June 20, 2020
“It looks like a suburb”
“Brookline was one of those places I was told that if you visited, you better be prepared to be stopped by police.”
With hundreds marching on June 5th, in Brookline in support of Black Lives Matter, and the Town Hall recently hoisting a Black Lives Matter banner, Brookline appears to be responding to the national call for racial justice. But will this translate into coordinated antiracist action and reform for the town? Local groups are hosting events to center Black Voices, such as this Saturday's healing arts event and sit in protest titled ["Humanizing Black Voices," hosted by Wake Up Brookline! The event will reportedly make public demands of the police department, including a call for defunding. Meanwhile the Select Board, the town’s executive governing body, recently voted 4-1 against Board member Raul Fernandez’s proposal to reallocate 6% of the police department budget toward housing, education, and diversity efforts. Though the Brookline police department has historically celebrated its reform efforts, Fernandez is pushing more aggressively. He recently published a piece on medium outlining rigorous reform recommendations, including the establishing of “a diverse and transparent” independent task force for police accountability. Fernandez and Obele both have emphasized the importance of body cameras and dashboard cameras for the Brookline Police.
Obele is open about what he sees as a disparity between symbolic displays of solidarity with a town’s displayed resistance to reform:
I know they put up a Black Lives Matter Banner on the Brookline Town Hall, but so far they haven’t done enough. And I’m really disappointed with the Select Board for talking the talk, but not walking the walk. They are basically giving us symbolic gestures, but not giving us the real radical reform that we need.
And one person who deserves a seat at the table of Brookline’s quest for racial justice reform, according to Obele, is Gerald Alston, Jr. “He needs justice, and I feel that if we’re gonna talk about inclusion and Black Lives, [the Select Board] needs to end the appeal, they need to reinstate him. The Select Board needs to apologize [to him]. And to everybody who’s been discriminated against the by the fire department and police department.” The Select Board has received pressure by local activist groups such as Brookline Budget Justice, and Brookline United Against Racism who are pushing the Select Board to vote this Tuesday against appealing a state judge’s ruling consistent with a Massachusetts Civil Service Commission suggesting that Gerald Alston, Jr. be reinstated. Some are calling on two select board members to recuse themselves from the vote due to conflict of interest [Bernard Greene and Nancy Heller were reportedly named in Gerald Alston's suit]. When reached for comments, only Chairman Bernard Greene replied, saying:
I am unaware of any conflict that would prevent Select Board member Heller or me from deliberating and voting on a motion pertaining to the Town's civil service appeal. Judgment was entered in our favor on April 2, 2020 in Mr. Alston's federal lawsuit, and neither of us are defendants in the civil service appeal.
Gerald Alston, Jr.
Regarding his own case, Obele says that he needs people “to use their voice to talk to the Select Board of Brookline, and ask them to bring in an independent investigator. If the town wants to get to the bottom of this, they need to bring in a third neutral party and outside expert to look into my allegations.” Obele declined Brookline Department’s offer to participate in an investigation of the three officers, saying that he wants the investigation to be unbiased and free of conflicts of interest. “The police department (of Brookline) has never upheld or sustained a charge or complaint of discrimination against a White police officer in all their history,” Obele reflects. “And I don’t think our complaints about police misconduct are honestly investigated and addressed.”
Stephen Grigelevich can be reached for questions or comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.