Crowd protests outside talk on safe cities

  • People gather outside the John Zon Community Center on Thursday to protest a talk by Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson. STAFF PHOTO/MELINA BOURDEAU

  • Lucy Kahn, of Greenfield, makes a sign saying “No hate, no fear, yes on two,” outside the John Zon Community Center on Thursday evening. STAFF PHOTO/MELINA BOURDEAU

  • Greenfield resident Kelly Drew made a poster to promote the safe city ordinance. STAFF PHOTO/MELINA BOURDEAU

  • Holly Kosisky, of Greenfield, brought a sign promoting the safe city ordinance, which is on the November ballot in the city. STAFF PHOTO/MELINA BOURDEAU

  • Supporters of safe city ordinance and protesters gathered outside of the John Zon Community Center in Greenfield Thursday as the Greenfield Citizens Association was hosting Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson inside. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DeLUCA

  • The large crowd drew presence from Greenfield Police officers, who were later accompanied by Massachusetts State Police troopers to monitor the event Thursday evening. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DeLUCA

  • Precinct 5 City Councilor Tim Dolan stands with protesters Thursday evening outside of the John Zon Community Center, where the Greenfield Citizens Association was hosting Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson inside. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DeLUCA

Published: 10/24/2019 10:05:47 PM

GREENFIELD — In advance of the Nov. 5 election, when voters will determine whether Greenfield is a safe city, an event at the John Zon Community Center drew a crowd of more than 100 protesters Thursday night.

Protesters stood outside the center brandishing signs reading, “Greenfield is for everyone,” “We love our neighbors,” and “Yes on 2” in reference to the ballot question as they sang, cheered and spoke in favor of the proposed safe city ordinance.

The event inside, a talk on safe/sanctuary cities, hosted by the Greenfield Citizens Association, brought Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson to Greenfield to speak about the impacts of illegal immigration and designating municipalities as safe or sanctuary cities and towns. Fewer people were gathered inside the event than outside, however.

The “Greenfield Safe City — Yes on 2” campaign, along with numerous private citizens and community groups, expressed outrage about the event and called for Mayor William Martin to cancel it.

The safe city designation has been hotly debated since its proposal by City Council President Karen “Rudy” Renaud in July. The ordinance was put on the November ballot because a citizen’s referendum petition had been submitted and certified by the city on Aug. 12. Precinct 1 City Councilor Verne Sund submitted a motion for reconsideration, which was shot down by the City Council at its August meeting as well.

While it is not the sanctuary city ordinance Renaud proposed in 2017 — which was defeated in a City Council vote of four in favor and six opposed — the safe city ordinance is similar. The ordinance prohibits city officials from asking about a person’s immigration status, targeting someone or discriminating against an institution providing refuge to immigrants and their families, and taking law enforcement action against someone on the basis of perceived immigration status.

Among those gathered outside of the John Zon Community Center Thursday was Springfield City Councilor Adam Gomez, who took the microphone in support of the safe city ordinance.

“This legislation is about families,” Gomez said. “This is about compassion, about love.”

Greenfield Precinct 7 City Councilor Otis Wheeler was also in attendance. He said the peaceful gathering gave him hope that Question 2 could pass, and prove that the community is a welcoming city.

Timothy Dolan, Greenfield city councilor for Precinct 5, said he was pleased with the turnout.

“I have been supporting safe city since I campaigned; it was on my fliers,” Dolan said. “I think this shows community support.”

One Montague resident, Rhina Naranjo, said she is worried that she and her family would lose the freedom to walk down the street without being questioned because of the color of their skin. She is an immigrant from El Salvador, but her children were born and raised in the United States.

“I don’t want them to be discriminated against just because of the color of their skin,” she said. “They were born here.”

Katherine Golub, organizer of the evening’s “Yes on 2” supporters, said the group has stayed strong as the fate of the safe city ordinance moved back and forth. The group is working to make Greenfield a safe city and counter the spread of misinformation, she said.

Emily Lewis, of the Resistance Center for Peace and Justice in Northampton, said she attended to support the safe city ordinance. While she said she did not support what Hodgson had to say, she noted the group was not there to shut down the speaker.

However, the original group of protesters on the lawn became over shadowed when individual protesters moved closer to the doors of the John Zon Community Center. As they approached the doors and windows, dancing distractedly outside of them, those inside closed the blinds, so the protesters could not see inside. Not long after, some attendees who had gone inside to listen quietly pulled the curtains back open.

At one point, an organizer for the Greenfield Citizens Association event came outside, brandishing his cellphone and flashlight in the faces of protesters and Councilor Dolan.

“This is not even an organization,” Dolan said of the Greenfield Citizens Association. “It is a Facebook page.”

“Yes on 2” support organizer Golubtook the microphone to request that the group protesting be non-confrontational. While some supporters backed away from the doors slightly, chants carried on. Multiple Greenfield Police officers were on the scene and State Police troopers eventually arrived to help monitor the situation.

Residents Dan and Julie Carew attended the evening with their children, but left before it came to a close, as it was a school night. They said while there was controversy to the ordinance becoming a ballot item, they are glad they can voice their opinion through the vote.

“This is a simple question of compassion,” Julie Carew said.

“We want this community to thrive,” Dan Carew said. “To do that, we need to open up our community so people of different backgrounds feel welcome.”

As the night carried on, some of the original crowd continued to sing and the lyrics “reach across our borders,” floated through the air over the protestors and police officers.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at or 413-772-0261, ext. 264. Melina Bourdeau can be reached at or 413-772-0261, ext. 263.

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