A regular meeting of the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission on Wednesday, December 16, started at 6:30 pm in the Denny Room at the Brookline Health Center. The agenda, mostly a series of reports from working committees, gave little hint of fireworks to be set off.
Consultant report: A consultant engaged by the Board of Selectmen has submitted a report on workforce diversity and related issues in Brookline’s police and fire departments, and the report has been distributed to the commissioners. Under agenda item 9, Bernard Greene, a member of the Board of Selectmen who regularly attends commission meetings, was to lead a discussion.
A major impetus to the report has been the dispute involving a Brookline firefighter who has been on extended leave, following a racially charged incident starting with an alleged insult by a supervisor. That was also an influence for organizing the commission.
Town management and members of the Board of Selectmen opted to abolish the former Human Relations Commission and set up a new group that would be excluded from most issues involving town workers. After a long series of reviews, they accomplished the goal under Article 10 at the annual town meeting of 2014.
Complaints: The commission’s review of the police and fire report was punctuated by comments from the public–notably from two police officers. According to them, the department has been afflicted with racial tensions. Unlike the departments of forty and fifty years ago, today’s Brookline Police Department includes several minority and women officers, although senior leadership are white men.
One officer, who was recorded on video later distributed to the public, said he had worked in the Police Department “for about three years now, and as a black man I don’t feel safe working in this town. I’ve had racial comments said to me from the supervisor, from fellow patrolmen–and I just don’t feel safe here.”
Another officer, also recorded on video later distributed to the public, said, “I’ve been a police officer in Brookline for [over 16 years]. On December 4, I was in a marked cruiser in uniform and pulled up to a member of the Brookline Police command staff to speak with him. What he said to me when I rolled the window down was basically, ‘Pull your car up on the sidewalk or on the corner, go up on the sidewalk and do some ni***r jumping jacks for me, and I’ll put in a good word for you.’”
The Brookline Police Department has attracted sharp criticism from both residents and visitors to the town, receiving a poor Internet rating. Brief excerpts from recent comments indicate some typical complaints:
From a visitor: “I know someone who was arrested for an unpaid speeding ticket…In the squad car, he overheard two officers making inappropriate racial & linguistic comments about people who had immigrated to the US.”
From a resident: “The cops are racist, I’ve been followed plenty of times, stared at like I’m committing a crime, and harassed. I love being followed while I drive down the street to my house by a cop car so they can check and see if I’m driving a stolen car….”
From a visitor: “The Brookline Police function primarily as an extortion racket. They are claiming that I have an unpaid parking ticket from *ten years* ago, and my license has now expired because I couldn’t renew it. Trying to pay this ticket has been a Kafkaesque nightmare….”
Commission duties: The Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission looks to have plenty of work ahead. Although left without a major role in labor issues of the town’s workforce, it has responsibilities to investigate and report discrimination and bias incidents in Brookline. According to Article 3.14 of the general bylaws of Brookline, revised as of June 2, 2014:
3.14.1 …The Purpose of the Commission and the goal of the Town shall be to strive for a community characterized by the values of inclusion…justice in a community requires, at a minimum, monitoring and enforcing civil rights laws as they apply to all persons who come in contact with the Town…regardless of their race, color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, age, religion, creed, ancestry, national origin, military or veteran status, genetic information, marital status, receipt of public benefits (including housing subsidies), or family status…herein, “Brookline Protected Classes”….
3.14.3(A)(viii)(3) …the Commission…shall have the following responsibilities:…Receive complaints, according to procedures developed by the Commission and as approved by the [Board of Selectmen], and initiate preliminary review of the facts, without drawing any legal conclusions, from any person who comes in contact with the Town, concerning allegations of discrimination or bias against a member of a Brookline Protected Class. The Commission shall also have the authority, in its discretion, to…Present any results of preliminary review of the alleged facts to the Town Administrator and/or the Board of Selectmen, in an appropriate case, for action….
– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, December 20, 2015
Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission, Agenda for December 16, 2015
Brooks Ames, Brookline Justice League filed class action lawsuit to put an end to racial subordination in Brookline, plus other posts, Twitter, December 2-20, 2015
General bylaws, Town of Brookline, MA, as of May 26, 2015
Civil rights lawsuit: town and individuals accused, Brookline Beacon, December 14, 2015
Board of Selectmen: firefighter Gerald Alston, Jr., speaking, Brookline Beacon, December 6, 2014
Annual town meeting: human relations, regulations and zoning, Brookline Beacon, May 31, 2014
Human Relations Youth Resources Commission: Coping with changes, Brookline Beacon, April 24, 2014