Greenfield Common protesters: ‘Defund police’

  • STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Protesters call for defunding the Police Department on the Greenfield Common Wednesday afternoon. STAFF PHOTOS/PAUL FRANZ

  • Kaleb Rodriguez sings at the protest on the Greenfield Common regarding defunding the police and other issues on Wednesday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Greenfield Mayor Roxann Wedegartner speaks at the protest held on the Greenfield Common Wednesday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Keyedrya Jacobs, of Turners Falls, spoke at the protest on the Greenfield Common regarding defunding the police and other issues Wednesday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Mayor Roxann Wedegartner responds to questions at Wednesday’s protest on the Greenfield Common. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • City Council Vice President Otis Wheeler speaks and responds to questions at the protest on the Greenfield Common regarding defunding the police and other issues Wednesday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Michael Nix and Gloria Matlock perform at the protest on the Greenfield Common Wednesday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Dancer Tara Murphy, of Greenfield, performs at the start of a protest on the Greenfield Common regarding defunding the police department and other issues Wednesday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Precinct 5 City Councilor Tim Dolan speaks at the protest on the Greenfield Common. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Organizer and Greenfield resident Brieanna Arsenault speaks at the protest on the Greenfield Common regarding defunding the police and other issues on Wednesday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • City Council Vice President Otis Wheeler offers his support for the protesters Wednesday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 6/18/2020 5:28:04 PM

GREENFIELD — Some asked that the city defund police and reallocate the money to areas it could be most useful in an effort to fight racism, while others asked that the Greenfield Police Department be abolished, when more than 150 people rallied Wednesday afternoon on the Greenfield Common.

The rally, where everyone wore a mask, was organized by Brieanna Arsenault, who also organized the march from the common to the police station earlier this month where about 2,000 protesters chanted “Black Lives Matter,” “no racist police” and “no justice, no peace” almost two weeks after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. Arsenault also organized a second march in Turners Falls the following weekend.

Wednesday’s event began with Tara Murphy — who teaches and performs African and Afro-Caribbean dance and drumming throughout Western Massachusetts and beyond — doing a dance and inviting others to do the same.

“This is a dance of love and joy,” Murphy announced. “It is my prayer that love arises powerfully in all of us. Love is the greatest gift in the universe.”

Murphy said she was standing with everyone for racial justice, not against police, but against police brutality.

When Murphy completed her dance, Arsenault said that she was there — and hoped everyone else was as well — to follow through the calls to action made during the protest earlier this month.

“You can go out and march and make demands, but you have to follow through,” she said.

Arsenault, who grew up in Greenfield and experienced racism in its schools when she was younger, forcing her, she said, to leave the school system and go elsewhere, said the Police Department needs to be reorganized and demilitarized. The community must create a shared vision that works safely, and it must be built from the ground up, she said.

Police departments were born out of white supremacy, she said. They were “slave catchers” in the early days.

“This change isn’t going to happen overnight,” she said. “It’s going to be a long, participatory process.”

Some of the demands include ending the use of resource officers in public schools and using that funding for youth programs.

Arsenault said people want Superintendent Jordana Harper to end all contracts with the Greenfield Police Department, and would like punitive policies eliminated and truancy laws repealed. They also want more money used for health education.

People would also like to see much less incarceration and the end of cash bail in Franklin County, which criminalizes poverty, she said.

“Youths of color are targets,” Arsenault said. “We don’t want to be incarcerating our neighbors.”

Arsenault said she and others would like to see money reallocated to schools, first responders, and to programs for domestic violence and youths.

“We’d like more community centers,” she said. “When I was younger we had a teen center, skate park and arcade. Now, youths have nothing to do.

“We’d also like to see more resources for mental health and more opportunities for youth, not more police,” Arsenault continued. “More police means greater police brutality.”

Those who attended showed their support by applauding and holding signs, while many drivers who passed on Main Street and Bank Row honked in support.

Arsenault said she and others would like to see more police accountability and see “qualified immunity” ended. They also want police personnel records made public, and for officers to receive no pay while being investigated.

“We’d like details about arrests, and immediate, actionable steps when there are issues within the force,” she said. “We need an independent police review board to take citizens’ complaints and administer discipline.”

She also asked for “true affordable housing,” so that people have not only a place to live, but can pull themselves out of poverty, and they want to see primary caregivers released from jail.

“We need a health approach to sentencing,” she said. “It costs $80,000 a year to incarcerate someone. Give them that money to live, not cage them.”

Precinct 5 City Councilor Timothy Dolan and City Council Vice President Otis Wheeler both attended and said they were at the rally as “white allies.” They said they will continue discussions and do what they can.

Wheeler said he will commit to a more just society in Greenfield, and Dolan said he supports all of the protesters’ demands and is ready to work with them.

“I see defunding as a means to abolition,” Dolan said.

Mayor Roxann Wedegartner was also in attendance and identified herself as an “ally.” She confirmed there will no longer be a school resource officer — the position has been defunded for 2021.

Before the rally ended at 6 p.m., Ben Grosscup, holding a sign, gave a passionate speech about how racists and police departments protect the “capitalist class.” He said they don’t offer anything to the people of Greenfield or the country.

“They are the racist murderers of our black brothers and sisters,” he shouted.

Grosscup said the police department must be abolished and the capitalist class must be disarmed, so that it cannot use violence against people. He received loud applause.

Then, the crowd, led by Arsenault, chanted, “Black Lives Matter” three times before returning to music and dance as the rally had started.

“Social justice for Greenfield” was shouted as Arsenault asked people to “get involved” and “work hard.”

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.

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