Racial justice focus of new panel eyed in Amherst


Staff Writer
Monday, October 11, 2021

AMHERST — Amherst officials are creating a community responders department to handle some emergency calls as a public safety alternative to police, while another group of residents determines a method for offering reparations for Black residents.

To go along with these ongoing efforts, and support recommendations from the Community Safety Working Group that include a youth empowerment center and a Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) multicultural center, Town Manager Paul Bockelman is proposing creation of a Community Safety and Social Justice Committee.

Bockelman told the Town Council on Sept. 27 that this committee will take over for the Community Safety Working Group, which ends its work in late October, and will be instrumental in finding ways to end structural racism and achieve racial equity for Black residents.

The idea for the committee is to look at all aspects of town government, and the community, through the lens of racial equity, Bockelman said.

Working group members are interested in having this new committee continue their work, he said.

“They have been anxious about getting a successor group going so there is no drop-off in the hard work they have been doing for the past year,” Bockelman said.

In addition to the anticipated launch of a Community Responders for Safety and Service (CRESS) in early 2022, the working group also pushed for the town to have a diversity, equity and inclusion department.

The charge for the new committee was written by Community Safety Working Group members with input from Bockelman: “The committee shall work to support all members of the Amherst community to understand and enjoy the benefits of a community that is truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive of all and shall serve as a voice to marginalized and underrepresented residents.”

The new group’s charge would be to fully realize the Town Council’s December 2020 resolution that was titled, “Affirming the Town of Amherst’s Commitment to End Structural Racism and Achieve Racial Equity for Black Residents.”

Bockelman said he anticipates that the town’s diversity, equity and inclusion director will work with the new committee when it is formed.

During discussion among councilors, there was question about how much input the Town Council has in the committee’s formation and whether it needs council buy-in.

District 5 Councilor Shalini Bahl-Milne said the new committee should be seen as a critical goal for racial justice and for helping residents of color. “To me it feels that the Town Council has to be part of it,” Bahl-Milne said.

No matter how the committee is formed, Bockelman said no elected or appointed officials dispute its importance. “Both I and the council believe it should exist,” Bockelman said.

The town will soon be advertising for members, with no fewer than five of the seven voting members representing the BIPOC community or other historically marginalized communities, and two having been members of the working group. Appointments shall also strive to represent a broad range of the town’s socioeconomic diversity.

Meantime, an implementation committee is continuing to work toward getting the CRESS program underway.

Law Enforcement Action Partnership in Medford is teaming with Police Chief Scott Livingstone and Fire Chief Tim Nelson to examine calls for service and determine which could be handled by the new responders. Instructions from councilors will have Bockelman, by the end of January, develop a multi-year plan for funding and growing the program, evaluating its success after 12 months, and ensuring that funding is intact for fiscal year 2023.

The African Heritage Reparations Assembly is in place to identify sources of money for reparations, how much is needed, and what it should be spent on.