Members of the community express their opinions on race after claims of prejudice and discrimination in the Brookline Police Department
Participants in public comment of the Town Hall meeting on Jan. 5, 2016 tell their stories and opinions about race in Brookline.
January 14, 2016
Steps to Success adviser Dan Arroyo
“I grew up facing a lot of different racial terms, situations and if anybody has some shade on their skin, they know what I’m talking about. For all my allies and friends who are White, caucasian, any other color you want to speak about, you’ll never know what it is to live our lives, but it doesn’t mean that you guys are racist. I think it’s a statement to say that we aren’t racist, we all have some prejudices…so what do we do with those feelings, what do we do with those emotions? You guys on the board, I think it’s an issue, but the fact that, like you said, Neil (Wishinsky), you guys almost volunteer here…This topic though, racism, we don’t need volunteers to fight this battle, we need people who are willing to give more than, at the minute, what you guys can give us…Where is our leadership? We do need to step up in this situation. We are asking for some transparency. We’re talking about swift and I’m reading these reports about swift. What does swift mean? Is it a month? Is it 6 months? I understand due process…but what is the due process laid out for us? It’s almost as if people are saying things and there’s no transparency to what’s going on.”
Runkle Elementary School teacher Djems Domerson
“I grew up in Miami. Especially being a Black male in Miami, there was constant harassment, constant racial profiling. I almost didn’t get into the Air Force because of too many broken tail light tickets. I fit the description of someone who just committed a crime. I was being pulled over weekly. So, I got into the Air Force. What was interesting was that I became a police officer of the Air Force. I’m on the other side now…one of the benefits living near High Street was that our kids and myself, we could see people like me walking down the street. That was one of the reasons we moved here. It was one of the criteria of moving from Colorado to here and we specifically chose Brookline…and one of the best things was we wanted was excellent schools for the boys, but it also had to be where we could see each other.
At times, it’s different to being an African-American male, where you always have to prove something, because there’s always someone that has that fear. You always have this automatic reaction of making people feel comfortable. Myself being the Black male, I can understand how hard it is for me. Now, imagine how hard it is for officers of color, in your department, who are charged with protecting everyone and charged with keeping the town safe. When they don’t feel that they’re safe on the job, that’s disturbing. Now, imagine how it feels to the rest of the town that is supposed to feel safe, if the officers don’t even feel safe. How does that look?
It doesn’t make sense that we have to be here at this forum to get at least some understanding or basically can you figure out a way to have this done fairly and watch this very closely? And everyone needs to keep their eyes open because they have been closed for too long.”
Sociologist and wife of Djems Domerson, Ginger Melton
“We were thrilled to find the ideal place across the country to raise our kids. We came here because of the diversity of Brookline. We came here because it is liberal and open-minded and people care about issue of diversity, and yet I still see racism at Lincoln school, I see it in the curriculum, I see it in how the administrators respond to the kids of color in the halls versus the White kids, and it breaks my heart.
When I was single and White I didn’t see any racism. It was nice, when I lived in Colorado. I didn’t have the racism. When I walk through Brookline myself I don’t have the racism. When I walk through with my husband, I see how people look at us differently. If I’m a little bit further away, I really see how people respond to my husband and kids. It is different.
So when I was doing my dissertation research, it was on interpersonal conflict at Hewlett Packard. It was very instructive on what I learned…First of all, most everybody denounced racism. There were a few people who said people of color don’t belong in the workplace here, that was a small percentage, but what we saw is that many, many, many White people said hurtful, racist things to people of color, and I was one of them. Now this is after I was already married to my husband, and I had done my research and so forth in race and conflict. I saw Tasha at the teller machine at the workplace. We always used to make jokes about who was getting the cash out: ‘Hey, give me a twenty, it’s Friday, I need some money.’ Do you know what came out of my mouth that day when I saw Tasha? ‘Hey, don’t you steal all that money.’ That is an example of the subconscious bias that all White people have growing up in a racist society. We all are unintentionally, and some of us intentionally, racist.”
Former school nurse Leslie Epps
“I can say personally, in my 19 years of being here in Brookline I have experienced such racism, refined racism, that I equate to being civilly raped. I have had police target me, my son. I have filed complaints, sent them certified, returned, electronic receipts and these complaints have disappeared. I don’t know what type of liberal town that you profess to have and I have been looking to vacate Brookline but I said to myself, ‘I’m an African American woman, 51 years old, I’ve invested 19 years here in Brookline, and I will not be moved. I am here to stay.’ I intend to make myself comfortable in Brookline and I expect that you will all oblige with respect and dignity.
I happen to have landed on the front page of the Brookline Tab. I was my own self-appointed keynote speaker for the Martin Luther King celebration…the results of that were continued targeting by Brookline police, ticketing my vehicles falsely, citing me for texting while driving and me needing to pull texting records to prove the false allegations. Plainclothes police officers being dropped off in front of my shop…the square footage in my shop is only 200 square feet, I don’t understand how an officer can randomly wind up in front of my shop posted there as this subtle intimidation. I am not afraid…and I carry a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at the hands of Brookline police.
I’ve had enough, I will definitely stay here in Brookline…I refuse to be moved. This is my country, my ancestors have paid a debt for me to stand here and tell you I will not be moved, and I am looking for restorative justice by any means necessary.”
Former Brookline Police officer Lee Smith
On parking tickets:
“One afternoon, I wrote a ticket on an automobile and my supervisor at that time was Sergeant Michael Raskin. He chewed me up and down for writing that ticket. He said, ‘You know, that car belongs to a friend of mine,’ and I said, ‘Well, so what,’ and he said, ‘Well, we have a policy here. If you’re writing a ticket and it is for a friend you put a line through the ticket.’ Now when you put that line through the ticket, when it’s being processed, they know to discard it. They rip it up and toss it away, and the reason you do that is in case someone seeing you ticket the cars and you skip past a particular car.”
On racial diversity training:
“They brought in a gentleman, they put a film up, and it showed White police officers and Black police officers and how they coordinated with each other and got along together. What was interesting about this so called diversity meeting is that the guys were sitting there complaining, ‘Why do we have to be here for this,’ and I’m sitting there and I’m watching this. They are the same people that I’m working with on the street complaining because they have to sit in on a film watching diversity on racial relationships. Well, when that meeting ended, I want you to know, that the material that the man gave us to read, I saw guys ripping it up and tossing it in the trash right in the man’s face. How disgraceful.”
Former Steps to Success adviser at the Lincoln Elementary School Shantu Salvi
“When I worked in Brookline from about 2001-2005 in the Steps To Success program, I was leaving my office at the Lincoln school and was standing next to my car, when an unmarked car drove by on an adjacent street, stopped, put the car in reverse and came down the street that I was on. An officer rolled down the window, asked me who I was, what I was doing there and for some identification. Once I offered my identification and explained what I was doing there, he gave me the typical excuse of fitting the description…and drove off, so I took this issue to the Police Department, to internal affairs and we sat in a room together, the officer and myself, and nothing came out of it.
I add my story to this forum so that we can see clearly when we add all these things together to realize that this is not an issue of a few rotten apples, of some isolated incidents of those bad racists, and to recognize this for what it is, which is institutionalized systemic racism, which permeates Brookline as it does any other town or city in the country.”
“I lived in Brookline since 2009. I was so excited to live in Brookline because I have my kids and I was so excited to move here for my oldest son to go to school, but after 2015 last year I had an incident with the Brookline police. I had just had a baby, July 27, when my newborn and I just had a C-section and I had an incident with a tow truck company. My boyfriend brought some groceries home and he parked the car at the back door. There weren’t even signs there to say no parking there, so the tow truck just put my car in the tow bed and tried to tow my car. My boyfriend came down and said, “I am just helping with the groceries, and I am just here for a minute,” and he called the police. The police came because my boyfriend called the police and the police came. I went downstairs with my baby in my arms; three weeks old; and he just came and started in on me and asked me for my ID. He was asking me if I have a passport and I was like, “You don’t have to yell at me and I called you to help,” and he was like, “You were yelling at the tow driver. You broke his window,” and that wasn’t even true. The window was fine. One of my neighbors told the officer, “She just had a baby. She just had a C-section, and she had a newborn in her arms.” I was trying to talk to the guys and saying, “This is my car, why are you towing my car?” We were trying to pay but he was refusing it. The police just came and accused me saying I was yelling at him and saying the F-word to him, while he was saying the B-word to me all the time, the F-word to me all the time, while I had a baby in my arms. So for now, I feel like I was so scared and unsafe, and I don’t want to call the Brookline police anymore because I don’t know what they are going to do to me because I am Spanish, because I am Black. I don’t know what’s going on, you know? I just feel I’m not safe here anymore, even my kids. I just want to have a better environment for them and I don’t want them to feel they are growing up in a town that is racist because they are Spanish and Black.”
Doctor Savyon Cohen
“I am going to speak to my fellow citizens who clearly care tremendously about Brookline and about justice. I’m not going to say what I had prepared. I am going to tell a few more details from Juana Baez’s story because I know her and I know that when she spoke Spanish to her boyfriend in that incident, she was told, ‘Stop speaking that language or I’ll put more charges on you.’ I know that her boyfriend, who called the police, he was the one who made the 911 call, was cuffed, put in the car and arrested and now has a record. I know that Juana had to go to court herself and pay money and I know that mysteriously this woman-who if you knew her is an impeccable mother and whose kids are amazing-had a visit from Department of Social Services, but the DSS woman said to her, and this is a quote, ‘Your problem is the color of your skin in Brookline’. Brookline is known to be racist and she closed the case and refused to continue to investigate it…What I am here to do is to beg you guys to not forget, not let time go by, not be satisfied by hearing the same things we always hear which is, ‘It’s under investigation,’ ‘The results are inconclusive,’ ‘It’s a process,’ ‘We care deeply,’ ‘We value diversity,’ ‘We all have the same goal,’ ‘We can’t say anything because of confidentiality,’ etcetera. We came in here tonight, we had a chance to speak this time, but it was very, very conscribed in what you could say: don’t ask questions, don’t attack, you can’t do this, you can’t do that. They laid it out for us: we are in the box. We are supposed to do something a very narrow way.”
“It’s a wonderful thing to come out here and support these officers tonight, as everyone has done. Racism is a terrible thing. What you’ve done at the last meeting and also tonight is to try to convict the town of racism through anecdotal stories…Many of you believe that the administration is ignoring your pleas for swift justice. There cannot be swift justice or a clean sweep as Mariella has asked without a proper investigation and proof of guilt. A number of you believe that the police are the problem. I’m sorry but I strongly feel that you’re wrong. Here in Brookline, we are very fortunate to have Dan O’Leary as our Chief of Police. Chief O’Leary is as good a chief as is possible. He is an honorable man. I believe in his honesty and I think it is above question. It sickens me when I hear people say that the chief may be biased, or that the chief would never find one of his officers responsible for any wrongdoing. That’s wrong and wrong again. Our selectmen are citizen volunteers. They deserve respect. They donate thousands of hours away from their families to service the town. If you don’t like what they do, don’t vote for them. Better yet, become involved in the town yourself. Run for town meeting or selectmen yourselves. See if you can do a better job.”
Former Selectmen member Marty Rosenthal
“I truly believe that there’s no better police chief in this state and I will not sugarcoat his or my occasional mistakes or the need to ask tough questions, but his commitment is obvious. 62 percent of this country lives in non-Southern states. Every single community, which is about 20,000 communities, are grappling with these issues, which is the legacy of the original sin of this country: issues of slavery and what we did to the Native Americans. There are issues everywhere. Brookline has tried to deal with them. I don’t look at the full side of the glass or the half empty side of the glass. I only believe in the next part of the glass, and the next part of the glass is what everyone in this room, the Selectmen and the Chief chooses to do next. I welcome what’s happened here tonight. I do think we can move forward as a community if we all act together and welcome the diversity commitment and think they’re on the right track as well. I close with a comment from Martin Luther King: ‘We will all remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.’ We don’t have silence in Brookline and I thank God for that.”
Vietnam War veteran and teacher Cruz Sanabria
“I had taken some barrels that were placed on the street into the driveway, and this was the job of the two ladies that live on the second floor. They took the barrels and placed them in front of my car. I called the police and the police came, and that’s when I found out they’ve called the police on me on several occasions and I had no idea. One of the ladies, as she passes by me, pushes me in the hallway. I kept quiet, didn’t say anything, didn’t make a deal out of it at all. The police left, leaving the barrels in front of my car, and nothing occurred, and that was in March of 2014. In Nov. 2014, I was the president of the condo association and there are bylaws and rules that I always try to implement that were not followed by the second floor. In November, I said to one of the tenants on the second floor that, ‘It’s too bad you’re giving me a minute cause I’m not done, and I’m not going to stop until I’m done.’ This lady comes up the stairs and I said: ‘You have to remove your bicycle’. She’s in the cellar, she comes up the stairs, and she says ‘No, and if you do anything to my bicycle I’ll call the police.’ So I go into my condo, the door shuts, and she calls the police on me that the door almost hit her. So the police officer says to me ‘Don’t worry nothing’s going to happen to you.’ I say ‘Okay, I wasn’t worried’ and every time they call the police I thought it was a waste of taxpayer money. Two weeks later on my birthday I receive a letter that says I have to appeal in court or else I get five years in prison, felon, for something I never did, assault with a dangerous weapon. As it turns out, it was dismissed, but the horror that I went through, living that was almost as bad as anything else I’ve had in my life, including bullets flying over me.
It’s the stress, the harassment, and so as it turns out, why didn’t somebody press charges against the second floor tenant that pushed me in the hallway and that is in the police records? …You put me in a position I should not have been in? Why? Because I am Puerto Rican and those are two White women? Because I’m a teacher that teaches in Roxbury? Because I’m a homeowner and you don’t like it? Because I was in the diversity committee and we had you testify how many minorities you had in the police department and you didn’t like it? Why? Unfair, unfair!”
To hear more speakers and the whole meeting, see Brookline Interactive Group’s coverage on the Board of Selectmen at Brookline Interactive Group Youtube Channel.