Councilor Penny Ricketts says she won’t back down after racist, Photoshopped pictures of her sent to department heads

Penny Ricketts says she won’t back down after racist, Photoshopped pictures of her were sent to department heads

  • Penny Ricketts, of the Human Rights Commission, offers comments at the Commission's forum Monday in April at the Town Hall. Recorder file photo/Matt Burkhartt

Recorder Staff
Published: 6/15/2016 5:40:12 PM

GREENFIELD — Police are investigating a series of emails sent to town department heads containing racist, Photoshopped images of At-Large Town Councilor Penny Ricketts.

Ricketts said she received the emails from an unknown address over the weekend, but didn’t realize what they contained until Monday when she ran into someone from the town’s Information Technology Department, who assured her they were looking into who sent the emails. The images of Ricketts — mostly photos originally published in The Recorder — had been Photoshopped to contain racist imagery.

“I wouldn’t have opened it and really looked at it if he hadn’t alerted me with sadness in his eyes,” she said. “The police have it now and they’re trying to locate who might have done it.”

Ricketts said in one image, taken of her at the vigil for victims of the Orlando massacre, a watermelon was Photoshopped under her arm. Another photo, taken of her at a Human Rights Commission hearing, shows her with a lip plate Photoshopped inside her mouth, resembling what might be worn by members of particular African tribes. She said a third shows her head superimposed on a photo of line of African-American women, naked from the waist up, with a caption reading, “Republic of The Congo, Graduating Class, 1968.”

She said she also received a fourth email, but hasn’t opened it.

Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh said his department is trying to determine who sent the emails, but declined to give more details as the investigation is ongoing.

“We have potential hate crimes here,” he said. “We have civil rights issues; on our end, criminally, we’re looking at this as threatening behavior. It’s just completely disgusting, really, and should be treated as strongly as we possibly can. It’s appalling.”

The emails came in the midst of Ricketts speaking out against discrimination and bullying in Greenfield. She recently drafted a resolution of respect, adopted unanimously by Town Council at its meeting Wednesday night, which makes clear that such activity will not be tolerated in town. She also sits on the town’s Human Rights Commission.

At first, Ricketts said she wasn’t sure whether to go public about what happened, but quickly realized that the same thing could happen to somebody else in town.

“When it was first occurring, I kept it inside and I couldn’t believe it, and then when I really looked at the pictures and recognized what they were from, then I knew I had to do this fight. It’s more important than ever because this is what they’re trying to silence me on,” she said. “It’s not a time to hide, it’s not a time to be, ‘Oh, woe is me’ or whatever. I am who I am, I’m black.”

Ricketts gave a statement during Wednesday’s Town Council meeting, saying Greenfield will rise above such prejudice and negativity, and whatever the motive was of the person who created the images, it will backfire.

“If this act of cowardice is meant to silence me, I will only speak louder now,” she said.

Many councilors voiced support for Ricketts and her resolution during the meeting, saying they stand behind her.

“Having seen the pictures, it literally made me sick,” At-Large Councilor Mark Maloni told Ricketts, “but I think it says something about you as a person that you are taking these steps.”

Council Treasurer Karen “Rudy” Renaud suggested a framed copy of Ricketts’ resolution be hung in Town Hall for all to see.

Ricketts said if the photos are intended to scare her into backing down in her fight against discrimination and hatred, or to get her to step down from Town Council or the Human Rights Commission, that isn’t going to happen.

“I never for one moment thought about that,” she said.


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