by and allowed the murder are on their way to trial and those who allowed the false police reports vindicating Chauvin, in the face of clear visual evidence of guilt, have been exposed to the world as have the deep, deep seated problems of policing in America where Springfield, Massachusetts’ police force is the only force in the country to be investigated for racial pattern and practice problems during the Trump presidency. It is notable that Minneapolis is now the second since the Trump presidency.
Reluctantly, I will quote this dumb Clapprood Republican quote regarding three Springfield police officers who saved a three-month-old baby: “These officers are performing heroic acts and they should be recognized…” I mean, who wouldn’t recognize the officers? But the very idea that police saving a baby fits into the narrative of the murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin is such nonsense that it’s difficult to digest and ridiculous when it is coming from our top cop. And then she says: “They (the public and the press) want to focus on things that are wrong, and we’d like to focus on things that are right rather than wrong, and this is just one example.” Is she just completely witless? The “perfect police” myth has been around front and center in the media forever just as long as the unjust killings of Black people by White police have been unseen by most of the world until now. Many distinguished police officers across the country who have bravely spoken up against Chauvin and bad police practices in general and the need for radical reform make it clear that Clapprood, with her false equivalency comments, is out of touch and has no business leading the Springfield Police Department no more than the mayor who appointed her should remain as mayor of a diverse community that has paid too much tax payer money for police transgressions.

First and foremost is bad leadership. And some are truly afraid of us Black folks by training – from in and outside of the home. Others have low self-esteem and need an “other” to beat on to feel good about themselves. Others are badly trained and under trained (as are most cops). But when combined with the other two, the results are often deadly for Black and brown folks. Likewise for those who are simply racist and white supremacist (Derek Chauvin). So where does the White female police officer with 29 years of service who was training other cops get off shooting a two-and-a-half pound black pistol and killing unarmed 20-year-old Black Daunte Wright before Derek Chauvin had even been sentenced while claiming that she intended to use her eight-ounce yellow taser? And why did she feel it necessary to escalate a simple traffic stop to a tragedy in the first place? And what about Isaiah Brown who was on his cell phone with 911 when the White cops arrived yelling, “he has a gun pointed at his head,” and shoots him. It was Brown’s cell phone but what if it was a gun. He would have been shooting himself. Why would the White cop decide to shoot him first? It defies logic. Why not save the man from himself instead of killing him? I could go on. But since Chauvin’s murder conviction, we’ve had more than a half-dozen shootings of Black folks by White cops and most of them appear unnecessary. What is going on in America that some White folks still can’t see?!

Springfield had the distinction of being cited on national television as being the only other city in the country since Donald Trump’s election to be formally investigated by the Civil Rights Division of the United States Justice Department. The other one, of course, is the recent pattern and practice investigation of the Minneapolis, Minnesota police department after Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd.

“Of course, I don’t doubt that there are police officers who see this verdict as a strike against all police. Anyone who watched (George) Floyd’s excruciating death and can call it anything except murder has no business pretending they’re protecting and serving anything beyond their own twisted belief in the unchecked power of their badge.” (Renée Graham, The Boston Globe, April 21, 2021)

“While this verdict serves justice, it cannot rectify so many decades of racist policing. It should not quell ever impassioned demand for a massive rethinking of how police departments interact with the communities they have sworn to serve. It is not the end of police violence, the disproportionate killings of Black and brown people, or the dangerous groupthink that too often accepts the police version of events as the truth. The fight to eradicate state violence, and the systems that sustain it, goes on.” (Renée Graham, The Boston Globe, April 21, 2021)

I don’t mean to be cynical but State Representative Bud Williams’ recent comments on the legislature’s (including his) bid to ban the manufacture of Smith and Wesson military assault weapons is wimpish as is the bill itself. It is significant that the “sale” of those same weapons is banned in Massachusetts so the banning of the manufacture of them would simply mean that the banned guns will be manufactured in other states by other companies, if not by Smith and Wesson, in other states. The bill will have no significant local impact and without a federal ban, it’s a band aid solution for a problem that is much bigger than the banning of manufacturing of weapons of mass destruction in Massachusetts. But, if I read the article correctly, Bud’s objection had nothing to do with gun manufacturing and much to do with “negotiations” as Williams put it, meaning, I suspect, in political terms, “campaign donations.” I mean, what is there to negotiate about? Anybody who knows anything about how the legislature works knows that the only person who will decide if the bill passes is Speaker of the House Mariano. Bud will have no say in the matter although he wants folks to think he will. My read was that Bud doesn’t seem to care so much about bringing attention to the proliferation of guns in this country that is destroying much of his own community―guns that are manufactured by Smith and Wesson and many others that end up in the hands of kids in our communities who kill each other while manufacturers like Smith and Wesson profit from rising sales. Bud wants “negotiations” (?) and jobs (?) and campaign donations (?). But he doesn’t want to tackle the more difficult gun problems because they are too controversial. What is there to negotiate about? It sounds more like a Bud Light shakedown. Or did I misread the article in The Republican? (April 22, 2021)

Boston’s Black Mayor Kim Janey is doing alright. She’s commanding the news while her opponents for the September primary have almost disappeared from print. And she’s doing it like a pro―like the late Boston Mayor Tom Menino did. And she’s raising good money. And in a recent poll she was in a virtual tie with Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu (Janey 18% and Wu 19%) even though Wu has been running for mayor for almost a year and Janey just announced. All the others are running far behind with Annissa Essaibi-George at 6%, Andrea Campbell at 4% and John Barros and Jon Santiago at 4% each. I’ll repeat what I’ve said before. I think Janey or Wu will be Boston’s next mayor and my high bet is on Janey.

Great cleanup folks! Of course, I’m referring to the cleanup of the Acorn Street tennis courts that up to one hundred community volunteers cleared of debris that had accumulated over the years of neglect that left it unusable and a blight on the neighborhood for decades. My understanding is that the volunteers filled up a large receptacle that was donated to the effort by a concerned citizen twice and properly disposed of the debris. The story of how the city tried to block the effort is another classic that is still unfolding. I was going to write a lengthy article on it so that the citizens of Springfield, and especially those of Ward 4, could get a clear understanding of how events unfolded under the leadership of Ward 4 city council candidate, Jynai McDonald. A few things I can tell you are that the current Ward 4 city councilor didn’t participate in the cleanup and the mayor tried to stop the volunteer effort apparently because he opposed the personalities involved in it. I suspect he was also embarrassed that others highlighted the years of neglect and beat him to the cleanup. The saga is still unfolding but I promise you a nice, long, clear expose on all of the players – good and bad – in the June issue.

What an accomplishment! Another volunteer effort to put hoops on the basketball backboards in several city parks in the Black community has borne fruit like nobody might have believed. Neighborhood folks, having received no support from the City of Springfield to replace the hoops, raised several thousand dollars, purchased the hoops and installed them and the games are on again. I must say, I like the fact that folks took the initiative and did it themselves although I still have to wonder why the city didn’t. I must be kidding myself. Before I even finished writing this bit, city officials from the Parks Department removed the hoops and took them away without consulting with anybody in the community. What incredible governmental arrogance!

Undaunted, folks marched to the Park Department and politely demanded the return of the hoops from the employee who still had them in his Park Department truck. He dutifully returned the hoops and the folks dutifully reinstalled them after which our petulant mayor had them removed again along with the backboards! You may visit Adams Park on Wilbraham Road for a view of the stark naked, black poles that remain as a stubborn reminder of our “dear ruler’s” way of serving “his” constituents. I’m waiting to find out what happens next.

You might notice the quotation marks around “his” in the above bit. The emphasis was used in recognition of Mayor Sarno’s frequent use of the possessive pronoun “my.” He makes frequent reference to “my city,” “my police commissioner,” “my police,” “my firemen or fire department,” “my city,” “my citizens,” “my this,” “my that” and so on, ad infinitum. He has recently added to his unearned wealth, “my Acorn Tennis Court” and “my basketball hoops and backboards,” and “my parks.” Most concerning is his subtle references to “my City Council” and “my School Committee.” (You might want to watch the disrespectful way Mayor Sarno treats Black women School Committee members when they don’t agree with him, by the way. It’s not pretty.) “My money to spend as I please where I please!” referring to the taxpayer’s money. My! My! My! More and more he sounds like a man possessed with power and unable to understand that he is supposed to serve the people and not the other way around…the people are not supposed to serve him although he doesn’t seem to understand this essential democratic concept.

Wouldn’t it have been nice if the Springfield city officials, beginning with the mayor, gave some thought to how to open the basketball courts to its citizens rather than arbitrarily removing basketball hoops and backboards from city parks. By now, everyone knows – because the CDC and other scientist have made it clear – that outside activities during the current stage of the pandemic are allowable under certain conditions. Professional sports are played inside and outside now. Can’t we as a city figure out a way for the kids to play outside? As an aside, let’s be real! There are two portable basketball hoops on my short street alone and the kids play basketball every day without supervision. I’m certain there are many more around the city. There is no excuse for barring kids from public parks where they can be under adult supervision consistent with the proper guidelines. Making it all about petty mayoral power is a disgrace. ■

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