The League of Women Voters presented the following statement to the Amherst Town Council at its September 14 meeting:
Statement of the Amherst League of Women Voters Racial Justice Task Force
We are writing in support of creating a Resident Safety Committee to explore new ways of organizing policing and safety in Amherst. Following are some thoughts about this proposal.
- It is a fact that white people and people of color have different life experiences, including their relationship with the town and various town agencies, including different experiences with the police. All of these experiences need to be heard and believed. We need a safe place where people can share their experiences and not be embarrassed or blamed.
- We propose a “Resident Safety Committee.” This would broaden the mandate beyond just the police to include the role of mental health workers, social workers, intervention specialists, public works, firefighters and paramedics, and teachers. Such a concept, a Safety Committee, could help make connections between police and other agencies and individuals who are responsible in different ways for our safety. It might inspire a bit of reflection and listening on the part of the police about what community safety means in Amherst. Talking about safety allows for conversation about race, but also about a lot of other things.
- Some have labeled review committees to provide oversight of police departments as “civilian” oversight committees. “Civilian” suggests a binary structure, civilian vs. military. We need to dismantle all real and symbolic associations of the police with the military. Perhaps better than quietly avoiding the word “civilian” would be to say publicly that we are not talking about “civilian” because that implies the police are military, which they are not.
- In Amherst the police should be protectors and helpers. If people don’t think the police are protectors and helpers, let’s have that discussion.
- We suggest avoiding the word “oversight” because it implies one group having supervision and/or power over another. We need to use language that is not about power or control and more about problem solving together.
- Some communities are creating ‘citizen review committees.’ Obviously, in Amherst we avoid the word “citizen” except when talking about something specifically related to citizenship like passports or voting.
- We suggest a process to clarify what safety means in Amherst to different people and different communities. We need to look at safety more broadly than simply safety related to policing. What do people need from the Town to feel and to be safe? What is safety? Is it the same thing to different people? Do children have unique safety needs, different from adults? What about people with insecure income or no income?
- Talking about safety does not mean not talking about race. Amherst needs to have a conversation about race that goes beyond the police and has to do with the schools, public spaces, who gets appointed to committees, which voices are heard, whose problems are addressed. The conversation about a committee to work with the police needs to be understood as one part of the work around race, not the whole thing.
- Do we need to look at how the Town responds to 911 calls, so the first response is not necessarily the police, a kind of one-size-fits-all?
- Marcie Sclove, Chair
- Racial Justice Task Force
- Amherst League of Women Voters
The League of Women Voters of Amherst is a non-partisan organization that encourages informed and active participation in government. The League is committed to racial justice at the local, state, and national level. As an organization whose mission is to empower voters and defend democracy, we stand in solidarity with all Black communities.