Creating Safe Communities

Letters to the Editor

Originally Published December 5, 2019 in the Arlington Advocate

Approximately 50 people gathered at First Parish Unitarian Universalist for “Creating Safe Communities,” organized by Arlington Fights Racism, facilitated by Dr. Rick Pinderhughes of Visions Inc. (which is conducting the bias evaluation of the Arlington Police Department), and co-sponsored by Arlington’s Diversity Task Group, Arlington-Teosinte Sister City Project, and the ArCS Cluster. AFR plans more such events as we work to reach additional Arlington residents, seeking to understand the state of our community today. Participants included everyone from longtime residents to the very newest, with the majority representing groups harmed by Lt. Pedrini’s words. Some members of the Arlington Human Rights Commission and one Select Board member also participated.

When town leaders learned that AFR organizers had brought in Dr. Pinderhughes with their own resources, they demonstrated their support by paying his fee on our behalf. They also sent a letter of support and, respecting our wishes, they were not present at the event.

Dr. Pinderhughes opened the event by explaining the norms and guidelines of this community forum and how to create a “brave” space. Some came to speak about how they have directly experienced racism, prejudice and bias in Arlington. Some came to express their fears and concerns for our and our children’s future. Some came to share stories of people they know who did not yet feel safe to tell their own stories. Some came to respectfully listen, to gain a greater understanding of their neighbors. All were promised that their words would be held in anonymity and that they could speak without fear of reprisals. The group then came back together to share closing thoughts on how to address these harms. Recommendations included: holding public shows of support for the marginalized; continuing to push town leaders for open, transparent communication regarding the work being done with APD; requiring Lt. Pedrini to publicly address those he’s harmed; asking town leaders to acknowledge, in order to avoid setting precedents for other towns, that this restorative justice process was seriously flawed; and requiring the town to create a clear policy for all town employees about hate speech on social media.

This process of understanding how members of our community have been harmed is ongoing; we do not expect quick, easy answers to our problems. AFR will continue its efforts to build trust through reaching out to the community. Please visit our website, www.ArlingtonFightsRacism.com, for more information.

Lynette Martyn
Eustis Street

Self-Reflection Needed to Fight Hate

Letters to the Editor

Originally Published December 5, 2019 in the Arlington Advocate

The hate that we are seeing around the country and the violence that follows is deeply disturbing. It is also disturbing to see that there are people in Arlington who think that Lt. Pedrini’s hate-filled words were a joke or tongue in cheek and rush to defend him. It might be hard to confront a friend or family member when they step out of line morally, but to avoid doing so is enabling them and depriving them of an opportunity to face the consequences of their actions and to grow. I don’t know of any religion that says that hate is OK, I don’t know of any code of conduct that says hate is OK. And yet when showing support to someone who spread hate and tearing down the very people who worked tirelessly to address it is what allows hate to continue, and gives the message that it is OK. It is not OK. Arlington Fights Racism is working to unite our town by addressing the harm done to our marginalized communities. Hate and indifference are dividing our town. How differently this might have turned out if the people who care about Rick Pedrini had helped him to see how his words hurt members of our community and offered him support to make it right. Perhaps there are people in town who share the same attitudes expressed by Pedrini. This is racism and is harmful to everyone, and surprisingly even to the person who harbors hateful thoughts. Racism and bias only keeps us separated from each other. We live in a racist country with a racist history so none of us avoids having some version of it. For white people to recover from our racism, we need to deeply examine the biases we hold and the values we hold and see if they are in line with each other. If we don’t do this self-reflective work, we are living in the dark and miss the opportunity to connect with the cross section of people who make up our community. The reality is that we have a rich and diverse country with people from all walks of life and all corners of the earth. We are a country of immigrants and the potential to break down barriers and learn about each other is endless. Arlington Fights Racism is encouraging people to talk with each other and seeking ways to make Arlington safe for all of its residents. Please join us if you would like to be part of this journey.

Lynette Culverhouse
Draper Avenue

Dray Letter to Communities for Restorative Justice

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.

Elizabeth Dray
Arlington Fights Racism

Friedman Letter to Town Manager

Letters to Town Leaders

Originally sent to the Arlington Town Manager August 14, 2019

Law Offices of Howard Friedman, P.C. 
92 State Street, 9th Floor
Boston, MA 02109
www.civil-rights-law.com
Telephone 617-742-4100 
Fax 617-303-3938

August 14, 2019

Adam Chapdelaine, Arlington Town Manager
730 Mass. Ave., Annex
Arlington, MA 02476 

Dear Mr. Chapdelaine, 

I am writing in response to your August 8, 2019 open letter to the Arlington community regarding Lt. Pedrini’s racist and violent views expressed in an article. I am a civil rights attorney with over forty years of experience. My practice focuses on representing victims of police abuse. I represented the estate of Patrick Barry on a negligence claim against the Town of Arlington. Then Sgt. Pedrini was one of the negligent employees; he failed to follow a policy requiring him to provide a medical evaluation of Mr. Barry. The delay in care resulted in Mr. Barry’s death. 

You say Lt. Pedrini’s comments were so problematic that termination of his employment would be appropriate. But, because termination could result in an expensive appeal and Lt. Pedrini might win his job back, you decided to use restorative justice, which is not a punishment at all. Your actions set the standard for the department. If another employee makes similarly racist comments, and you attempt to punish the person by a suspension without pay or demotion, that employee will argue you are treating them differently than Lt. Pedrini. Your fear that you can’t terminate a police officer will become reality. 

Your lenient treatment was opposed by former Chief Ryan, the chief at the time of Lt. Pedrini’s comments. Chief Ryan stated that while Lt. Pedrini would say the right things, restorative justice was not likely to change his behavior because his expressed views were “not likely to change in any meaningful way.” 

Your effort to save money could backfire. By failing to discipline a lieutenant you have sent a message to other officers that making racist comments and statements about using violence is acceptable and therefore even using violence is acceptable in Arlington. After the Barry incident, then Sgt. Pedrini was made a lieutenant, which tells officers that failure to follow policies will not prevent promotions. You also open the Town treasury to civil rights suits. Plaintiffs will argue the town has a policy of failing to properly discipline police officers, which results in police misconduct. 

Finally, it appears in deciding Lt. Pedrini’s discipline you did not consider his history. I was told by Town Counsel that Lt. Pedrini was suspended without pay for his role in Mr. Barry’s death. But this does not appear in the documents released in response to a public records request. 

Approving restorative justice for Lt. Pedrini may have seemed like an easy solution to a tough problem. It was a mistake. Comments from people in Arlington show they have noticed that instead of doing what was right, you decided to do what seemed easy. 

Sincerely, 

Howard Friedman

Pokress Letter to Select Board

Letters to Town Leaders

Originally sent to the Arlington Select Board September 10, 2019

To the Select Board of Arlington, MA

First, I want to thank the two members of the Select Board, Mr. Curro and Mr. DeCourcy, who argued against an outright endorsement of Mr. Chapdelaine’s letter in an attempt to understand whether it addresses the concerns of our very diverse community. However, I feel that last night’s meeting did not even scratch the surface of beginning to rebuild trust between community members, our Town Management, and the Arlington Police Department.

I feel that is important to acknowledge the privilege that allowed me to stand before you at last night’s Select Board meeting, as a white person possessing good physical and mental health as well as financial stability. And I ask you to consider why the Select Board heard from me rather than someone who better represents the marginalized communities against which Officer Richard Pedrini holds dangerous bias, as he has revealed on multiple occasions.

Last night I urged the Select Board to delay voting to endorse Mr. Chapdelaine’s letter to the town, and to instead revisit the following important issues. It was my hope that the Board would persuade the Town Manager to amend his letter to better reflect the following requests from the townspeople.

1 – We would like to see Lt. Pedrini remain on administrative assignment for the remainder of his contract with the town.

2 — We ask that he NOT be assigned to school events or given any supervisory roles involving children, such as his assignment in June 2019 to the Last Blast overnight event at the high school.

I wonder what he thinks when he sees students with obvious “liberal” leanings, perhaps wearing an Elizabeth Warren t-shirt or a Black Lives Matter button? Does Lt. Pedrini carry a gun in the presence of these kids whose opinions he despises? Pedrini’s alignment with the MA Police Association (MPA), which has, for example, issued official statements urging police officers to protest against Senator Warren, gives me serious pause. Imagine what goes through Pedrini’s mind if one of these young people wears the jersey of Colin Kaepernick — a person he openly wished to see dead.

3 – The town should formally request that Lt. Pedrini step away from all MPA connections. As of today his name and picture still appear on the MPA website under Executive Board.

In regard to this, it is important to be aware of the following words uncovered in the FOIA request:

From Police Chief Fred Ryan, dated March 2019, emphasis is mine:

Rick’s MPA work has become a distraction to his duties at APD and the culture of the MPA is not reflective of the culture of the Town of Arlington nor the APD. That is not likely to change anytime in our lifetime. The last time I attended one of their meetings they gave a standing ovation in response to an announcement of a fatal police shooting [of a suspect]. As an element of any credible restorative contract I think that he needs to step away from the MPA. …As I understand it, Rick recently attended a Patrol Officer union event and accepted some sort of “best supervisor” award. …a snub in the nose to the TM, his management team,the restorative process, and to the community as a whole. … Failure to address these issues will have a long-term adverse impact on the credibility of the APD.

4 – The town should revisit the decision to have community policing in the schools. At a minimum, we would like to have the town conduct a third party assessment for bias. Additionally, we should carefully consider why a school resource officer needs to open-carry a gun.

In closing, I just want to share that I have a college-aged daughter who is in her third year of studying criminology & criminal justice. Through her, my eyes have been opened to the far-reaching effects of police bias, and the abuse of power. I urge you to learn everything you can about the Pedrini case, in particular by reading the content exposed by the FOIA requests, so that you can make informed decisions on behalf of all the people of Arlington, especially those who may not make their voices heard out of fear, lack of agency, or myriad other reasons.

Thank you for your time.

Shaileen Pokress
Crosby Street

Sonbonmatsu Letter to Select Board

Letters to Town Leaders

Originally sent to the Arlington Select Board September 11, 2019

Dear Members of the Select Board:

For many months now, I have been made deeply upset by the Town leadership’s inept handling of the Officer Pedrini case.  Up until last Monday night, though, I had viewed the Select Board itself neutrally, and I had been willing to give Board members, whom I do not know personally, the benefit of the doubt.  I am writing you now to say that I no longer feel this way. I can see clearly now that the Board has become part of the problem. Though Chair Mahon said at the meeting that she hoped the hearing would calm the waters and enable our community to “move on,” her own actions and words will produce exactly the opposite effect, exacerbating the divisions in our community.

Let me say first that I appreciated the thoughtfulness and sincerity of the alternative proposal that was put forward during the meeting by Mr. Curro at Monday’s meeting, and that I was also moved by the courage shown by Mr. DeCourcey during the meeting, when he expressed his reservations about voting to “endorse” the Town Manager’s letter.  These, to me, were the high points in the proceedings. Alas, these conscientious interventions came to little in the end, for reasons I will now explain. 

Here’s what happened on Monday night, when we get down to it:  incredibly, after sitting on its hands for a year and failing to issue a single public statement or to hold a single hearing inviting commentary about the Pedrini crisis, the Board decided to hold a vote to *endorse* the Town Manager’s entirely self-serving and self-exculpatory letter, released last month, which portrayed the town as having made all the right calls in handling the Pedrini case, and, by extension, in handling too the ensuing public outcry over its botched approach to that same case. 

The fact that the Board publicly reaffirmed its confidence in the Town Manager’s handling of this case, in spite of the testimony by numerous citizens expressing serious concerns about it, was a heavy blow for me and others.  What that vote in effect said to me, to others in the room, and to hundreds of other Arlington residents who have felt angry, hurt, confused, and upset by the Town’s handling of Pedrini’s case, was this: “We reject, unequivocally and in toto, your criticisms of the Town’s handling of the case.   Thank you for your comments: now, sit down, shut up, go away, and let our community get back to healing.” 

It is difficult, surely, to imagine a more insulting response by elected officials to the valid, heartfelt, well-reasoned, well-documented concerns of hundreds of residents.  Many, many residents have invested dozens and hundreds of hours of their personal time to research the Pedrini case over the last half year. They have lobbied town officials and committees, investigated the APD’s past performance, sought to raise public awareness about racism in our town.  They have issued FOIA requests and written articles, held protests, written and circulated petitions. And they have done all this in good faith, in a sincere effort to better our community and to promote social justice. Yet these are the very people whom Chair Mahon publicly belittled and bullied in her remarks, even as she piled encomiums on the Town Manager and the APD.  The Chair and at least two other Board members indeed fell over themselves in lavishing praise on the APD, without however evincing any similar passion or concern for the thousands of vulnerable Arlington residents put at risk by Officer Pedrini and other officers who share his views. It was Orwellian to hear.

It was also Orwellian, the height of bad faith and hypocrisy, for Ms. Mahon to claim repeatedly at the meeting that the Board was prohibited, due to “the separation of powers,” from responding in any substantive way to citizens’ concerns about the Town’s handling of the Pedrini case (despite the fact–by the Board’s own admission–that the Town Manager serves at the leisure of the Board itself, and is accountable to it).  I say it was bad faith and hypocrisy for the Chair to say all this while at the same time calling for a vote to endorse the Town Manger’s handling of the Pedrini case, in effect giving the Town Manager the Board’s Good Housekeeping seal of approval on his actions to date. 

According to Chair Mahon, the Board put the Pedrini case on the Board’s agenda on Monday night out of a desire to “hear from the community” and to allow “healing” to occur.  But “hearing” the public means just that: it means taking their complaints seriously and addressing them in good faith; it means admitting error when error is noted, and seeking to remedy past mistakes.  The Board, however, did none of these things. Instead, it circled the wagons by rallying around the Town Manager and dismissing his critics as “undermining” his “leadership.” Literally adding insult to injury, moreover, the Chair Mahon angrily accused the town leadership’s critics of hurting the “morale” of the APD and sullying the good name and reputation of our fair community–as if this whole controversy were their fault, and the APD and the town were blameless.  Talk about shooting the messenger: I’m still pulling out the buckshot. 

It disturbs me greatly that members of this Board still seem to see nothing amiss in anything the town’s behavior in the past year.  The Board chair repeatedly urged that critics of the town “move on” and find “closure” with the process. But there remain too many unanswered questions in this case for anyone with a social conscience, or merely with an interest in transparent government, to rest content.  Why wasn’t Officer Pedrini wasn’t fired outright, as should have occurred? Why weren’t former APD chief Ryan’s warnings that Officer Pedrini was unlikely to express sincere “remorse” for his statements not heeded? Why was his case, in a completely unprecedented action, shunted through such an absurdly flawed restorative justice process?  

When acting APD chief Julie Flaherty and the Town Manager very briefly fielded questions a few months ago at the only public hearing held in Arlington on the Pedrini matter (under the auspices of the Diversity Task Force), and Chief Flaherty was asked whether other APD officers sympathize with Officer Pedrini’s side of this case, she frankly acknowledged that opinion was divided.  That told me and others everything we needed to know about the APD and the attitudes of its officers: that there should be even a single officer on the town’s payroll who agrees with the racist, violent, xenophobic attitudes spewed by Pedrini in the MPA newsletter was shocking news. It was however as clear a sign as one could ask for that the town urgently needs to investigate the attitudes and behavior of its officers, all of them.

As the Town Manager himself makes clear in his public letter, he and the APD unilaterally set up the parameters of Pedrini’s “rehabilitation” from the start, holding three “circles” consisting entirely of Town leaders and police officials and officers.  Incredibly, these same individuals then went on to participate also in the second “circle.” Much has been made of the fact that five people of color and/or representatives of various underserved communities in Arlington had been invited to participate in this process, but of the 14 people present in the second circle, 70% were apparently white, and there were as may town and police officials participating as citizens representing various token segments of the population.  No one to this day knows exactly how these individuals were picked. But it is evident that the Town Manager exercised unilateral discretion in forming the circles. What will be done to ensure that similar cases are handled differently in future? 

From the start, the Town Manager seems to have sought a path designed to rescue Pedrini’s career and to rehabilitate his public reputation, while at the same time enabling the town to sweep the whole matter under the rug as swiftly and with as little liability as possible.  But to have believed, if he and other town officials truly did believe, that such a process could be relied upon to “redeem” a veteran officer, a man in his 50s, who has developed extremist right-wing views over the course of a lifetime, and who was bold enough even to publish them in a newsletter to his peers across the state:  I say, to have believed that such an individual was likely to achieve some good Christian epiphany and suddenly “see the light” as a result of a speaking, for a few hours, to a handful of town officials and cherry-picked citizens: such a conceit demonstrates either stunning liberal naivete or startling Machiavellian cynicism. In either case, it was a terrible error of judgment and a travesty of true justice. 

I am not writing here to demonize Adam Chapdelaine, a man I do not know and towards whom I feel not the slightest personal animus. Perhaps he acted in good faith, and to the best of his abilities–I have no way of knowing.  But that is simply not to the point here. Good people, too, sometimes make mistakes, even serious ones. And that is what has happened here: the Town Manager, however well-meaning, has made a series of terrible blunders that have had the consequence of endangering the vulnerable members of our community, eroding the public’s trust in its local officials, and sending the dangerously equivocal message to the wider world that, in essence, the Town of Arlington is willing to tolerate violent forms of hate speech within the ranks of its police force–so long as the perpetrator issues an equivocal, self-serving “apology” for his behavior, afterwards.

What troubles me even more that Pedrini’s original comments is the way our town’s leaders have dealt with them.  It is not right that the Board has thrown the weight of its authority and reputation behind the Town Manager’s handling of this case.  It is not right, either, that some members of the Board have taken to publicly belittling the valid concerns and complaints of numerous its citizens in our community. 

I urge members of the Board to chart a new, different course, under new leadership.  I urge you to be open to a genuine dialogue with members of this community, about how we might all move forward together.  Until the town’s leadership frankly admits to its errors, however, and begins to remedy them, our community will be on the road neither to truth nor to reconciliation.  Nor will this matter be put to rest. As the saying goes: No justice, no peace.

Sincerely,

John Sanbonmatsu, Ph.D.
Arlington resident
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Worcester Polytechnic Institute