Monday, May 25, 2009

Pioneer Valley Food Not Bombs intimidated into shutting down by Northampton police

This is an account of one of the members of the Pioneer Valley chapter of Food Not Bombs:

The Northampton Police department allegedly received complaints about the Pioneer Valley Food Not Bombs’ Sunday afternoon servings of free food starting in March. An officer informed some different people eating food every week or two that the group was in violation of ‘health code ordinances.’ He never included specific legal documentation, and when pressed he was unable to cite any law of any kind that he was enforcing, replying that he was doing as he was told and that his order to ask us to stop was based on the chief of police receiving ‘complaints’. [The MA Good Samaritan legislation specifically protects organizations like FNB from health code violations.]

The same officer came to the serving on Sunday May 24th 2009 and told the people he found that if they did not take the food away, he would. The first person who reacted did what she felt was best and moved the containers of food and supplies in between the church and the Urban Outfitter's. Serendipitously, the officer came about three minutes before some of our community members had started unloading six banana boxes full of baking grains, canned goods, and pasta. He looked us in the eyes and told us not to put the food there, but we did! As our hungry friends looked through the boxes for healthy food for the week he told some people quite loudly that he would need to ‘call in couple of cruisers’ and have all of the food removed if we didn’t remove it. One member of our community went so far as to tell him that he wouldn’t stop putting food out until the police blockaded the space we were in. Others asked the officer if he really wanted to take away our food and why he had to.

The police threat was half effective. The PV-FNB chapter had out some of our best supplies and we were not willing to sacrifice it to the NHPD dumpster. At the same time, our community was so responsive and hungry that we successfully handed out five of the boxes full of food. People in our community fear those who have sworn to serve and protect it, this was evident as most of the people at the serving left or moved to the side promptly after cleaning out the boxes. Our serving had ended before the two extra cops showed up. As two of us were leaving a person came looking for food, she thanked us at our car saying that if we didn’t have any for her she wasn’t sure how she would get food for the day.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Michaelann Bewsee smearing/Northampton Human Rights Commission

Here's a series of nasty, baseless ad hominem attacks on Michaelann Bewsee, co-founder of Arise for Social Justice (a veteran, committed, effective activist who's probably done more for Western Mass than any of her vicious detractors on this forum) provoked by her discussion of the Al Southerland controversy on her blog when the story first broke. I'm glad I don't follow the masslive forums, b/c this would've made me very upset if I'd read it at the time. Among the accusations on there is the idea that we had a protest organized just to stir up trouble ahead of time and found a convenient cause in Al Southerland's alleged beating. Um, no. We had emergency meetings and hastily organized it b/c we believed it was important. And Michaelann was "manipulated" into crediting these accusations by Keely Malone, David Beyer, me, and other ego-obsessed activist hoodlums. Actually, I worked under Michaelann as a volunteer at Arise for years, and I don't think anyone has ever manipulated her into anything.

And we are doing more than "have no real information, and have made no effort to investigate this "incident" beyond talking with people who will prop up their pre-ordained version of events..." (By the way, that was a malapropism, the way you used "pre-ordained", there.) We are interviewing eyewitnesses and gathering doctors' diagnoses through Southerland's relatives, who are suing the NPD (were they manipulated into doing that by us, too? Are they just being rabidly leftist and trying to stir up trouble? Or maybe they want justice for their son and their father? Who is still in a coma, by the way.) Is this how Western Mass, especially a progressive town like Northampton, responds to accusations of police brutality? By defensively denying it, with no investigation? I think a community of true integrity, a *real* Paradise City, would thoroughly look into *any* such claims before concluding they were without substance.

We will be helping Southerland's daughter, who has power of attorney, make a complaint with the Northampton Human Rights Commission. That is the current infrastructure in place for something like this. Unfortunately, the HRC's members are appointed by the mayor and approved by the city council, and the mayor is also the employer of the police force. One cannot even send a letter or e-mail to the HRC without going through the mayor's office. I am told that the HRC doesn't necessarily follow the party line of the city's executive branch, so we'll hope for the best. But we'd like to work with the city to develop a more independent citizen's review board.

Again, no one would be happier than we would be if we knew definitively that police officers did not assault Alfonso Southerland. But until we can know that with certainty, we can't just give the police the benefit of the doubt.

Monday, May 18, 2009

interview with Southerland's daughter/more updates on alleged police brutality case

Here is some information from our first interview with Al Southerland's daughter (whose name is to be withheld for now.) She said that Aaron Daniels misunderstood what she related to him about the doctor's diagnosis--Southerland did suffer a massive heart attack, but there is medical evidence that it could've been brought on by a beating that he took either at the Rt 66 lockup or at the time of his arrest (not to mention what the numerous bruises and contusions all over his body reveal about what could have happened.) The doctors told the daughter that they did not find drugs or alcohol in Southerland's system. She has been trying to get activists and concerned friends on the waiting list to see Southerland, but it is difficult as she lives so far away and has little control over what happens in Northampton--"they can say anything they want here." She says it seems that the hospital wants to move Southerland, and speculates that is because they want to avoid negative publicity.

When the daughter went to get power of attorney the Northampton Courthouse "sent [her] on a wild goose chase." She found out that one of the doctors and a judge are related. She ended up having to go to Greenfield to get representation, and found them "just as worthless." She is now retaining the services of attorneys in the Boston area to file a suit against the Northampton police.

We will continue to have an open dialogue with Southerland's daughter. She stated definitively, "I don't trust anyone in this hick town." (Can we blame her?)

Ira Mckinley, PINAC member, attended Southerland's first court hearing. When the judge discovered that Southerland was still unconscious and in the hospital, with no representation, he responded angrily, calling for a recess and slamming the door on his way out. A clerk informed Mckinley that the hearing has been moved up to June 5th at 8:30 AM. Please attend to stand witness. PINAC will certainly be represented there.

The phone with the pictures of the bruising on Southerland's face as he lay unconscious on it has been stolen. We don't want to be conspiracy theorists, but it's hard not to wonder.

We will continue to advocate for the formation of a nonnepotistic citizen's review board for the police department that can handle cases like these. There are many things to admire about the progressive Northampton PD, but their "it can't happen here" attitude and preemptive denial in the place of honest investigation is troubling. We would be happy to learn that no police brutality occurred, but it is our obligation as a low income rights organization to investigate these contradictory and disturbing accounts if no one else will.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sophian article on Smith BID protest

Here's an article I missed linking from the Smith newspaper about a protest during the opt out period demanding that Carol Christ and other Smith bigwigs have Smith opt out. I suppose it's kind of moot now, since, as most of you know, Smith did not opt out of the BID, but it has some interesting quotes.

The one that most impressed me, and gives the lie to the assumption that only students are involved and invested in PINAC, is this one:

"Mark Clinton, protest participant, tenured Holyoke Community College professor and former 14-year Northampton resident, stated: 'By most people's definition I make a middle-class income, and I can't afford to live here.' "

Sunday, May 3, 2009

report of suicide of shelter resident

A resident of a Northampton shelter, the emergency drop in shelter, committed suicide sometime in the last few days. His name was Mel and he is alleged to have killed himself behind the King St. Stop and Shop. He was on suicide watch recently. As more details come to us, like his full name and details on previous life as well as the time period leading up to his suicide, we will report them here.

here are the numbers which determined the percentages of the BID opt-outs

Many of you asked for the the numbers on which I based the assertion I made here. Well, here they are. This is according to documentation at the City Clerk's office in Northampton City Hall:

Total business whole buildings= 165

Business whole buildings opted out= 108

Percentage of business whole buildings opted out= 65%


Total business condominium units= 119

Business condominium units opted out= 65

Percentage of business condominium units opted out= 55%


Total of all business properties= 284

Total of all business properties opted out= 173

Percentage of all business properties opted out= 61%