Officers Prentice Pilot and Estifanos Zerai-Misgun:

Officers+Prentice+Pilot+%28left%29+and+Estifanos+Zerai-Misgun+%28right%29+speak+during+public+comment+at+the+Town+Hall+meeting+on+Jan.+5.+

Maya Morris/Sagamore Staff

Officers Prentice Pilot (left) and Estifanos Zerai-Misgun (right) speak during public comment at the Town Hall meeting on Jan. 5.

The interviews with Brookline Police Officers Estifanos Zerai-Misgun and Prentice Pilot were conducted on Jan. 11 and Jan. 13, respectively, as a follow-up to the town hall meeting on Jan. 5 and to answer questions about racial discrimination in the police force and in Brookline.

What happened in December 2014?

Zerai-Misgun: We went up to (Police Chief Daniel O’Leary) last year and we told him that we were experiencing all these racial incidents. He didn’t start a formal investigation, but he went to all his commanding staff and advisers about it. He told them to let the patrolmen know that this shouldn’t happen, and that (the department) won’t tolerate any racial discrimination.

One of the sergeants went and told all of the patrolmen that I was the one who made the complaint. He breached my confidentiality. Shortly after talking to the chief, there was no solution. I was outed and ostracized after that.

Do you trust the Brookline Police Department to handle the investigation?

Zerai-Misgun: The town says they’re hiring a private investigator outside of the Police Department. There hasn’t been (a private investigator), and they keep trying to have other police officers investigate it, but we don’t trust them anymore. There are more relations in (the Brookline Police Department) than I have ever seen, whether it’s related by blood, being friends or neighbors. There are lots of connections that are kind of conflicts of interest, especially with the actual parties who said comments to us.

What has happened between December 2014, when you initially reported racism within the department, until today?

Pilot: If you’re really serious about changing the department and this town, get to it. I don’t understand this methodology at all. I said at (a meeting on Jan. 5) that I’m not at all convinced about the ability of this town or police department to hold an investigation and figure things out. What they do is they hold investigations, they have meetings and meetings, they convene and convene, hire a study. And then what happens throughout all that time is that time elapses, it becomes no longer a contemporaneous issue, and then you move into issues like we’ve seen with so many other things that happened is this town.

You can talk to a million minority people who live in this town, work in this town, or drive through this town and figure out that, why is it that so often their complaints are either disappeared or are unsustained or there’s just no findings? I think this is a very dangerous thing when you have a police department investigating itself.

Some people say that Brookline is a really safe, racially aware and diverse place. To what extent do you agree with this statement?

Zerai-Misgun: I lived in Charlestown, a mostly Irish town, when I was younger. There were a lot of race problems in Boston years ago.

Living in Brookline, though, that’s the most racism I’ve ever experienced. It’s a different kind of racism. It’s more of a discreet racism. It’s not socially acceptable to be racist, but I think it slips through the cracks every now and then. You can’t say you’re a liberal, progressive town with no racism when (cases of racial discrimination) keep coming up.

(These cases) keep coming up at the high school, the fire department, the water department and the police department. These aren’t just isolated incidents. All these issues that are covered up show what the racial climate of Brookline is really like.

Pilot: The fact of the matter is that Brookline is a very racially diverse community, but the treatment of certain minority classes in this town is unacceptable. This is not a situation about just Officer Zerai and me. Person after person got up and told their stories with regards to the situation (at the town hall meeting on Jan. 5).

What is your opinion of racial diversity training as a solution to preventing future cases of racial discrimination?

Zerai-Misgun: Diversity training, most of the time, is window dressing for liability purposes for the town to say, ‘Hey, we did this and that.’ They have tried this diversity training before and these (racial) issues are still coming up, so it’s obviously not working. It might be time to try something new. I’m not saying eliminate it, because I’m sure it does have some purpose. Maybe the department should still do trainings but not just focus on that to solve the problem.

Pilot: (At the meeting on Jan. 5), there was a guy who talked about how, years ago, someone came to the police department and did racial diversity training, and at the end of it he saw a lot of officers get up and just throw the materials away. So, how do you breach that chasm? I don’t know. I don’t know what training is going to be effective to help people.

Listen, let me just put this on the record. In no way, shape or form am I saying that every police officer in the Brookline police department is racist. That would be a ludicrous statement to make. But unfortunately, I believe that there are enough that are (racist) in that department to make it a very serious hazard to the civil liberty of the civilian population, you know, officers in town.

Racial diversity training,while I think it’s something that is a good thing to do, I think to put stock in racial diversity training, changing the attitude and how people function on the street, I think that’s a fantasy. I think the way officers act and respond on the street is the way they live their life.

What have you learned? Have you learned that people are equal under the law? Or have you learned that some people should be subjected to certain rules and different treatment because of the color of their skin?

Do you think the town hall meeting on Jan. 5 achieved its purpose?

Zerai-Misgun: I think (the Selectmen) only let us speak because they felt pressured by the previous meeting and by the media. I still don’t think they’re taking what we’re saying with much weight. But, it was good for people to go back and share their experiences with the public and the media. It was good for people to actually listen to them for a chance.

Pilot: This issue is not just about Officer Zerai and I. This is about the entire town, all of us. (…) I’m looking for equity, or equality for people, because that’s what I want.

I appreciate, and it’s very heartfelt, all of the comments that people have made for me with regard to the impact I have had. I really appreciate it it, and, not but, and I want people to be out there as they’re doing, fighting for everyone’s rights of equality. That’s it. It’s really quite simple, and the reason why I’m not back at work is the person who made these comments to me has six relatives on the job and dozens of friends. To me, it’s pretty clear where the allegiance and alliances in this situation are.

What do you think needs to change in the future to prevent more instances like this?

Zerai-Misgun: I think there needs to be a long conversation that acknowledges this. I think nobody wants to acknowledge that there’s a problem, so we never get to figure out a solution. Rather than investigating what the problem is, right now, (O’Leary) is investigating Officer Pilot and I, which doesn’t make any sense.

Pilot: I want the town to start functioning as a place that actually is a liberal town. That’s what I want. At this point, I think there are a plethora of citizens, because we’ve seen them. We saw them come out Tuesday night, who said, “Listen, we won’t stand for this. We will not stand for this.”

The question I always give to students, in 6th, 7th, 8th grade and while talking to high school students is: What does it mean to be a decent person? I’m looking for people to treat other people with humanity. That’s it. And that can be a tall order.

Even in the lack of communication with myself and Officer Zerai with regards to whatever investigation the town and police department are doing is in my opinion a lack of humanity. The fact that we never heard from the Human Resources Director since December 2014, that to me appears to be a lack of humanity. Why didn’t she ever contact us? That stunned my brain to no end.

You are a Brookline High School alumnus.  What would you like students at the high school to know?

Zerai-Misgun: I would like them to know that the world is a complicated place, and once you enter the world after high school and college, there’s going to be serious issues out there. You have to stand firm, be strong to your morals and stick up for yourselves. Things aren’t going to be easy, but it’s still better knowing that you did everything you could.

Do you have anything else to add?

Pilot: Just the other day I was walking my daughter to school with my fiancé and dog, and someone who I have always had cordial conversations with, who I actually got on the SRT team (Special Response Team) with, this particular officer stops the traffic for us to cross the street. He turned his back on me. He didn’t say a word to me. That’s the kind of stuff I’m talking about in terms of I feel alone. If I ever can get back to the job, I don’t feel I will have the support of fellow officers and remember, they’re not plumbers, they are policemen. It’s not a good thing.