A message from Melanie Brown on her resignation from the AFR Steering Committee
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 2 years since I first joined up with a group of fellow residents that all shared my concerns for the systemic racism I saw running through our town. I had no idea what might come out of those early conversations, but since then we’ve grown an amazing organization, and have tackled many important issues in our community. Even more importantly, they became a group of people that I am proud to call my friends. Throughout, even when we have stumbled, this group of people has continually surprised and delighted me in their willingness to listen to others, to learn from those experiences, incorporating what they learn and thereby growing, both as individuals, and as an organization. I have learned so much from them all.
It is for this, and many other reasons, that it saddens me to announce that I am stepping down from the Steering Committee for Arlington Fights Racism.
In recent months, several of my friends and family have developed life threatening illnesses. As hard as it is for me to leave the SC, I need to make room to support my loved ones, while also shoring up my own emotional bulwark, so that I can be there wholey for them. Over these past few months, the number of competing claims on my time have made it difficult, if not nearly impossible, to maintain one set of obligations without shortchanging others. As I could not cleanly weigh the value of any one of these obligations against another, my decision came based purely on time and workload. By stepping back from the Steering Committee, it will allow me the bandwidth to maintain my other obligations in our community, without compromising the needs of my family and friends. My reason for stepping down is as I have described here, and for no other.
Finally, I also wish to be clear that, while I am stepping back from the Steering Committee and the workload that entails, I continue in my unwavering support of AFR, their mission and their goals. I will continue to lend my support to their efforts as time and obligation permit, but I will no longer be involved in the day-to-day work or decision making necessary to run the organization. For that reason, I would like to end by encouraging other residents of Color, especially Black folk in our community, to step forward and volunteer with AFR, to lend your experience, your thoughts and perspective, in aiding this group as they continue to evolve. Anti-racist activism is polarizing work, no matter who is doing the organizing. Even those who should be most closely aligned with a group, often place themselves in opposition to ones who choose different paths to common goals. It is hard work, and you won’t often find yourself being lifted up a hero, but that doesn't make it any less important or less satisfying to do. Work that I hope one day to return to.
A message from AFR to our friends and allies in the Arlington community
Thank you for your patience while AFR took much needed time to internally process and then publicly respond to the disturbing events that preceded the April 10th Town Elections.
As many of you are aware, during the final days before the election, a member of AFR’s Steering Committee, acting independently and in another capacity, behaved in a manner in conflict with our values about how political campaigns should be conducted and more broadly, how people should treat one another. That member has since publicly apologized and resigned and AFR has accepted their resignation. AFR apologizes for the damage this behavior caused to the campaign of a candidate for townwide office, to the campaigns of Town Meeting members supported by AFR, and to our community and supporters. This behavior violated our values, our mission and the trust we have in each other to be respectful of all people in all situations.
AFR reaffirms our conviction that no matter how strongly we may disagree or how provoked we may feel, it is incumbent upon us to maintain composure while also remaining passionate about the cause we support. That is a delicate balance to maintain, and no matter the provocations, we, as public figures, should abide by an ethical standard that sets an example for others.
AFR will resume our Building Community Meetings on June 15th. We invite you to join us for a constructive conversation, to reflect upon these events with us, share your thoughts and concerns and help AFR define our organizational structure and our focus moving forward. AFR would also welcome an opportunity to speak to you individually, if you wish.
~ The AFR Steering Committee
A statement from Lynette Martyn
I am writing to announce that I am stepping down from the Arlington Fights Racism Steering Committee, effective immediately. I deeply regret the damage my actions have caused AFR and the candidates associated with AFR’s platform of advancing transparency and inclusion, promoting anti-racism efforts in Arlington, and helping to build a safe community. Independent of my intentions, in contacting Ms. Preston, my failure to reflect before reacting came from a place of privilege and is inexcusable. Most personally painful is the knowledge that I did not stop to reflect on the potential consequences of my behavior to Kelda Fontenot. For that I am incredibly remorseful.
My decision to resign is my way of acknowledging my abuse of the white privilege, class privilege, and a whole lot of other privileges I enjoy. It is my hope that this will enable others to separate my actions from the work and achievements of AFR and the candidates AFR has endorsed. I apologize to all the AFR candidates and supporters, as well as to those at-risk community members, who will be most impacted by the setbacks resulting from my behavior to the work of dismantling inequities in Arlington. The damage I’ve inflicted can never be fully undone and I own that. I will use this time to reflect on my actions, and to begin the work of doing better.
I encourage all Arlington residents to educate themselves fully about each candidate, and to vote tomorrow based on research and facts.
A statement from AFR about the Arlington Housing Authority race
The Arlington Fights Racism (AFR) Steering Committee is aware of the controversy involving one of our members and an Arlington Housing Authority board member. We are saddened by the distraction this is causing and are attempting to deal with the facts as they emerge. We wish to apologize to all the candidates running on the AFR platform for drawing attention away from their campaigns, and for the unfortunate predicament in which they find themselves because of it. Lynette Martyn has voluntarily stepped down from the Arlington Fights Racism Elections Committee and from her role as Kelda Fontenot’s campaign manager.
We categorically reject any insinuation that Lynette or any AFR Steering Committee Member has contacted Jo Anne Preston or any of the AHA incumbent’s supporters about their endorsements. No evidence has been provided to back up these false accusations.
We hope these allegations do not prove detrimental to Ms. Fontenot’s candidacy or to those of our TMM candidates, and we urge the community to focus on the many strengths each of them would bring to the offices to which they aspire. We are continuing to sort fact from fiction regarding this unfortunate episode. The voters should rest assured that we consider ourselves accountable to the truth and to the community.
A statement from AFR about the January 6th Insurrection
Because debate in Arlington tends to focus so narrowly on Town affairs, it is easy for us to forget that we are part of a larger context. This editorial from the 1/17/21 Boston Globe, concerning the participation of police officers from all over the country in the 1/6/21 attack on the US Capitol and the dangers posed by harboring extremist ideologies in organizations entrusted with ensuring public safety, is a troubling reminder that our local problems are not exclusively ours. For anyone who has followed Town conversations over the past two-plus years, there should be no doubt that its content implicates us.
Globe editors say “Police departments and police unions across the nation should make clear that the role of police is to protect and serve their communities, and draw a hard line by imposing zero-tolerance policies … departments can’t continue to make excuses when officers express hateful views or skirt their responsibility to improve policing culture. Mocking minority groups on Facebook or in a union newsletter isn’t harmless venting or a matter of free speech; it’s a clear indicator that an officer is unfit for the job.”
And former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis tells WBZ 4 CBS Boston “[Police officers] have the responsibility to maintain the trust of the community. If they exercise their right to free speech but say things that would destroy the trust with the community, they can be terminated.” Unfortunately Arlington’s Town Manager and Chief of Police did not agree and Officer Lt. Rick Pedrini, who published a racist manifesto in 2018 still wears an APD uniform and earned nearly $189,000 in 2019.
Attributing social media comments to Arlington Fights Racism
AFR supports the BLM movement and the need for systemic change in inclusionary representation, education, housing, policing and in the carceral state system. Official statements representing AFR as a whole are discussed, approved and issued by the AFR Steering Committee. We respectfully request that people refrain from attributing the personal statements of AFR supporters and volunteers to anyone but their authors. If you are unclear about any of our official positions, we invite you to reach out to us for a conversation. We welcome opportunities to engage with our community directly.
Finding common ground for a better Arlington
Once again, the goals and purpose of Arlington Fights Racism (AFR), all of which is public on our website, are being misrepresented by those who feel threatened by our existence.
So once again, AFR asserts that we are no more and no less than what we have stated time and time again, a diverse group of residents, each with our own opinions and goals for the town, who have come together on this one thing: to address problems of systemic and institutionalized racism in Arlington, compounded by a lack of transparency in governance.
We do not demand a purity test of our members for anything beyond our stated goals. Our candidates and supporters include people who are incumbents and first timers, lifelong and new residents, renters and homeowners, low income and high, abled and disabled, young and old, parents and childless, married, single, straight, gay, cis, trans, of many faiths, of no faith, white and people of color.
If our greatest crime is having held up a light so that others can see — for which we have been called disruptive, divisive and rabble-rousing — then we’ll take it.
While our candidates and supporters may not agree on every policy or detail we consider relevant to our platform, or even outside of it, we believe in reconciling our differences. In finding common ground as we work collaboratively toward the advancement of equity and inclusion in Arlington.
We are not an exclusive club that only allows members who vote in lockstep with the majority; instead, we embrace a support network encompassing a diversity of backgrounds and lived experiences. We hope other candidates and elected officials can see the value of including diverse voices at the table, and people who may not always agree on every issue, because that is how a truly representative local democracy, and better solutions, are achieved.
Both the published comments of Arlington Lt. Rick Pedrini and the town’s response left many people feeling disturbed and dissatisfied. For that reason, AFR chose to put its energy into identifying and championing the policies and practices that will allow Arlington to act appropriately the next time these issues arise.
Members of AFR contributed to the writing of the Consensus Building Institute’s report about the town’s response to the Pedrini issues. We’ve hosted community listening sessions with the support of both town leaders and APD. We continue to look for ways we can work with APD and town leaders to repair the harm in our community that these writings, and the precedents set by the town, have caused.
But without clear policies to prevent a recurrence, the next such incident is only a matter of time. We invite you to join us in our efforts.
To learn more about our community group Arlington Fights Racism, please visit our website at www.arlingtonfightsracism.org.
Town must address harm caused by Lt. Richard Pedrini
Arlington Fights Racism would like to share this letter that we sent to the Town Manager, each Select Board member and the Chief of Police. AFR asks you to contact them as well and ask them to support these requests. We have been asking the town for reform for 2 years and they have done nothing concrete. That is inexcusable.
September 16, 2020
Dear Arlington Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine,
After reaching out and listening to community members targeted and harmed by Police Lt. Richard Pedrini’s 3 racist columns, Arlington Fights Racism (AFR) has decided not to participate in or support any part of the illegitimate restorative justice process, including the community conversation scheduled for September 22. AFR will not allow its name to be used to lend credibility to a gross misuse of restorative justice and thus do further harm. There can be no community healing as long as Lt. Pedrini is employed by the Town of Arlington and those who enable him remain unaccountable.
The actions of Town leaders must support Arlington’s values. Arlington cannot be a town that is welcoming and safe while at the same time employing a racist police officer. As Town Manager, you must choose between supporting a racist police officer or supporting the residents you serve. Lt. Rick Pedrini’s ongoing presence on the police force endangers us all.
AFR calls on the Select Board, the Town Manager and the Chief of Police to publicly declare the restorative justice process
illegitimate, incomplete, and unsuccessful and to immediately pursue termination of Lt. Pedrini, even if that results in legal action. We believe it is time for the town to prioritize the safety of Arlington residents and not the feelings of Lt. Pedrini or the reputations of the Arlington Police Department or the Town.
AFR also calls on town leaders to:
Support a Police Civilian Review Board independent from the police department with the authority and resources to receive and investigate complaints of police misconduct.
Develop a Communications policy as part of Arlington’s Code of Conduct, that makes it clear to all town employees that any statements accessible to the public that contravene the Code of Conduct will result in clear disciplinary procedures up to and including termination. This Code of Conduct shall be a mandatory part of all future labor union contracts.
Create a town policy with clear standards for the future use of restorative justice for all Town employees, elected and appointe officials, and contracted agencies.
Reverse the harmful precedent set by Arlington's use of restorative justice in response to Lt. Pedrini’s racist and prejudiced writings, by publicly stating that the process used in the 2018 Lt. Pedrini case could not be completed and was unsuccessful.
Under the guidance of marginalized communities, reallocate a significant percentage of the police budget and current police responsibilities to life-sustaining services and resources, including housing, education, healthcare, and non-violent crisis intervention and resolution.
Have the Arlington Police Chief publish a statement that denounces Lt. Pedrini’s writings for their racism and for their advocacy of violence. This statement must be shared with residents in Arlington’s five most widely represented languages and disseminated in a variety of traditional and nontraditional ways.
Clearly and publicly communicate to Communities for Restorative Justice that they must discontinue their dangerous practice of using restorative justice where there is a power imbalance (between a police officer or town official verses a civilian) or with a large harmed community, as has been attempted twice in Arlington: once with students who vandalised Arlington High School in May, 2018 and again with Lt. Pedrini.
End the APD’s contract with Communities for Restorative Justice. Arlington Fights Racism believes that restorative justice is an important tool in criminal justice reform when applied correctly. But we believe that Arlington’s Town Manager and Communities for Restorative Justice did not use it correctly in these two cases. The misuse of this important tool not only harms the reputation of restorative justice but also makes it harder for it to be used in the future when it is truly needed.
We ask that you immediately contact Arlington Fights Racism to schedule a time to meet and to begin this important work together.
We look forward to working with you in an open, transparent and mutually respectful manner.
Arlington Fights Racism
Town Manager could lead substantive reform with these 10 changes
Arlington needs real leadership and substantive reform. Ask our Town Manager to commit to these 10 proposals to prevent another case like Pedrini’s, to make Arlington a safe and welcoming town for all, and to promote APD accountability and reform.
To prevent something like the Pedrini case from happening again, we ask the Town to:
Develop a town wide Communications Policy as part of Arlington’s Code of Conduct, and make it a mandatory part of all future labor union contracts.
Create an Arlington Police Department policy specifying that Restorative Justice (RJ) only be considered after an arrest as an alternative to charging a detainee with a non-violent criminal offense, and is not to be used for personnel matters or in cases involving misconduct by our elected or appointed officials.
Reverse the potentially harmful precedent set by Arlington’s use of restorative justice by publicly stating that it was a mistake to use RJ as discipline for an officer and that the process was unsuccessful.
To make Arlington a safe and welcoming town for all and to promote APD accountability and reform we ask the Town to:
Fire Lt. Pedrini.
Support the passage of Warrant Article #6: To Study the Creation of a Police Civilian Review Board at the November Special Town Meeting.
Have the Arlington Police Chief publish a statement that denounces Lt. Pedrini’s writings for their racism and for their advocacy of violence.
With the guidance of marginalized communities, reallocate a significant percentage of the police budget and reassign current police responsibilities to agencies better qualified to provide these social services, including housing, education, healthcare, and non-violent crisis intervention and resolution.
Clearly communicate to Communities for Restorative Justice that they must discontinue their dangerous practice of using RJ where there is a power differential or with a large harmed community.
End the APD’s contract with Communities for Restorative Justice.
Support Warrant Article #25 to keep the Black Lives Matter banner at Town Hall.
Creating Safe & Welcoming Community
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 needs real leadership and substantive reform. Ask our Town Manager to commit to these 10 proposals to prevent another case like Pedrini’s, to make Arlington a safe and welcoming town for all, and to promote APD accountability and reform.
A STATEMENT FROM ARLINGTON FIGHTS RACISM
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Support for Local Efforts to Fight COVID-19
We are encouraging people to donate to the following two local actions:
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.
Arlington Fights Racism