Sgt. McCarthy speaks

Last modified: 12/30/2015 8:47:02 AM
GREENFIELD — For the first time since Nov. 28, when two fathers complained about him hanging a Confederate flag in his garage where their adopted black 10-year-old son could see, Greenfield Police Sgt. Daniel McCarthy spoke about the incident on Monday at the town’s Human Rights Commission forum on the matter.

McCarthy, who has been on the local police department since 1992, said he agrees the situation upset some people and did not intend to offend anyone.

Short of a public apology, McCarthy said he has no hatred or racism in his heart. He said he has served the community for almost a quarter-century and has always been concerned about everyone’s quality of life.

McCarthy, who has served as the Police Department’s liaison to the commission for several years, said he would like to continue to do so.

“The flag has no negative connotations to me,” McCarthy read from a short statement he had prepared for the meeting.

Commission Chairman Lewis Metaxas opened the meeting at 6 p.m. and adjourned it just before 9.

Fifty-five people filled the room in Town Hall and six had to go into the hallway because the room was over capacity. Throughout the night, people spoke and then went into the hallway to let someone else enter and speak.

Most who spoke voiced their concern about a public official — especially one who carries a weapon — missing the meaning of racism that lies within the Confederate flag.

Michael Lewis said it is an issue for him that McCarthy wants a symbol of racism and racial divide anywhere in his home. He said though it is his right, he believes public servants should be held to a higher standard.

That sentiment was repeated again and again throughout the evening.

A man who identified himself only as Natan, said racism is not about how white people feel or what their definition of racism is, but rather how something they do — maybe innocently — affects people of color and what impact it has on them.

“There may not be any ill will, but you may do something that hurts someone else,” he said.

Joan Featherman, a former commission member, said privileged white people are protected from having to feel the hurt a Confederate flag can inflict.

She said the town is long past due having meaningful dialogue on the question, “What is racism?”

Julie Page said the fathers should have gone to McCarthy and talked with him about how it hurt their son, who told Rod and Lindel Hart that the flag scared him and by extension, made him afraid of local police. She said that should have happened before posting anything on Facebook or contacting the local newspaper.

Another man who identified himself as Robert said he believes his ancestors owned slaves. He went on to say the Confederate flag is not something that should be celebrated.

While no one suggested that McCarthy be removed from his duties, some did suggest he not be the commission’s liaison from this point.

Not everyone, including commission member Penny Ricketts, agreed. She said, instead, that this is opportunity for everyone to learn.

Her daughter, Vanessa Ricketts, who defended McCarthy, said the entire thing has been blown out of proportion.

“He can do what he wants,” she said, referring to McCarthy. “He used poor judgment, maybe, but that doesn’t mean he’s racist.”

Glenn Johnson said he’s thrilled that no one has made an issue of a same-sex couple raising a son through all of this.

“That shows progression on some fronts,” he said.

But, Johnson said there is racism in Greenfield and people can’t ignore it. He said people of color who live in Greenfield have talked about their experiences with others.

“Dialogue is important, but not enough,” he said. “Sgt. McCarthy has a blind spot. I think he should be removed as liaison and have to attend sensitivity training.”

A woman who said she works in corrections said law enforcement needs to be accountable, on and off duty, because they are supposed to serve the entire community.

“People have to deal with the consequences of their actions,” she said.

She also said the online discourse was disturbing and fed the frenzy.

The consensus by the end of the night is that local police and other town officials need training on these types of issues, and the commission agreed.

“This is not the end,” said Metaxas. “This is just the beginning.”

Metaxas said the commission will discuss its plans, but will most likely hold more forums on related issues and will eventually make a recommendation about that and more to the mayor and Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh Jr., who reminded people during the forum that it was not McCarthy’s choice to not discuss the incident publicly before Monday night, but his, because it was affecting his department.

One person stood and said that McCarthy may have meant no harm, but caused some, and that’s not acceptable.

Haigh and Metaxas said they know McCarthy as a caring and dedicated police officer.

The Human Rights Commission meets the second Monday of every month at 6 p.m. in the meeting room in Town Hall.

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