Defund Somerville Police — Questionnaire
1.) Is there any update on the new precinct? How was the city council helpful or unhelpful in your goal of preventing its funding (and defunding overall)?
By “new precinct” are you referring to the public safety building that’s supposed to go up at 90 Washington Street? I know it’ll be used by both our police and fire departments. I honestly don’t have much to say about it other than that. I personally haven’t been following it very closely.
There haven’t been any new cops submitted to our city council’s committee for Confirmation of Appointments and Personnel Matters since they voted to approve 10 new cops earlier this year. We spoke out against this in December. It would have been 11 approvals, but one of the officers was rejected because he before the council lied about his answer to a question in a previous interview. Here’s an excerpt from the link above about the February 2nd CAPM meeting.
Chair Rossetti posed the following scenario:
‘You and a partner have arrested a suspect for selling drugs. During the arrest procedure at the scene, you recovered illegal drugs and a large amount of money. While you are securing these items for submittal as evidence, you observe a partner place some of the money in his or her pocket. What would you do in that case?’
The candidate replied that he would report his partner for stealing evidence.
Councilor Scott echoed Councilor Mbah’s stance and raised another concern, explaining that when asked questions tonight, none of the candidates gave responses as were documented in the O’Donnell Civil Service Decision, therefore it’s his belief that one of the three candidates before the committee lied tonight.
You can also find video of the meeting in the same link.
In terms of defunding overall, the majority of the council has been dismissive and at times antagonistic to our demands. A minority of them (JT Scott, Lance Davis, Will Mbah, Mark Niedergang, and Ben Ewen-Campen) have been willing to meet with us several times over the past year despite not always having a shared vision.
Our research team put together a great presentation on Somerville’s failure to act on it’s own recommendations for police reform (starts at around 27 minutes in) over the past 20 years. We wouldn’t have been able to do that if Councilor JT Scott hadn’t been willing to sponsor one of our members.
2.) DSA is running a slate of candidates who, if elected, would create a socialist majority on the city council. What impact do you think their election would have on the goals of defundSPD?
Two of the candidates, Willie Burnley Jr, and Charlotte Kelly are co-founders of Defund SPD and former steering committee members. We still have great relationships with them. We’re excited about potentially having a council where the majority of their members support Defund. Their election wouldn’t impact our goals, but it would impact our strategy. Our current council has a misconception that we hate cops as individuals and don’t have any alternatives to public safety. They don’t get that policing as an institution is designed to protect capital at the expense of workers. With a socialist majority council we wouldn’t have to repeatedly explain the basics and instead get to focus more on implementing solutions such as a safe consumption site, civilianizing traffic enforcement, tenants rights, homes for the unhoused, health care, and more.
Regardless of the outcome of the elections we’ll be devoting more time to in person outreach unbound to any electoral campaigns. The pandemic limited our ability to have face to face conversations with our neighbors. In our experience those direct interactions have been effective at converting Defund skeptics into believers.
3.) Do you have examples of police misconduct specific to Somerville that particularly galvanized your movement? I’ve heard some locals claim that SPD is “different” and not as abusive as other cops. What would your response be?
Some of our members and supporters were injured by Somerville police at the 2019 Straight Pride Parade.
SPD officer and former president of the Somerville Police Employees Association Michael McGrath pepper sprayed a handcuffed man that October. In 2016 he led a protest demanding the removal of a Black Lives Matter banner from city hall.
A six year old Black and Latinx student was reported to police for touching a white girl in his class. Defund SPD has a good relationship with his mother Flavia Peréa and have helped her organization Justice for Flavia get the SRO program as well as an insidious “mentorship” program known as STEPS suspended.
As long as we’re living under capitalism, no police force will be “different.” Even the nicest best trained officers are obligated to enforce laws that value private property over human life. Until we’re living in a system that provides for all of our basic needs at the expense of capital we’ll have to restrict the scope and power of policing in Somerville and every city in the country.
4.) Is there anything in particular you would like mentioned about defundSPD in my article? Any upcoming goals my readers could be made aware of?
We’re currently conducting a People’s Budget survey (please only fill this out if you live in Somerville, MA!) to gauge how our neighbors would like to see their tax dollars used.
The cop who was called on Flavia Peréa’s son was a “community police office” and not an SRO. “Community police” officers are still allowed in our schools. One of Justice for Flavia’s upcoming goals is a Memorandum of Understanding between Somerville Police Department and Somerville Public Schools that prevents officers from interacting with students without the consent of their parents and keeps cops out of schools unless they’re responding to a threat of immediate physical harm that can’t be deescalated by school staff. Defund SPD recognizes that eliminating the school to prison pipeline is crucial to decarcerating society as a whole and supports Flavia’s demands.
Sadly just a few weeks ago, the city council approved a budget that will increase funding to our police department by about $1 million. They gave their final budget vote on June 24th, just one day after rejecting Councilor Niedergang’s proposal of $1.5 million in cuts. In the same June 23rd meeting, the council made resolutions to request several hundred thousand dollars in additional funding to other underfunded departments. However, Mayor Joe Curtatone is under no obligation to provide the funds they requested. What this tells us is that the council knows essential public services are being underfunded as our police budget increases, yet only 4 of 10 voted (the 11th councilor, Matt McGlaughlin was recused from voting because his brother is a cop) to support Niedergang’s cuts which wouldn’t have even required any layoffs. The cuts targeted vacant positions that the mayor would like to hire new police for.
Our police department, pro-police councilors, and pro-police city council candidates have been trying really hard to make Defund SPD seem like an all white movement and have claimed to be speaking for people of color when they defend police. This both erases a year of work done by Defund SPD which is led by a majority people of color steering committee and perpetuates the idea that people of color are a monolith who all think the same. Somerville Democrats have enlisted an ethnically diverse set of centrist candidates with few if any proposals to limit the role of policing in our city. We ask that our neighbors pay close attention to which candidates have actually made non-police alternatives to public safety a priority. Defund SPD intends on weighing in more on local elections later this summer.