Diversity Commission: messengers and victims

A regular meeting of the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission on Wednesday, January 27, started at 6:30 pm in the Denny Room at the Brookline Health Center. The agenda included review of the commission’s recent statement on institutional racism in the Brookline work force, which was read by Alex Coleman, chair of the commission, at a public hearing held by the Board of Selectmen on January 5.

Town government, according to the commission statement, has a “culture of institutional racism” that “the Board of Selectmen…allowed.” The statement read by Dr. Coleman called on the Board of Selectmen, “as the elected leaders of the town, to exercise your responsibilities and duties, as commissioners of the Police and Fire Departments…to stamp out this culture.”

Attacking messengers: The commission’s January 27 meeting began with a statement from Bernard Greene, who is the delegate from the Board of Selectmen. Mr. Greene said his board was “actively taking steps to determine the facts” about complaints of racial mistreatment. However, he claimed the commission’s statement “has not been helpful to efforts to deal with these problems.”

Mr. Greene objected to what he called a “pathetic process that resulted in the statement.” He said he was “here to request that this commission rescind that statement and disavow it to the board and to the public.” After it does that, he said, “maybe the board can then begin to fulfill a useful role in addressing those problems.” Mr. Greene then left, saying he had “another meeting.”

Commission members had previously received a message from Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, sent by e-mail to Dr. Coleman on January 15. Ms. Murphy claimed the statement was “causing damage to the Town’s reputation as a community and employer.” She demanded “that the Commission take immediate steps to retract this statement and publicly acknowledge that it was not factually supported at the time it was made.”

Another objection to the commission’s statement circulated at the meeting, written by Neil Gordon, a Brookline constable and a Precinct 1 town meeting member. In it, Mr. Gordon said he could “find no meaningful substance behind the statement.” He asked “where the commission reviewed” employment practices of the Board of Selectmen and whether “the process by which the Board of Selectmen appointed Joslin Murphy as Town Counsel [was] tainted by a ‘culture of institutional racism’ that was allowed by that board.”

Blaming victims: Dr. Coleman described contacts with Ms. Murphy, recalling that “she was saying we had no facts supporting” the statement. However, it was delivered in the context of a two-hour public hearing including several personal descriptions of alleged racial mistreatment by Brookline employees. He recounted telling Ms. Murphy, “We look forward to working collaboratively.”

Ms. Murphy is one of several defendants in a federal civil rights lawsuit brought on behalf of a group of plaintiffs that now includes eight Brookline employees and residents. According to allegations made in this lawsuit, “…the Town of Brookline appointed a white woman with multiple relationships within the workforce, Defendant Joslin Murphy, as the town’s chief legal counsel” in 2014. [Amended complaint, paragraph 132, p. 42]

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege blaming victims as a theme of racial mistreatment, writing, for example, that Brookline “allowed false rumors to spread that [a plaintiff's] complaint was meritless; it encouraged [other employees] to shun and ostracize him.” [Amended complaint, paragraph 8, p. 5] In another instance, an alleged breach of confidence identified a plaintiff “as the one who had protested the use of racist language and caused [the plaintiff] to be ostracized within the department.” [Amended complaint, paragraph 19, p. 9]

Responses: With 11 of 12 members participating, the commission did not seem inclined to a change of mind about its statement. Tony Naro stated, “The way Town Counsel has addressed the Commission through [Dr. Coleman] is disrespectful…Our statement was an opinion…[Others] should not threaten us, bully us and demand that we retract the statement.” Dr. Coleman commented, “We are not a fact-finding group.” Malcolm Cawthorne said, “We stand by our statement.”

Several commission members suggested ways that the commission might describe the background of its statement, but only Sandy Batchelder proposed to reopen and possibly revise the statement. No one proposed to rescind or retract it. Kelly Race said, “We should take a vote on whether we stand by our statement…It was the opinion of the commission.”

Speaking from the audience, Frank Farlow, a Precinct 4 town meeting member and co-chair of Brookline PAX, agreed, saying, “It was the unanimous opinion of a large commission after extended discussion.” Commission members decided not to compose an immediate reply to criticisms but instead to resume reviews at their next regular meeting in February.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 29, 2016


Statement to the Board of Selectmen on institutional racism in the Brookline work force, Commission for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations, Town of Brookline, MA, January 4, 2016

Letter to commission chair Alex Coleman, from Joslin Murphy, Brookline town counsel, January 15, 2016

Amended complaint and jury demand, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, filed January 26, 2016

Board of Selectmen: complaints of racial mistreatment, Brookline Beacon, January 27, 2016

Board of Selectmen: hearing airs racial tensions, Brookline Beacon, January 6, 2016

Civil rights lawsuit: town and individuals accused, Brookline Beacon, December 14, 2015

One thought on “Diversity Commission: messengers and victims

  1. Savyon C.

    “Mr. Greene said his board was “actively taking steps to determine the facts” about complaints of racial mistreatment.” The “facts” have stood in front of Mr. Greene and spoken; he knows exactly what the facts are.

    Bravo to this Commission for standing firm in its convictions. You represent the very best of Brookline.

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