Letters to Town Leaders
Originally sent to Communities for Restorative Justice December 4, 2019
Dear Erin, Ashley, Margot and C4RJ Board Members,
C4RJ has left the community of Arlington devastated and divided. The organization’s decision to facilitate a “restorative justice” process for Lt. Rick Pedrini was a misuse of restorative justice. In addition, C4RJ’s efforts are not only incomplete, they were unsuccessful in repairing the damage done to the harmed community and in rehabilitating Lt. Pedrini. I am writing to ask that C4RJ take immediate measures to acknowledge their failure and to repair the severe harm they have inflicted on my community.
The use of restorative justice in response to Lt. Pedrini’s three racist, xenophobic and hate filled columns published in the Massachusetts Police Association’s magazine The Sentinel was inappropriate. According to the C4RJ website, restorative justice (RJ) requires 3 criteria, the third of which is “Together with the police department, we must be able to ensure the safety of all parties — especially you. If we have a concern about the well-being of anyone involved in the case, we may advise that the case not be referred.” Given that an Arlington police officer is the offender in this situation, the harmed individuals cannot reasonably be expected to believe that this condition can be met. Therefore, RJ should not have been used. Furthermore, the uneven power balance between an armed, white, male police officer and that of the targeted communities – including the disabled, the mentally ill, the addicted, immigrants, asylum seekers, people of color and “social justice warriors” makes RJ invalid. Is an undocumented immigrant going to sit in front of a person with the power to arrest and deport them, a person licensed to carry a gun, and feel safe enough to tell them how they feel? Substitute the other groups he targeted into that sentence and you will still end up with the answer, few to none. Also from the C4RJ website: “If there are physical or emotional risks [for the victim], we may return the case to you.” Clearly, circumstances for the affected parties involved the potential for serious “physical or emotional risks”.
Lt. Pedrini’s writings were published throughout the state of Massachusetts and even reported on in national media outlets such as Newsweek. The harmed community is too diffuse, too large and too difficult to identify and, therefore, impossible to adequately and ethically engage in the RJ process and, therefore, impossible to heal. This simple fact alone makes the use of RJ inappropriate for Lt. Pedrini.
Chief Police Fred Ryan, a proponent of RJ who sat on the Board of C4RJ, did not think that RJ was the correct approach for Lt Pedrini’s case. In an email from then-APD Chief Ryan addressed to Arlington’s Town Manager (TM), Adam Chapdelaine, soon after Pedrini’s articles were published regarding Chapdelaine’s suggestion to use RJ for Pedrini, Ryan stated:. “One critical element of restorative justice is remorse and a willingness to accept responsibility for your actions, and the harm caused by your actions. I don’t think [Pedrini] is in that mindset and, although he might be willing to put on a show to save his hide, his views on our community values are in writing and not likely to change in any meaningful way.” Chapdelaine, who would later tell the media and public that he had no questions about Pedrini’s remorse, wrote back, “I fear that you’re right about that.” https://digboston.com/public-information-requests-reveal-arlingtons-behind-the-scenes-response-to-police-controversy/.
Public emails disclosed from a Freedom of Information Act Request revealed that the Arlington’s Human Rights Commission (AHRC) expressed discomfort with the decision to use RJ with Lt. Pedrini and felt pressured by the Town Manager to partake in the process even though the Commission did not approve of its use in this case. The AHRC later formally withdrew from the process after those from the harmed communities attended their meetings and implored them to reconsider their participation. Public emails show that despite the AHRC’s withdrawal in response to community input, Erin advised Chapdelaine to move forward with the process as planned. Finally, in a departure from C4RJ’s own principles of not using RJ for offenders with documented histories of domestic violence and restraining orders, Lt. Pedrini had several restraining orders against him and was specifically named in a 2014 wrongful death suit against the APD in which he was suspended without pay. Neither C4RJ nor the Town Manager informed the RJ participants of Pedrini’s history, potentially putting them in danger and not providing them with vital information they needed to interact with and evaluate Lt. Pedrini.
Despite being declared complete and successful by Chapdelaine on March 29, 2019, and despite the fact that Lt. Pedrini returned to work in mid-April, 2019, it is clear that the restorative justice process is far from complete. The only public facing requirement the community has seen was Lt. Pedrini’s public apology. Yet, this published apology was a farce. Lt. Pedrini did not apologize to any of the specific groups he targeted and threatened violence against. Most importantly, he failed to even acknowledge that his words were racist and ableist, much less denounce them. Instead, he apologized for his “crude and careless” comments and then proceeded to list his accomplishments and awards and boast of his ability to work with “diverse” populations. Since the release of Pedrini’s apology letter, we have learned via a public request for emails, that a RJ circle participant was asked to help write the apology letter, a request s/he declined. These emails also show that town officials, including APD Acting Chief Julie Flaherty, also had a hand in editing the apology letter before it was released. The Arlington community is still waiting for a legitimate apology.
Lt. Pedrini was not required to resign from his role on the Executive Board of the Massachusetts Police Association, despite the fact that public emails show that Fred Ryan made it clear to the Town Manager that any valid restorative process should include this term. That C4RJ did not require Lt Pedrini’s resignation is outrageous, and the process will not be seen as complete until he has resigned and has written a retraction of his statements in the same publication in which the original offending statements were published.
Over a year later, and ten months after the RJ process was declared complete and a success by the Town Manager, the community of Arlington has yet to have an opportunity to interact with Lt. Pedrini. How can C4RJ continue to turn a blind eye to this blatant violation of everything RJ stands for?? The very basis of RJ is to place the needs of the harmed community front and center. In Howard Zehr’s 69 pages of text in his “Little Book of Restorative Justice”, the words “community” and “communities” are mentioned 151 times. Three of the five Key Principles of RJ include the words “victims and communities” (pgs. 32-33) According to Zehr, the goals of the process are: “1. To focus on harms and consequent needs of victims, but also of communities and offenders; 2. To address obligations resulting from those harms of offenders, but also of communities and society; 3. To involve those with a legitimate stake in the situation, including victims, offenders, community members, and society.” Zehr writes “The key stakeholders, of course, are the immediate victims and offenders. Members of the community may be directly affected and thus should also be considered immediate stakeholders”. (pg 27) He further states, “For restorative justice, the key questions are: 1) who in the community cares about these people or about this offense, and 2) how can we involve them in the process?” (pg. 28)
The Arlington community has been very vocal about our need, our desire, and our right to participate in this RJ process and demand its completion. We were denied this opportunity by C4RJ and, until very recently, our requests have been ignored by our Town Leadership. In March, when the use of RJ was first made public, many of us asked to participate in the circles but were told “No.”. We were told that specific people had been “invited” to participate to “represent” the targeted groups. The ignorance of that decision to tokenize individuals is disturbing — as if one person’s experience as a person of color, or an immigrant, can represent all people’s experiences. Needless to say, this did not satisfy the Arlington community. It is ignorant and negligent to (1) invite tokenized members of a community into a confidential process, while (2) preventing public transparency and (3) asking them to represent the entire community but (4) telling them they can’t actually talk about anything that happened in that process with the community they purported to represent. Such a process will not lead to healing. In addition, C4RJ included in the circles representatives of groups that were not specifically targeted by Pedrini, while representatives of those who were explicitly targeted (such as people with addiction or mental illness, or from the activist group Black Lives Matter) were absent altogether. Why? Zehr is very clear about the importance of centering the harmed community in the RJ process. Zehr’s third Fundamental Principle of Restorative Justice is “The needs of victims for information, validation, vindication, restitution, testimony, safety, and support are the starting points of justice.” And “The justice process belongs to the community.” (Pg 72) Clearly, there has been no justice in Arlington.
C4RJ must explain to the public how Lt. Pedrini was allowed to return to his job BEFORE he had completed several of the requirements of the RJ agreement. While that agreement has not been made public in its entirety, we do know that Lt. Pedrini was required to write a public apology, to attend all roll calls of the APD along with Acting Chief Flaherty to relate to the APD what he had learned from the restorative process, to engage in further community dialogues in order to advance healing in the community, and to attend trainings with the Chief and community members to further his understanding of the communities that he harmed. Lt. Pedrini should have been required to fulfill all the requirements of the agreement BEFORE returning to work and BEFORE the RJ process was declared complete and successful.
C4RJ must acknowledge publicly that, in this case, the RJ process failed. C4RJ’s mission states, “C4RJ uses a circle process to help individuals to understand the harm they have caused and hold them accountable. We give those who have been affected a voice, in order to address the harm and build stronger, more respectful communities.” The C4RJ website also states, “We listen to victims, hold offenders accountable, and restore trust in communities.” Per C4RJ’s own mission, you have failed to “to build a stronger, more respectful community” in Arlington. Per your mission, you have failed to “restore trust” between the community and the Arlington Police Department or Lt. Pedrini, and you have failed to hold Lt. Pedrini truly “accountable” for his actions. The Arlington community is divided and angry. I respectfully request that you click this link to read letters to the editors that concerned residents have flooded our local paper with over the past months (https://www.arlingtonfightsracism.com/letters-to-the-editor/). Please take the time to watch community members share their anger and disappointment at Select Board meetings (https://www.arlingtonfightsracism.com/2019/11/25/september-9-2019-arlington-select-board-meeting and https://acmi.tv/videos/select-board-meeting-october-7-2019/). I suggest you read the hateful and blatantly racist comments written daily on the on-line Arlington List. These comments have increased since this C4RJ absolved Pedrini and bear witness to the harassment and intimidation of marginalized people who dare give voice to their frustration, heartbreak or fear over how this case has been mishandled. You will see the damage that C4RJ has done.
In addition, there has been true and long-lasting damage done to the reputation of the Arlington Police Department and to the faith and trust many once had in them. Retired Chief Ryan was known nationwide for his progressive policing and developed a solid relationship with the community based on mutual respect and trust. Unfortunately, all of that goodwill was ruined and will remain destroyed as long as Lt. Rick Pedrini is part of the APD. In 2017, Arlington passed a Trust Act, to become a sanctuary town–but the language of that act is non-binding and was a symbolic gesture. The public was told it didn’t need to be binding because the APD already followed Trust Act protocols. Lt. Pedrini’s writings and his reinstatement to the APD have undermined the intention of that resolution. It is now more frightening for immigrants in Arlington to come forward and trust the APD and they may actually be further endangering themselves by doing so. Arlington Fights Racism (AFR) has been told by several immigrants that they no longer feel safe contacting the police. AFR has also been told by a person of color (POC) that they, and other POC they have spoken to, feel the same. This person said, “They (APD) are racist. And arguably an even worse label, APD is indifferent. There is no trust between POC’s and APD.”
More evidence that RJ was unsuccessful was found on Lt. Pedrini’s Facebook page. Up until mid-September of this year, Lt. Pedrini followed a page called “Drug Enforcement Cops,” which contained memes and videos mocking and degrading those with addiction and applauding police violence against those with addiction. Another page he followed was “Proud Infidels,” which contained blatantly Islamophobic, misogynist and anti-immigrant posts. The skull for the profile pic for the page “Drug Enforcement Cops” Pedrini liked has a thin blue line running through it. This isn’t just a reference to Blue Lives Matter. The skull is known as a Punisher Skull–it’s a reference to a character from Marvel comics known as “The Punisher”–a vigilante who acts outside of the law to enact revenge and perpetrate acts of violence on those he believes deserves it. The Blue Line Punisher Skull is symbolic of a movement that is several steps beyond “Blue Lives Matter:” they embrace vigilantism and police violence against civilians, rather than due process under the law . These were removed from his Facebook page only after members of Arlington Fights Racism made them public at a Select Board meeting.
Further proof of RJ’s failure can be found in Chief Ryan’s email to Adam Chapdelaine after the RJ process was over. Chief Ryan wrote that he has “serious concerns” saying “Rick’s MPA (Massachusetts Police Association) work has become a distraction to his duties at APD and the culture of the MPA in not reflective of the culture of the Town of Arlington nor the APD. That is not likely to change… I think he needs to step away from the MPA”. However, Lt. Pedrini has not been forced to step down by Chapdelaine. Chief Ryan also writes that Lt. Pedrini’s actions at a Patrol Officer Union event was “VERY concerning….a snub in the nose to the TM, his management team, the restorative process and the community as a whole” and warned of “long-term adverse impact on the credibility of the APD.”
From the little that has been made public about Lt. Pedrini’s RJ process, it appears that it did not follow the RJ Circle process as outlined on the C4RJ website. Here is the outline of the circle process from the C4RJ website. “Intake: C4RJ meets with affected parties: victim, offender, family/supporters, and community members to learn about the incident and resulting needs and to prepare everyone for the circle process.
- Opening Circle: At a time and place of the victim’s choosing, C4RJ convenes all the affected parties, community volunteers, and a law enforcement officer. The offender tells the story of what happened, the victim speaks about the impact of the crime, and the group works towards a plan of repair by consensus.
- Agreement Phase: The offender pairs up with C4RJ volunteers who offer support as the offender works to meet the obligations agreed upon during the Opening Circle, which may include letters of apology, restitution, service, and reflective exercises.The victim may also request progress reports or updates.
- Closing Circle: The group reconvenes approximately two or three months after the Opening Circle. The offender reflects on what s/he has learned, and the victim and other community members acknowledge the work done. If all are satisfied, the matter is closed and returned to the police.”
However, according to the Town Manager’s Open Letter to the Community released August 8, 2019, “the first circle consisted of Town officials, which included myself (Adam Chapdelaine), the Human Resources Director, the Acting Chief of Police, a Patrol Officer from the APD, and an Arlington resident who is a police official in another community. This circle met three times and came to a restorative agreement that outlined the conditions that Lt. Pedrini would need to fulfill.” To make this clear, the initial restorative agreement was outlined without any input from the victims or the community. Only after that first group met three times were nine community members invited to join them in a second circle. There does not appear to have been a Closing circle. This is corroborated by both the TM ‘s letter and by an email from a concerned Circle participant. The Closing circle is important as it is, according to the C4RJ website, where “the victim and community members” meet with the offender to make sure s/he has completed the agreed upon obligations and decide if they are “satisfied”. Yet in this RJ process the Town Manager alone decided that he was “satisfied” and that the process was successful without consulting “the victim and community members” and before the obligations had been completed. According to the TM ‘s letter “After the close of this second circle, Lt. Pedrini returned to work on April 14, 2019. To be clear, as the appointing authority, this was my decision. There was no vote taken in the RJ circle. However, I used all that I had seen and heard through the circles to make this determination and the determination was not made until the final community circle was complete.”. The RJ process that C4RJ followed with Lt. Pedrini veers far from the one outlined on your website and the process followed by other RJ scholars.
It is inexcusable that the nine circle participants who represented the “harmed community”, were not asked if they felt that Lt. Pedrini had been rehabilitated. One member told me that, after going through the process s/he was “100% positive” that Lt. Pedrini should be fired, and “I will not stop until he is fired.” Another participant confided that s/he was more harmed by their experience with C4RJ then s/he was from Lt. Pedrini’s writings, “I feel more harmed now than I did before the restorative justice circle”. Others expressed their concern that the RJ process had not been successful in emails to the TM and their concerns were ignored. Your website states, “C4RJ seeks feedback on its own cases, too. At the conclusion of each circle, we ask every participant — victim, offender, supporter, volunteer, law enforcement officer — to complete an evaluation.” The participants I spoke to were not given such an evaluation. Participants are upset that it appears to the public and town leadership that they green-lit Lt. Pedrini’s return to duty when they actually were never asked about their impressions even as some seriously doubted Pedrini was at all rehabilitated.
C4RJ has also failed Lt. Pedrini. He entered into a faulty and problem filled RJ process and is suffering as a result. Instead of receiving rehabilitative training and thoughtful guidance in taking responsibility for and learning from his mistakes, Lt Pedrini remains under valid suspicion from the community he once swore to serve. If anything, this process has heightened the community’s suspicion of Lt Pedrini, and the Arlington Police more generally.
This list of problems only scratches the surface of our concerns. We are sure that there is much more to be learned from the new email requests that we have made and from the people we have yet to talk to. We are concerned about not only our community but about the use of this case nationwide as a precedent for the use of restorative justice in similar cases in the future. We refuse to let that happen.
Restorative justice is an important tool when used correctly. Currently, this misuse of restorative justice is hurting the reputation not only of restorative justice but also that of C4RJ. We are asking C4RJ to return to Arlington to listen to community members and answer our questions, acknowledge that the RJ process failed in this case and to take responsibility for the current dire situation in which we currently find ourselves .
Since November 5, I have repeatedly asked Erin for a face-to-face meeting but have not been offered one. Another AFR member, Lynette Martin, and I attended your annual meeting on November 12. We attempted to respectfully engage Program Director Ashley Bentley and Board President Margot Fleishman in conversation about this topic but they made it very clear that they were not interested. We found a more interested and sympathetic audience with Board Vice President David Wilson and Board member Thomas Black. We left feeling hopeful. We are still waiting.
I would like to make it clear to C4RJ that Arlington Fights Racism will not be ignored and that we are not going away. We had over a dozen members of AFR ready to protest and disrupt your annual meeting. However we decided to be patient and to continue to respectfully ask C4RJ to engage with us. Unfortunately that respect has not been returned. A month has gone by and we have lost patience. By this Friday I would like to have a meeting scheduled. If not, AFR is ready to go very public with our concerns. I am available next week, December 9, from 11:15-2:30 and December 10, from 3:30-7:00 pm. Please let me know which of those time frames work for you.
I sincerely hope that someone at C4RJ will begin to understand how serious this situation is and will meet to discuss steps the organization must take in order to begin to repair the harm you have caused in Arlington.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.
Arlington Fights Racism