We all want to feel safe in our community but the hard truth is that racism is embedded in our town governance and police force, and many residents are unsafe and unseen.
On Tuesday, September 22, Arlington’s leaders tried to close the final chapter and “move beyond” Lt. Pedrini’s racist and hate-filled writings. With hollow commitments to continue the “broader discussion around race and equity” in Arlington, town leadership again fails to understand that they cannot employ openly racist police officers and tout our town as safe and inviting for everyone.
Arlington Fights Racism reiterates our concern that the racist and violent words of Arlington police Lieutenant Rick Pedrini have caused grievous harm towards all those who were targeted in his writings. The inadequate response to those writings, beginning with Arlington’s use of the illegitimate restorative justice process and the lingering questions over how this troubling story can be brought to a reasonable conclusion, continues to cast a pall over the image of the Town as a progressive community that cares for it’s marginalized residents, and has served to embolden white supremacists.
In recent weeks over a dozen Black Lives Matter signs and banners and a mural have been defaced across the Town of Arlington- at homes as well as in front of our schools and churches, some marked with KKK imagery. Additionally, acts of intimidation have been occurring against people participating in the daily vigils along Mass Ave in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Arlington Fights Racism (AFR) stands in solidarity with our Black neighbors, as well as all other individuals targeted by this white supremacist organization including BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, Jewish, and Muslim members of our community. We will never be silent about such harm done to our community members. We now know that a Blue Lives Matter rally, co-organized by the wife of Arlington Police Officer Robert Pedrini and America Backs the Blue is scheduled to take place in Arlington this Thursday, September 10th. Town manager Adam Chapdealine issued a statement stating that “the organizers of this event are affiliated with “Act for America,” an organization that has been designated as a hate group by both the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.” A similar rally hosted by this group in Medford recently attracted white supremacists who used hate speech and threatening behavior.
AFR supports the members of our community who are most affected by these hateful acts, and recognizes the pain that is repeatedly being brought to their doorsteps, their spirits, and their sense of belonging. The Town collectively needs to have zero tolerance for racism in our community; otherwise Arlington will likely continue to suffer from high rates of hate crimes like these.
Coverage of the vandalism of BLM signs in Arlington can be found in both national news sources, including the Washington Post, and several local news stations. This is not the first time our town has received broad news coverage for issues of systemic racism. Last year, we were shocked by multiple acts of arson at a local Jewish place of worship. Earlier in the summer Arlington drew national attention for the vandalism of a BLM banner at Arlington High School, which resulted in hundreds protesting with Arlington High’s Black Student Union. The Boston Globe published an article outlining the systemic racism that contributes to persistent racial disparity gaps in our school disciplinary rates; and NPR broadcast a segment about APS entitled, “What it’s Like to Be a Student of Color.” Most widespread however, was the news coverage of Lt Pedrini. Not only was his racist manifesto published in a statewide police journal, but the coverage traveled far via Newsweek. His words can be found across the country on police websites, not as a condemnation, but as a warning for police officers: “If you are going to be loud, be wise.”
Commitments have been made and some steps taken toward addressing our problems with systemic and institutional racism; but until we express a stronger desire to change, Arlington will continue to struggle with diversity and equity issues in the hiring and retaining of teachers and employees of color, and our community will suffer as a result. Until we demonstrate by our actions our willingness to change – that is, by deep policy changes and daily engagement with the issues- we will not attract more residents of color or businesses owned by people of color because people of color will choose more welcoming places to live and work. Unless we change the narrative some members of our community will continue to be afraid to report crimes, be reluctant to run for office or be too intimidated to speak up.
The town must demonstrate anti-racism in action. By keeping Lt. Rick Pedrini on its payroll Arlington ensures that your taxpayer money actively contributes to this hostile town culture. Residents should fully expect that our town will continue to embolden the rise of white supremacy if we do not take a material stance against it. We can’t sit around and complain to each other and hope for a better future. Each and everyone of us must actively do something right now to make that future a reality. Change can only happen when we act. It is not too late for the Town of Arlington to pursue termination of Lt Pedrini. He might very well be reinstated in arbitration, but the Town will have nonetheless sent an overdue message to the APD, to the community, and to white supremacists terrorizing our neighborhoods that racism will not be tolerated in Arlington and that Black Lives do matter to us.
Arlington Fights Racism is also reflecting on how we can better serve Black lives in Arlington. As such, we are pursuing the development of an Accountability Council consisting of community members who identify with a marginalized demographic, prioritizing Black and Brown voices. Please contact us if you are interested at email@example.com.
By Jenna Russell Globe Staff
He had never shared the story outside his family, holding his frustration close. But after Minneapolis police pressed the life out of George Floyd, J. Mike Remy felt compelled to end his silence.
He had never shared the story outside his family, holding his frustration close. But after Minneapolis police pressed the life out of George Floyd, J. Mike Remy felt compelled to end his silence.
J. Mike Remy, a former data analyst for Arlington Public Schools.ERIN CLARK/GLOBE STAFF
So one night in late May as protests filled the streets, Remy turned his cellphone camera on himself. Calmly, the 36-year-old data specialist explained what had driven him to leave his job with Arlington Public Schools in 2017: He had voiced concerns to the superintendent about racial disparities in student discipline — Black and Hispanic students, and those with disabilities, were punished much more often than whites — and believed he had been instructed, in response, to play down his findings.
“It’s always eaten at me,” he said, “that I had to swallow that and live with it.”
To his surprise, the six-minute video caught fire online, racking up more than 25,000 views and hundreds of comments, and eliciting a forceful rebuttal from Arlington’s schools superintendent, Kathleen Bodie. “We did delve into the data,” she said, “and have done so for many years,” spending thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars to address disparities.View this post on Instagram
The controversy was just one of the sparks igniting conversations about race in Arlington, one of countless places where such dialogue has surged.
A national uprising against racism has reinvigorated criticism of persistent racial inequalities in education, in mostly white suburbs as well as more diverse cities. With more vocal support from white allies — and diminishing concern about the costs of speaking boldly — Black and Latino students, parents, educators, and community leaders are increasingly willing to call out inequality and demand change, risking the discomfort that such conversations bring.
In Arlington, 6 miles northwest of Boston, Black students spurred by Floyd’s death as well as their own encounters with racism have stepped up their activism, protesting injustice in their school system last month outside town hall. Parents, too, have raised their voices, writing publicly this spring of their misgivings about sending their Black and brown children to local schools.
“A town that says it values education could do more, and it should,” said Jon’s Allison-Cardoso, who recently published a letter, co-written with two other mothers, about their children’s experience as students of color in Arlington. “It’s hopeful that so many people are raising their voices and saying, ‘This is our experience — hear us; don’t ignore us.’”
In well-off Arlington, where the median home price tops $700,000, race has been relatively easy to ignore — at least for the majority. The town was 95 percent white 30 years ago, and is 80 percent white today, according to the US Census Bureau. Among the 6,000 students in public schools, 400 are Hispanic or Latino; 200 are Black.
But as the flood of response to Remy’s video made clear, many students of color have felt isolated and alone there — and, sometimes, targeted for punishment. To Elizabeth Kamya, a 2015 graduate of Arlington High School who is Black, the video felt like delayed validation of her own troubling experience.
Kamya grew up in Arlington, the daughter of involved, well-educated parents. Her first experience with bias came in elementary school, when, she says, her teacher insisted she was a less skilled reader than her classmates and discouraged her from choosing more challenging books.
“She kept giving me little kid books, when I was reading big chapter books at home, and I found it very hurtful,” said the 23-year-old, who works as a union organizer in California.
As she grew older, she began to see more clearly the assumptions teachers made about her abilities, and her character. In eighth grade, Kamya said, a teacher refused to believe that she had accidentally deleted a finished essay the night before it was due, assuming instead that she had failed to write it. A high school teacher chastised her for not taking notes — even as she was taking notes, she says — then kicked her out of class when she protested. Her dean assumed she got bad grades. (She didn’t.)
“I was shocked to be treated so differently,” she said. “The disparities were always very clear — everyone in detention was Black and brown — and we knew it wasn’t right.”
The concerning discipline patterns Kamya saw in high school also caught Remy’s attention a year or two later. Compiling data for a federally mandated report on discipline in late 2016 and early 2017 — and then looking beyond the report requirements, to include other types of discipline, like detention — he says he found that Black, Hispanic, and disabled students made up 13 percent of Arlington High School’s enrollment, but received 80 percent of the punishment. He doesn’t have documents to corroborate his memory of the numbers, but says he vividly recalls his shock at the scale of the disparity.
Remy says he raised the issue with the superintendent in early 2017, in a scheduled meeting on another subject, and that she rebuffed his urgent appeal. “She resisted including things that weren’t required for the report,” Remy said in an interview. “The message I got was to keep it surface level.” He felt Bodie had discouraged him from digging deeper, to analyze numbers of detentions and other forms of discipline, like the classroom removal Kamya had experienced.
In an interview, Arlington’s superintendent said Remy clearly misunderstood her response. She cited years of public discussion about the disparities in discipline, dating back before Remy’s employment, and years of investment in better data systems and antibias training for teachers and administrators, a history she said shows “a multiyear, multifaceted, ongoing effort to address disproportionality.
“The video was shocking to me, and stinging, because it creates an impression of a system that hasn’t done anything,” she said. “I’ve racked my brain to try and understand how he possibly could have thought that.”
A revamped approach to discipline, including a new program in collaborative problem solving, has driven down total numbers of suspensions in recent years, Bodie said. But she acknowledged that variations in discipline rates have been harder to stamp out.
The work continues, Bodie said, not just to move the numbers, but to find ways of making Black and brown students feel more at home in school, “to know that they belong, and are appreciated for who they are.”
Kamya, the Arlington High School graduate, said she has worked to overcome feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt that began with her time in Arlington schools.
“If you’re told that you’re … not good enough, and if you’re constantly treated differently, it affects how you see yourself,” she said. “I internalized it, and wished all the time that I wasn’t Black. … I didn’t want my color anymore.”
The uneven rates of discipline seen in Arlington mirror those in other affluent, mostly white suburbs. Data show minority students in neighboring Belmont, Lexington, and Concord are just as overrepresented in disciplinary actions — or even more so. (In Belmont, the discipline rate for Black students was 10 times higher than the rate for whites last year.) Statewide, data show Black students are three times more likely to be disciplined.
“It can be perceived as an urban problem, stemming from a lack of counselors and supports, but you see the same disparities in the suburbs,” said Leon Smith, director of the Boston-based nonprofit Citizens for Juvenile Justice. “In suburban schools, the resources are there — but the inclination toward punishment for students of color is too.”
For Remy, the numbers brought back painful memories of the discipline that once dogged him. As a Black eighth-grader in Boston Public Schools, he says, he was suspended from school for three days for ducking into an empty girls’ restroom to wash his hands while the boys’ restroom was closed.
Soon afterward, he says, he chose to leave Boston Latin School to enroll at another high school in the city, partly because there were more Black students there, and less microscopic scrutiny.
“I learned early on that in any situation, if something went wrong, eyes would be on me,” said Remy. “So you prepare yourself, and make adjustments, to make yourself seem less threatening.”
His meeting with the Arlington superintendent troubled him deeply. He says he decided the next day to leave his job, and resigned within a few weeks. Afraid that speaking out about the reason might hurt his work prospects, he took a position outside education, and kept his lingering discomfort to himself.
Until Floyd was killed, and the truth felt essential.
“I knew it was still happening,” he said. “I knew other students were still walking in my shoes.”
Remy’s video, and the renewed scrutiny it triggered, was one thread in a complex conversation about race, approached — at least for the moment — with new boldness. It went beyond discipline for students of color, to concerns about their social-emotional well-being and mental health, and their unequal academic achievement.
And in Arlington, as in any other place in America, the conversation happened against a backdrop of specific history: past disputes and controversies that left behind unresolved tensions and unanswered questions.
Three years ago, residents clashed over a proposal to eliminate an elementary school tradition known as “Colonial Day,” after complaints that dressing students in Colonial-era costumes disrespected the history of students of color. More furor followed a year later, in 2018, after an Arlington police lieutenant wrote several inflammatory columns for a statewide law enforcement newsletter, advocating police violence and railing against the Black Lives Matter movement.
The town’s decision not to fire the officer — and to instead require him to attend a restorative justice program — drew sharp criticism. Angry residents organized a new group, Arlington Fights Racism, in 2019, and began working to elect a more diverse, progressive town government.
This spring, after a longtime School Committee member wrote about racial disparities in a way that struck some parents as dismissive — he argued that the small variations in local graduation rates for Blacks and whites, and the town’s relatively small number of discipline cases, weaken claims of significant inequality — three mothers wrote a blunt response.
“As parents and caregivers of children of color,” they wrote, “it is not uncommon for us to pause and wonder whether it is a good idea to keep our children in [Arlington Public Schools].”
Allison-Cardoso, one of the letter’s authors, said she spent years asking teachers to push her three Black children harder, but rarely felt expectations were set high enough, or that her boys were fulfilling their potential. Eventually she concluded they would be better off elsewhere. Her eldest son left Arlington schools last year to attend a regional vocational school, and she expects her two younger boys to follow.
“I don’t think they’ve been educated in a way that matches the ideals of the town, or the way their white classmates are educated,” said Allison-Cardoso, herself a longtime teacher in another district.
Students, too, have felt new vigor flood their old frustrations.
Doralee Heurtelou, a 2020 graduate of Arlington High School, struggled to feel at home in classes where she was the lone Black student. For years she was afraid to raise her hand. Then, as a junior, she helped organize a Black Student Union at the high school. She says her activism empowered her, and allowed her to find her voice again.
In June, a week after graduating, she and other Black students organized a protest against systemic racism in Arlington schools. Heurtelou says the high school principal reached out to them with concerns about the event, describing it as an “ambush” and questioning if they, as graduates, could still act in the name of the Black Student Union.
Undeterred, they created a new group for Black alumni and held the protest as planned, drawing several hundred people to the steps outside town hall.
“This is not a personal attack or an ambush on Arlington Public Schools,” Heurtelou told the crowd, to loud cheers. “This is an attack on systemic racism.”
The students sent a list of 20 demands to school officials, beginning with “Learn the names of Black students and how to pronounce them” and ending with “Replace Arlington’s racially derogatory Native American mascot.” (The high school’s logo, which includes a kneeling figure known as the Menotomy Hunter, is under review.)
The high school principal, Matthew Janger, said he could not comment on the protest or demands. A new antiracism working group at the high school, created after Floyd’s death and made up of students and staff, is discussing the students’ demands.
“You hope that, in time, the students understand that we are listening, and we want things to improve,” said Bodie, the superintendent. “This is some of the most important work we can do, to change where we’ve been as a country.”
At the rally, hearing students speak, J. Mike Remy let himself imagine how the world might be reshaped by their forceful insistence.
“I’m still seeing myself in the numbers,” he said when it was his turn at the microphone. “But if any of this can be made into action, it just might look better for my kids.”