Sunday, December 21, 2014

Holyoke/Ferguson: We Can't Breathe (Municipal and Civic Leaders Join To Stifle Resident's Political Voice)

  1. 1.
    causing difficulties in breathing; suffocating.
    "stifling heat"
  2. 2.
    making one feel constrained or oppressed.

Is Anti-Racism, Anti-Police?  Captain Seklecki, President of local #409 the Holyoke Police Supervisors Union seems to equate the two...

In a letter dated December 17, 2014, Cpt., Seklecki writes: "Dear Councilors Valentin and Lisi,
On behalf of the members of Local #409 (Police Supervisors Union) I would like to express our disappointment in your decisions to participate in what was clearly observed by our members as an anti-police protest march".  

But is Captain Seklecki's letter really just a front to stifle Councilor Valentin's (a Puerto Rican lesbian) solidarity with residents outraged and committed to organize against our systemic oppression in Holyoke?

If in fact, Cptn. Secklecki equates anti-racism with anti-police then, he himself is equating police with racism. The Black and Brown residents of Holyoke are fed up with the HPD's complete failure to stand against the historically and systemic racism carried out by an predominantly White culturally monolithic Holyoke public school system, poorly designed housing, discriminatory job market, redlining real estate practices, poorly designed public spaces of recreation and of course the Holyoke police department profiling of Black and Brown men, women and children.

Why didn't the City of Holyoke convene a town hall (back in August) to steward a healthy conversation between Holyoke's POC and its police department?  Personally I was disgusted with the deadly silence on the part of the city, the school department and our police department who should have taken the lead to engage POC in a dialogue with the rest of the nation who are protesting, marching, disrupting 'business as usual' to righteously demand justice from our legal system.  The fact that Morse's administration took no action - frightened me.

I receive an automated call or text from the Morse's office to notify me of comparatively frivolous issues like a parking ban.  Couldn't Morse use that same system of communication to notify residents of a town hall?  

The City of Holyoke has done nothing to provide a platform for open dialogue which would foster healthy relations between POC and the police moving forward.  Consequently, on December 12, 2014, we chose to exercise our constitutional rights and express our outrage and denounce the racist (over) policing of communities of color.  

Instead, of supporting our efforts, standing in solidarity with our pain, our fears, our lived realities of disenfranchisement and oppression, civic leaders demonstrated their apathy and disregard by criticizing and shading our efforts.

The Black lives matter is a national movement stewarded by YOUNG Black and Brown (transgender and queer) women and men to end State-sanctioned murdering of Black and Brown bodies by local law enforcement.  Our December 12, 2014 Holyoke March should have begun at the Holyoke High School where Black and Brown students (our children, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, grandchildren) and their allies would have led the march as this is a youth led movement. But John Brunelle, Ward five Holyoke school committee member and acting Principal Stephen Sullivan would rather our youth be disengaged from any and possibly all civic process and ignorant to their constitutional rights.  

"We need to let people know just making sure that our students were not brought into that," Brunelle said.

Holyoke HS Sullivan & School Committee member Brunelle To Stiffle Students Protest

Under section A. of the Holyoke school committee policy manual, The People And Their School District it states that the School Committee:

"Has an obligation to determine and assess citizens' desires[...]Maintain two-way communications with citizens of the community.  Act as a truly representative body for members of the community in matters involving public education."  

I find school committee member J. Brunelle's comments unsupportive to the community's outcry and contradictory to the school committee's mission as outlined above.  

Our nation is in an uproar about state sanctioned police brutality which has takes the lives of unarmed Black and Brown youth.  70% of Holyoke High School students are low-income and %67.9 are Latino. Brunelle's opposition towards students participating in a well-organized peaceful march against anti-Black/Brown police practices denied them the opportunity to participate in our community's collective voice to denounce racism, prohibited their civic engagement, and only served to undercut their political power.  

While John Brunelle seeks to shut our collective voice down City Councilor (at-large)Lisi infiltrated our efforts intending to meter our outrage, prescribe our verbiage and moderate our message.  

City Councilor at-large Rebecca Lisi, who's (husband is also on Morse's payroll) perfunctory participation in our march ultimately exposed her patriarchal allegiance stating: 

"Several messages were chanted as the group made their way through the streets and it has come to my attention that some people are accusing me of chanting “FTP” (f@$% the police). I want to make sure that there is no mistake here- I did NOT have any interactions with police officers that day nor did I chant “FTP” at any point and I would not ever give my voice to support such a sentiment- I find it to be degrading and that it doesn’t reach the people who we need to include as we grow the movement- namely police officers and white, middle-class citizens."  

While I am disappointed in Lisi's retraction; my convictions and actions are not premised on what she feels is "important to grow OUR movement."  Lisi does not understand our righteous indignation.  How could she?  Lisi is a white middle-class Holyoker who has never encountered police brutality; it is not her experience. 

And, I don't have time to make excuses for White women (or gay White men) who can't connect anti-Black police brutality with White (Patriarchal) Supremacy; to me - they are one in the same.  Lisi refuses to see that we are not saying "fuck the police" to individual law-abiding officers; we are saying it to a machine comprised of the Fraternal Order of Police, the FBI, the CIA, state prosecutors, selected officials, the electoral college, capitalism, and colonialism, which POLICE our lives towards the goal of neutralizing our equitable existence.  

But we are NOT disappearing into the they trust we will.   Many among us are taking concrete action in solidarity with our communities of color.  

In no way is this an attempt to endorse or vouch for City Councilor Valentin however her demonstrated conviction to defend her right to protest and represent her constituency (Holyoke POC) merits credit.  

The following is an excerpt of Ms. Lisi's response to Cptn. Seklecki's attempt to stifle Holyoker's constitutional rights to protest police brutality.  

"Thank you for offering me the opportunity to further discuss my participation in last Friday's march.
It is an unfortunate reality of our history that the United States has too often placed black and brown citizens outside the full protection of the law. An era of forced segregation is within living memory. And culturally, we are often led to believe in the inherent criminality of our black and brown citizens. That’s part of who we are, and that’s the painful reality that has brought millions of people across the country to march in the streets, as I did last week.

As a City Councilor, I am accountable to the people of Holyoke. And if there are people in Holyoke who feel unsafe, or fear that the color of their skin impedes their full membership and participation in our community, I have a duty to stand with them -- not to stand against our distinguished police department, but to stand with them. Their experiences matter, and so do their lives.

I think now is the ideal time for our police officers to extend the same empathy to the millions of protesters across the country -- to try to understand the pain and fear that parents of color feel when they send their children out into an often dangerous world. The dangers our children of color face are real, and they cannot be dismissed or wished away.

A recent study shows that young black males are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than their white counterparts. I think it’s worth considering why that is. I think it’s worthwhile for all of us, as Holyokers and Americans, to ask ourselves what biases we are carrying into our daily lives. In a job marked by split-second, sometimes life-and-death decisions, the way we see each other matters.

That, ultimately, is why I marched on Friday December 12th -- to help us all consider how we see each other and why; to call attention to a history that we still very much live with; and to make our community a safer place for all of us. It has been said that I chanted “FTP”. I did not. It has been said that “anti-police chants” were said in front of DiNapoli’s memorial. That did not happen. What did happen at DiNapoli’s memorial was a 4.5 minutes of silence moment that was led by one of the march organizers. The march was not “anti-police”. The march was intended to bring a set of important issues to the public discourse. The march was about something much larger than the HPD or myself.

Councilor Valentin's response left me feeling well....represented.  But, as we say in radio "you're only as good as your last break."  So, I will remain vigilant of the actions of all our civic leaders that they walk their talk.  For now, it's Holyoke PD vs. the people 0:1.

Holyoke needs competent leadership capable of confronting longstanding racially-biased policing practices.  Sound leadership requires a mayor who pre-emptively gages the pulse of the city's residents.  Mayor Alex Morse should host a town hall meeting featuring a panel representative of Black and Brown community leaders in all sectors: Law enforcement, justice system, education, workforce development, Government, and housing sector to address concerned citizens of color.   


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