Town Day censorship?
People who came to Town Day may have noticed a couple things that were different from the past: a large number of empty slots, very wide spaces between several of the booths and a squad of people, wearing white t-shirts with large letters “ARFRR” handing out flyers. These events were not unrelated.
Arlington Residents for Responsible Redevelopment is a citizens zoning educational group. In a timely manner, they submitted an application for a Town Day booth and paid a filing fee. Subsequently, we were told that all the space had been assigned, and so we were excluded. Thus the roving squad of members was organized. But evidence shows many of those organizations that “filled” the list of available slots were not present. One of our members counted at least nine such absentees. I learned afterward that some of them had no intention of attending. Obviously one of those nine slots could have been given to ARFRR, which had a table, chairs, tent and banner ready to go.
What was the seditious message that town officials wanted to keep the public from receiving at ARFRR’s would-be booth? It was in the flyer that was passed out: a warning that the town is planning to bring back the density articles that were rejected at last spring’s Town Meeting by a decisive “no action” vote. Such zoning laws if enacted would, starting in Arlington Heights, endanger current residents and businesses in older low rent buildings by eviction and demolition making way for new construction; eliminate or eviscerate current protections including height limits, setbacks, open space and buffer zones; increase strain on public services, especially our at-capacity schools; and do environmental harm by eliminating open space and trees, see http://arfrr.org.
It went on to state what we do need is affordable, not market rate, housing; business, commercial and industrial development, not residential; improvement of protections in the current bylaw, not changes to benefit developers.
In former times, when we had a community newspaper, there might have been an investigation, or at least a report, of this town-sponsored attempt to muzzle free speech of a citizens group. The town’s own group, Envision Arlington, which advocates density zoning among other things got no less than three booth spaces. Perhaps this letter will show the need for some inquiry.
John L. Worden III, Jason Street, 50 year Town Meeting member and former moderator
I write to share my disappointment in how Lt. Richard Pedrini’s case was handled by the town leadership and my objection to his reinstatement to the Arlington Police Department.
Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine had difficult decisions to make about the consequences Pedrini should face for his racist diatribes published in the Massachusetts Police Association newsletter. Chapdelaine’s choices send terrible messages to Pedrini’s targets and to the entire town:
An outspoken racist is back on the force, and his targets are expected to believe that he has learned his lesson.
One police officer is more important than the people in the community he is supposed to serve and protect.
Racism is tolerated in the APD and by town leadership.
The concerns of and threats against marginalized people are not as important as saving the town money.
The restorative justice process can be used to protect those with power from the consequences of their abuse of that power.
Chapdelaine’s efforts to be pragmatic led him to do the wrong thing. The result of his efforts to protect Arlington from the financial cost of firing Pedrini, and his fear of losing in arbitration, mean we have an outspoken racist in the Arlington Police Department. We cannot call Arlington a welcoming town when town leadership reinstates a racist to the police department.
I attended the Select Board meeting on Sept. 9 where over 20 people shared their objections to how this case has been handled. There were many powerful statements, but one stood out in my mind. Elizabeth Dray reminded the select board about the gathering in town hall that took place last May to support the Arlington Jewish community after the Center for Jewish Life was twice the target of arson. Dray asked why town leadership has not organized a similar show of support for the people Pedrini targeted in his writings. She asked why town leadership shows more concern for Pedrini’s position than for his targets’ position. Her words reminded me of something I asked myself that evening in May at town hall. I wondered then, “If the targets of arson had not been white, would there have been an event like this to show them that their community embraces and supports them?”
Sadly, the answer appears to be, “No.”
June Rutkowski, Alpine Terrace, Arlington
The ‘restorative justice’ process must be discredited
I write to condemn the tacit support of police racism by Arlington officials. Last year, Lt. Pedrini published a series of racist articles in the Massachusetts Police Association Newsletter. He compared refugees to Pearl Harbor bombers and suggested they should be shot, encouraged violence against peaceful protestors and described people with a history of crime and substance abuse as “animals” and “maggots” who should be “put down.” Further investigation into his background shows a pattern of alt-right activity going back several years. Rather than terminate him, Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine pursued a “restorative justice” process that has been criticized by experts and stakeholders, including former Police Chief Ryan, before, during and after. Pedrini has returned to work, reportedly with gun in hand.
As a visibly transgender and disabled activist, I cannot treat this threat as hypothetical. Pedrini is a danger to me, and even more so, to the immigrants and people of color in this community. Privileged white people tend to see the best side of our police force, but people of color, homeless people and LGBT people see the worst. BPD’s violence against queer protestors, but not the simultaneous alt-right rally, this August is a case in point.
I have seen the difference myself: at a large Black Lives Matter event, I watched thousands of riot police bused in from throughout the state. They biked in formation and completely surrounded protestors, creating walls two to three officers deep, shields up and riot weapons displayed. At the even larger Women’s March, I didn’t see my first officer until hours into the protest. He was smiling and laughing, no weapons in sight. My coworkers, nice, white, liberal women, many from Arlington, later praised the protestors for being “so peaceful.” But the behavior of protestors did not differ. They were simply white.
The behavior of town officials regarding Pedrini shows a deep misunderstanding of this reality, as evidenced by their repeated dismissal of red flags and refusal to acknowledge Pedrini’s non-remorse. Publicly released emails show that the town has mobilized the police against activists on this issue, including people of color. The Select Board has falsely characterized further action as “impossible” and silenced concerned residents at meetings. Further concerns are too numerous to list here.
The “restorative justice” process must be discredited so that Pedrini faces consequences. The safety of residents is at stake.
Robin Harney, Lake Street
There is still time
We are writing to add our voices of deep concern and anger about the continuing harm caused by the published racist and violent words that Lt. Pedrini, a member of the Arlington Police Department, has caused and the way the case is still being treated by leadership in this town. We are also asking that town manager and the board of selectmen recognize that racist content of his actions and act accordingly to repair this harm.
In addition, we ask that if Pedrini stays in our community, that he be permanently on administrative duties only. Putting him back on the street sends the wrong message to all in our community and is a real financial liability as well.
His words constituted hate speech that was directed at members of the community that he has sworn to serve and protect. Members of a community that may now may be even more fearful of calling the police when they are needed.
Taking accountability for the harm caused requires us all as a community to recognize and name what happened, for example labeling the writings as racist, among other things.
It also does no good if some on the Select Board, like Selectwoman Mahon belittle and downplay the serious concerns that we should all have. Pedrini is someone who is supposed to represent the law but felt free to exclaim and publish his racist views. This is a difficult thing to just put behind us when we feel true accountability for his actions have not happened. We also want to recognize Select Boardman Decourcey and Curro for not voting to endorse the TM letter but believe in endorsing his handling of the Pedrini case is the wrong way to go forward.
Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine does not go far enough in refusing to use the word racist. We implore him to reconsider how he writes and talks about this very troubling incident that happened in our police department. We ask that the Select Board and the town manager make a public statement calling the remarks racist, and explaining why the writings are racist. This is a learning opportunity that all can benefit from.
We still don’t know to the full extent the harm these racist, xenophobic and violent words affected folks in our community who were targeted by Pedrini’s statements. Repair cannot happen without accountability. We ask that town leaders please continue to take this into consideration and do the right thing. There is still time.
Paula Jordan and Robert Santosuosso, Windsor Street
Pedrini should be terminated
When I learned of the deeply racist and violent writings of Lt. Pedrini, I was shocked. When I learned that he had written similar articles in the past and been subject to restraining orders and allegations of inappropriate conduct, it became clear that this was not an isolated incident, but rather, a disturbing pattern. These actions betray the stated values of Arlington and the “Hate Has No Home Here” signs displayed by so many. I have no confidence that Pedrini has changed his views. The fact that his published apology did not disavow his words as racist and that he has yet to step down from the MPA affirms my belief. Pedrini’s published words directly put the people of Arlington at risk by breaking the trust between the community and the APD, causing crimes to go unreported, as well as the risk a police officer with such violent and racist beliefs policing that community.
If there was trouble in my neighborhood, how could I call the police, knowing that the officer responding might think he should “forget about ‘restraint,’” “measured responses,” “procedural justice.” “de-escalation”’ and instead “meet violence with violence?” If there was trouble at the park, how could I call the police, knowing that they might send an officer who compared asylum seekers with the invasion of Pearl Harbor? How can I tell my child that, if there is trouble, he should talk to a police officer, when we have reason to worry that the police might make the situation worse, not better?
I could not. We need true engagement with the Arlington residents Pedrini targeted with his words alongside actions that make it clear the town of Arlington and the APD will not tolerate racist and violent rhetoric. I urge the town to exercise all avenues possible for terminating Pedrini. Short of termination, Pedrini should absolutely remain on administrative assignment in a role where his interactions with the community are minimized. This would serve to reduce harm to the community as well as potential financial liability to the town that would be incurred by future civil suits filed if Pedrini were to arrest any individuals identifying with any of the groups he targeted.
Jennifer Litowski, Oxford Street