Photo of 16th street leading to the White House (Business Insider), painted by Washington DC staff, helped by the community. Site of repression by federal forces on peaceful protesters.
“Those of us who hope to be their allies should not be surprised, if and when this day comes, that when those who have been locked up and locked out finally have the chance to speak and truly be heard, what we hear is rage. The rage may frighten us; it may remind us of riots, uprisings and buildings aflame. We may be tempted to control it or douse it with buckets of doubt, dismay or disbelief. But we should do no such thing. Instead, when a young man who was born in the ghetto and who knows little of life beyond the walls of his prison cell and the invisible cage that has become his life, turns to us in bewilderment and rage, we should do nothing more than look him in the eye and tell him the truth.”
―Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness published in 2010
This last week has pushed us to think more deeply about the difference we can make and the importance of action to address systemic racism. No matter what our role or position in this world, we must all do more to fight for justice. I remain dedicated to using my privilege as an elected official and a white person to work towards justice in the form of accountability and systemic change. The murder of George Floyd has sparked a national movement that was long overdue, and it is spurring cities and towns to take action on a local level. In this email are a few ways you can take action TODAY by donating and showing up for racial justice, some thoughts and comments specific to Cambridge’s policies and practices, and some reading resources. And then some thoughts on the council agenda for Monday. I find it hopeful that protests are continuing and people are taking concrete action. A big first step is people across the country – and here in Cambridge – reviewing police codes of conduct, budgets, practices related to community justice, and calling for a reallocation of funds into the community and out of police departments.
If you haven’t taken action yet, today is a great day to start. If you are already taking action, don’t stop anytime soon!
A FEW WAYS TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE:
First way: Show up! This Sunday, noon, on Cambridge Common (see details above). Hear from student activists and community leaders – stand against injustice and show your solidarity.
Additionally, some North Cambridge folks are standing up for Black Lives Matter each evening starting in Porter Square. The crowd has grown each night and the line now spreads down Mass Ave towards Harvard Square. Nightly vigil 6:30 – 7:30 pm. Also, 10 a.m. to 12 noon, Saturday, June 6th — Davis Square in Somerville; Rindge Ave at Alewife, Porter Square, Inman Square, and Central Square in Cambridge. Wear a face mask, bring hand sanitizer, make your own sign, and practice social distancing.
Show support for the Cambridge movement!
Help raise money for the organizers of Sunday’s action – Cambridge My Brother’s Keeper Task Force – who plan to continue with sustained action over the summer and beyond. Please let me know via email if you would donate money in exchange for a Black Lives Matter sign to put on your lawn or in a window. We are trying to gauge how many signs to order at the moment so please email ASAP back if you would like one!
Support Black Owned Businesses:
I have asked in the past to support local businesses – through FeedTheFight Cambridge – and today I am asking you to specifically direct money to Black owned businesses who are suffering. One in particular is close to me:
Wally’s Cafe is a neighborhood treasure and institution. They have a vision for a student to student music project organized by the owners’ CRLS graduate daughter. As the first Black owned jazz club and today one of only TEN liquor licenses owned by black people in all of Boston, Wally’s deserves our love and support. The owners are Cambridge folks (full disclosure: our daughter is friends with one of the owner’s daughters). Please support this family as generously as you can. The Boston Globe also had an article on Boston area black owned restaurants to support, including a few in Cambridge.
A few suggestions for reading:
Four of the most compelling books I have read and recommend about race in America:
- Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria”, by Beverly Tatum (here is the short article)
- The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (whose powerful and prescient quote from the book that starts this email summarizes what we are witnessing today – published in 2010, listen to her in the wonderful Netflix documentary on the criminal justice system, Thirteenth)
- The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (important history for all of us, which notes that northern cities, including Boston had their own segregation)
- The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein (which mentions Cambridge’s own housing developments as being part of redlining and the housing segregation directly tied to today’s appalling economic racial inequities).
Finally, as I wrote last week, tyranny and injustice have never been overthrown by acquiescing to the system that perpetuates them. Another way to have positive, immediate impact on a horrid and systemic problem: support one of the many bail funds across the country. Why we have cash bail anywhere for most offenders is appalling, so until we eliminate it as we have for the most part here in Middlesex County, please support. And in Florida you can help ex-felons still fighting the modern poll taxes preventing them from voting.
CAMBRIDGE-SPECIFIC POLICE POLICIES:
President Obama recently noted that, “Mayors and other City Council officials are uniquely positioned to introduce common-sense limits on police use of force,” and released this four step process as a way to achieve tangible change in cities and towns across the country:
1. REVIEW your police use of force policies.
2. ENGAGE your communities by including a diverse range of input, experiences, and stories in your review.
3. REPORT the findings of your review to your community and seek feedback.
4. REFORM your community’s police use of force policies.
Our Mayor Siddiqui is committed to this process, and will be holding a community meeting on the CPD next week with Commissioner Bard (time TBD). I wholeheartedly support reviewing our own department. The police department also released a response to the #8CantWait movement on police violence. I am heartened to see the steps we have taken already, and I believe we can and must do even more. I look forward to discussing whether we are doing what we say we are and how we are monitoring our adherence to these policies and practices.
Council Agenda Overview
City Manager’s Agenda:
CMA #123: Outdoor seating (and alcohol) – This item will allow for the city manager to start fast-tracking permits for restaurants and bars to serve food and alcohol outdoors, per the Governor’s “Second Wave” order. I have been pushing the city to plan for this for over a month, and I am hoping they can have everything in place to make things as easy as possible for our beloved local restaurants to start safely serving ASAP.
PO #127: Body Cameras – This order calls for the City Council to hold a hearing on the use of body cameras by police officers. I believe that body cameras are a necessary step towards accountability, and yet I have also heard calls from the community stating that body cameras only further surveille people who are already over-policed. Before we write any policy measures, it is important we get community feedback to understand what the best step forward is. I am glad that the council will be scheduling a hearing in the near future.
PO #129: Affordable Housing Overlay – It is back….but will be referred to committee without much, if any, discussion at this meeting. I am expecting the this policy discussion to play out over the next month or two, since changing zoning, especially such a wide ranging ordinance that affects the entire city, should be a thoughtful process with time for input. However, with all the attention on COVID and BlackLivesMatter, I imagine the conversations will be very different from the last quite divisive and acrimonious community discussions. This is no time for division. Since the proposal is essentially the same as a year ago, I remain supportive of the goals and concerned about potential unintended consequences. Notably, the lack of design review, specific goals for middle income units, and climate mitigation efforts suggest that the result will be sub-optimal. I am also skeptical, based on information from the city in documents from last round, about the ultimate number of units to be added due only to this zoning passing. However, I am hopeful that the overlay proposal will be amended and improved such that I can support it. With so much going on at the moment, I will save my detailed thoughts and comments for the upcoming committee meeting.
PO #133: Police Department Budget – This policy order notes that the police department budget is scheduled to increase by $4.1 million and asks the City Manager to report on how those dollars might be “…redirected to measures that promote public health and safety in other departments.” I support the idea of reallocating dollars, which cities across the country are starting to do. There are even calls to completely defund the police, and I believe we must take those calls seriously and understand why some people are calling for radical reform (the Minneapolis City Council is exploring whether to replace the entire police force with a restorative justice model). I love those ideas and I believe we need to be willing to be disruptive. One specific way I will advocate for starting a reallocation of funds from policing to the community is to hold off on filling any vacant positions within the police department, and use those funds to begin immediately filling the new positions in the budget for next year, including a housing liaison, directly tied to community needs. I also believe that we should explore if there are ways that we should reallocate funding from departments across the city towards needs in education, public health, housing, job training, and more. One challenge is that the city already has many programs and spends far more than most cities on such programs – yet I don’t believe that we have evaluated those programs for effectiveness and outcomes. We need an understanding of how to better spend our dollars, otherwise we may reallocate funds into programs that do not advance our agenda. I saw plenty of that in our school district, and advocated against that type of change for the sake of change. I will do the same on council.