A response to protest that makes sense

I have yet to hear any practical solutions to the problem of violence and conflict between the African-American and other minority groups and the police from Donald Trump.  Here is a response that can be made by local police all over the country.

Here is the complete text of a letter from the Brattleboro, VT chief of police published today in the Reformer.

I wanted to take this opportunity to make a few comments about the recent Black Lives Matter March that was held in Brattleboro on July 13.

There is a culture of mistrust towards law enforcement that currently exists in our country. Recent events have catapulted that mistrust to levels that exceed those of recent memory. Police interactions with citizens have been called into question resulting in anger, disbelief and frustration. These feelings have manifested themselves into protests, rallies and marches throughout the country. Some have been peaceful, others have not.

There was a march in Brattleboro that should be recognized. Unfortunately there were no national news agencies on hand to help report this story. The participants in this rally were there to express their frustration towards social injustice and police excessive use of force.

From the start I noticed members from across the spectrum of our community and many new faces. They spoke about the injustices towards minorities and police brutality but they also discussed solutions to rectify those injustices and ways of better policing.

This march was interesting to me as it not only addressed the problem but suggested ideas towards the solution. It was peaceful, respectful and informative. To sum it up in one word – positive.

I spoke to many non-participants along the route and their feelings were the same. The conduct of those demonstrating in Brattleboro drew people to them, not away. People wanted to join them, to be a part of this movement. In my opinion, that is how to make a change. Negative actions rarely produce positive outcomes.

To the organizers and to all those who participated, I would like to commend you on the overwhelmingly positive difference you made through your peaceful demonstration. It was a model for the rest of the country to emulate.

People expect the police to respond to a wide variety of situations with thoughtfulness, compassion, respect and empathy. I can assure you that every Brattleboro Police officer wishes to achieve that same goal. Many of you know our local officers personally by name and know of our desire to police in a fair and approachable way. We are engaged with the community from the officer on the street up to the chief, but we are not perfect and will always be able to learn and improve the ways we serve. For that to occur we need you, our community, to let us know how you feel.

Please call, email or stop by to talk to me about your concerns. In these challenging times, the Brattleboro Police Department remains steadfast in the commitment to the safety of all in our community.

Michael R. Fitzgerald is the chief of Brattleboro Police Department. He can be contacted at Michael.Fitzgerald@vermont.gov.

From a story in The Commons "To protect and - serve lunch!"

From a story in The Commons “To protect and – serve lunch!”

I mentioned the good community policing happening in Brattleboro in my post earlier today.  Here is more proof.  I hope more police departments adopt Chief Fitzgerald’s approach rather than going into a totally defensive mode.  As I said earlier, we need more talk and less violence on both sides.

 

Democracy at the local level

Last year I attended the reunion of the Class of 1970 at St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD.  (That was the class I actually graduated with even though I am technically 1969.)  Our seminar reading was Democracy in America by de Tocqueville.  A lively discussion ensued one topic being whether the de Tocqueville vision of what we in the 1960s called participatory democracy still survives.  I argued that I thought it did survive at least in New England and particularly in Vermont.  For example, Brattleboro where I live, has citizen committees for everything from planning to finance to trees.  And, yes, while there are sometimes problems in finding sufficient people to serve, I believe committees eventually find volunteers.  Some committees are appointed by the elected Selectboard, while others are appointed at Town Meeting.

Every town in Vermont has town meeting on the first Tuesday of March.  Most towns have an open meeting with all town residents.  Budgets are approved and important issues are discussed and voted on.  These are de Tocqueville’s farmers conducting business.  Here is the link to a nice explanation done for middle school students.  Brattleboro is a little different.  On the first Tuesday, which is a holiday, we vote for people who will represent us at town meeting as well as for other local offices like Select Board, School Board, Lister, and Constable.  All the elected representatives meet several weeks later at Brattleboro’s Town meeting.

I decided to run for Town Meeting Representative, got 14 people (you need 10) to sign my nominating petition and got elected with a respectable number of votes.  Town Meeting this year was divided into two meetings.  The first was on a single question of authorizing the Selectboard to take money allocated for renovations at the current police station and, instead, purchase a building in a new location and move the police station.  I voted “no” because I was opposed to moving an essential government service out of downtown, and we lost big.  There is some move to do a town wide referendum on the question, but I don’t know if that will succeed.  My feeling is that my side lost and we just need to get on with it for the sake of the police officers.

The second meeting was yesterday and was a more traditional town meeting.  We arrived at 8:30 and adjourned about 4:30 with an hour for lunch.  (Unlike smaller towns, we have no pot luck, but a high school club sold us stuff for breakfast and lunch to raise money for a trip to Costa Rico.)  There were 30 articles on the agenda beginning with appointment of the Town Clerk (no controversy there) and accepting the audit reports for the Town and for the Town Schools.  We elected people to the Capital Grant Review, Library, and Finance Committees (I got on that one.)  And then a motion was made to raise the compensation of the Selectboard members. They currently get $3,000 a year with the Chair getting $5,000.  Interesting questions were asked during the discussion including whether increasing the compensation would attract people to run who could not afford to volunteer and whether paying the Selectboard more would change the character of the government from volunteer to professional.  The motion that finally passed was to have the Finance Committee study the matter.  I can see what I will be doing this year!  Interestingly we did decide to raise the Town School Board member pay from $2,000 to $3,000 and the chair from $3,000 to $5,000 to make them the same as the Selectboard.

We voted for modest sums to support a variety of local human service non profits and for tax relief for others.  I don’t think any of those votes were unanimous.  And we approved after much discussion, the town budget and school budgets for the next year.  I am more familiar with general government budgets than with school ones, but the town budget is very lean.

Finally we passed two non-binding resolutions:  First, to eliminate fees for activities at the Senior Center and second, to designate the second Monday in October, Indigenous People’s Day.

20160319__p_REF-L-TownMeeting-0319~5_500

All in all a very interesting day.  I heard a lot of concern about poverty in Brattleboro.  I think the number of children who qualify for free lunch – 62% – shocked a lot of people.  (According to the 2010 Census, the median income for a household in the town was $31,997, and the median income for a family was $44,267.)  I can see this becoming more of a topic for discussion at future town meetings.

We heard a plea for civility at the start and other than some mutterings and calls for points of order when one representative in particular spoke, that request was answered.  I think that if he attended any of the town meetings I’ve read about in the local paper for have friends who attended, de Tocqueville would have no trouble recognizing his democracy in America.

Photograph:  Chris Mayes, Brattleboro Reformer.

FortLeft is moving

No, not the blog, just physically.  We are moving off the hill in Roxbury (Boston) to a hill in Brattleboro, VT.  As one of my Vermont friends said, “Welcome to Bernieland!”

You may – or may not- have noticed that I haven’t posted anything new in quite a while but things have been a little crazy what with house hunting, getting loans, etc.  And now that we have a target closing date there are all the details to deal with.  Home inspection, insurance, changing everything to another state and finding contractors when you are not on the scene is a challenge.  My advice is to have a good broker.  And then there is packing.

Packing up 20 years of stuff spread out in a 14 room house is quite an experience.  At least we are moving to another large house with attic and a basement that is dry and are sorting and culling rather than downsizing.  The trick is to imagine where things will go in the new house.  That’s what I do at 3 am when I can’t sleep – along with worrying about what kinds of quirks the new house will have.  My grandson said the other night that he thinks it will take at least a year to know all about the new house.  He’s 10.

I’ve been sorting though papers and have found a lot of treasures in piles and boxes. For example, I found some old letters and emails from two of my best friends.  One of them died of a rare form of cancer, the other now has a form of dementia.  We were all so happy and cheerful 12 and 15 years ago.  And then there are all the loose photographs from back when there was actual film. Remember, people would take pictures and then send prints of the best ones so a lot of them are still in envelopes which assists in identification.  And then there are all the ones my husband and I have taken.  At one time I did try to put them in albums, but that fell of the radar early on.  Now they are just loose or in the envelopes they came back from the developer in.  They will mean something some day.  My husband and I are our respective family historians so we have many of the old family albums.  It was a wonderful moment to find the picture I had thought was lost: My grandfather, the Reverend Kyogoku, with his friend, D.T. Suzuki.  (A subject for a future post.)  That photograph is now digitized and saved in several places.

I am an admitted pack rat and had saved old Christmas cards carefully bundled by year.  I ditched the cards, but saved the pictures.  One long Vermont winter I will pull them out to group chronologically by family.  I also had papers from a lot of the big projects I’ve worked on over the years in Boston.  I kept the final products but have recycled most of the work papers.  I have program books and announcements and copies of speeches from (to mane a few) the Jackson Square redevelopment (the early years); “Women on the Edge of Time”, the annual conference of the National Commissions for Women held in Boston in 1999; the creation of the Massachusetts Commission for Women; the first statue of women on Commonwealth Avenue; grants I helped write for domestic violence efforts; and booklets I put together for the Boston Housing Authority on civil rights issues. When I last  moved 20 years ago, I did the same thing with my stuff from Richmond which is still in neatly labeled boxes.  I also have political stuff from the various campaigns I’ve worked on – from George McGovern to Elizabeth Warren.  My lesson learned is to try to file things as you go along.  At least I’m starting with good intentions but I think I had them after Richmond.  Oh, well.

And then there are the books.  All 7,000 or so that are moving with us.  A small library.  I’ve been cataloging them on LibraryThing, for the last two years, but I’m only about half finished.  (LibraryThing is a great way to keep track of your books even if you just have a few.)

Mr. Bunter and piles to be sorted.

Mr. Bunter and piles to be sorted.

There is lots of excitement and anxiety on Fort Hill these days.  The cats are confused by all the piles of boxes and things that keep getting moved around as we pack. We talk to them and try to explain, but all they know is that things are different and they aren’t happy about it.  Mr. Bunter cries and Harriet eats Kleenex out of the boxes.  They are just as stressed out as their humans.

I will continue to write about life in a new place, living in a small town, and – always national politics.  My location will change but FortLeft will endure – perhaps a little irregularly for a while, but I hope not with as long a gap as just occurred.