My name is Alessandra Seiter, and I’m a Somerville resident, a librarian, and a monthly supporter of BINJ. I’m incredibly grateful for the work y’all do in providing local news coverage (so we don’t have to rely on Twitter), and in empowering residents to report on their own municipalities. I think it’s absolutely critical work in cultivating and maintaining transparent governance and a democratic city.
I unfortunately want to express my disappointment, however, in the 7/19/22 article titled “Summer violence prevention program approved.” I’m primarily disappointed that the article heavily favors the perspectives of Shannon Grant supporters, without providing substantive articulations of opposition views. For example, the bulk of information on what the Shannon Grant actually does comes from a quote from Acting Police Chief Charles Femino, with vague mentions of “fund[ing] additional hours for officers to engage with the community.” Additionally, only a small amount of space is dedicated to a single Councilor’s opposition to the grant (Charlotte Kelly), when three Councilors total voted no. In contrast, the majority of the article’s word count is dedicated to a lengthy speech by Matt McClaughlin, with additional substantive quotes from Kristen Strezo—both in favor of the grant. Finally, the article’s third paragraph frames the Council discussion as such: “… some councilors asked the police chief for more information, while others passionately defended the program.” This is not an accurate representation of the discussion, as Councilors in opposition to the grant did much more than ask clarifying questions.
Based on the 7/19/22 article alone, I would come away with a pretty simplistic picture of the grant, its context, and the Council’s discussion (apart from a brief mention in the first paragraph about the discussions being “heated.”) There is much more to dig into here, though. For example, the community engagement initiatives up for funding by the grant are completely undefined, not only by the article but by the SPD itself—their grant application only speaks to increased surveillance via Hot Spot Patrols. Additionally, the criteria to be identified as a gang member are pretty questionable (you have to be “associated” with at least three people with a “common identifying sign or symbol”), as are the venues the SPD is focused on targeting. For example, they cite “large disorderly gatherings” and “rap videos” as primary recruitment pathways. The Shannon Grant also stipulates that grantees must report crime data to the Commonwealth’s Fusion Center, also known as BRIC. Far from providing youth support, BRIC further criminalizes them by adding their identities to crime databases. There has been extensive reporting on the invasive surveillance measures used at BRIC (such as by DigBoston), and BRIC has been criticized by the ACLU of MA.
I understand that the article was focused on the Council’s discussion on this grant, but the role of the police in Somerville is actively in question right now (see the large cut to the SPD budget recently made by the Council, the substantial public opposition to the proposed Public Safety Building, and the popular organizing of Defund SPD). In this context, I think this article did an irresponsible job.
Thank you for your consideration, care, and the work you do for Somerville. I am happy to continue supporting BINJ.
Note: The author asked Somerville Wire to cite Defund SPD’s “Mapping the Money Zine” (June 2022) as one of their main sources.
Image credit: Collage by Jason Pramas, CC-BY-SA 2.0. Mailing Junk back to Junk Mailers by Oran Viriyincy is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Somerville PD Ford Police Interceptor Utility by Jason Lawrence. CC-BY 2.0.