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Why Curro supports Town Hall statement of inclusion

Select Board member Joseph A. Curro Jr. read the following statement at the Sept. 14 board meeting to discuss the Black Lives Matter banner at Town Hall. YourArlington requested it for publication.

Joseph Curro Jr., Select Board, 2015
Curro: Language describing police 'beyond the pale.'

I have been thinking a lot about recent events in Arlington and lessons to be learned from the past. 

In particular, I have been remembering one Saturday night 19 years ago, when hundreds of Arlington homes had hate literature dropped on their lawns by a West Virginia-based white-supremacist group, the National Alliance. The fliers targeted the Lost Boys of Sudan and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, which had arranged host families for many of the refugees. An Arlington police patrol spotted the literature drop at 3 a.m. and arranged for police officers to remove most of these obscene leaflets before residents awakened.

Following this incident, the Human Rights Commission planned a vigil to show community support for the Lost Boys and resistance to these intimidation efforts . . . And then 9/11 happened.

Suddenly, the vigil took on additional meaning. Arlingtonians came together and shared our outrage over the inhumanity that could lead white supremacists to invade the safe haven that we had provided to young people fleeing war on the African continent. And we grieved deeply over the attacks by religious extremists who ruthlessly slaughtered thousands of American civilians, 415 first responders, 55 military personnel, 33 airplane crew members and hundreds of individuals from over 90 countries. Our residents counted relatives and friends among the victims.

Gathering in front of Town Hall, we were united. We stood shoulder-to-shoulder, and it was the largest gathering I have ever seen in Arlington.

'Fleeting spark of unity'

This summer, we felt a fleeting spark of such unity and shared outrage following the death of George Floyd and an elevated awareness about the struggles and fear faced by our black brothers and sisters in this country -- not only in relation to policing practices -- but also in the pursuit of housing and educational opportunities, economic advancement, and in the face of health care disparities and the disproportionate impact of Covid-19. Hundreds of residents stood in Arlington Center and along Mass. Ave. over weeks and months, and many continue to do so.

We raised the Black Lives Matter banner on Town Hall in time for Juneteenth, and we continued to display it on Black Lives Matter Day and throughout our summer series of Community Conversations.

As our work has continued, we have learned a lot, not least of which is that this work is destined to continue for years . . and that our sense of unity is fragile.

Last week, unlike 19 years ago, residents were not standing shoulder-to-shoulder. Instead, we saw three competing rallies in Arlington Center. Many Arlington residents participated, but each of these protests also drew the participation of outside groups with little connection to our town. This led to confusion and questions about the affiliations, nature or legitimacy of at least three or four organizations that announced plans throughout the week to come to Arlington and insert themselves into our local debates.

'Black Lives Matter' mischaracterized

Mischaracterizations of the simple phrase “Black Lives Matter” were -- in my opinion -- off the mark and do nothing to advance trust between law enforcement and communities of color. At the same time, inflammatory language that seemed to equate our police officers and their families with fascists were beyond the pale and garner no support or respect from me and -- I would venture to guess -- any of my colleagues or the vast majority of Arlington residents who appreciate the work that our officers do on a daily basis.

It is time for us to realize that both black parents and public safety families in our country share a common and pervasive fear: that when their loved ones walk out the door, they will not return.

When I chaired the Human Rights Commission, there was an initiative to seek designation for Arlington as a No Place for Hate community. This campaign was put forward by Chief Ryan and included participation by the APD, HRC, Diversity Task Group and many residents, including our then-future senator, Cindy Friedman. The sponsoring organization was the Anti-Defamation League, which had been and continues to be an important partner in the fight for justice and against hate. We encountered a dilemma, though.

At the time, the ADL’s national leadership resisted labeling the slaughter of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as genocide and actively worked against congressional resolutions that would do so. This position seemed incompatible with sponsorship of a No Place for Hate program, and we heard expressions of deep concern from many members of Arlington’s Armenian community, whose parents and grandparents had lived through the atrocities of the early 20th Century.

Solution: Localize efforts

Our solution was to localize our efforts. We decided to jettison the baggage of a national organization, and we withdrew from the No Place for Hate program, but we maintained our local coalition under the umbrella of “Arlington Community Threads.”

It is time to localize our discussions once again. 

I am heartened to see so many Arlington homes and faith communities displaying signs of support for the idea that until we value Black lives as much as all other lives, we are poorer as a society. 

In my own home, we display several signs, which were hand-made by my daughter. One of them is a list of affirmations, similar to those found outside many Arlington homes. It says:

In This House, We Believe:

BLACK LIVES MATTER

Women’s rights are human rights

NO Human Is Illegal

Science is real

Love is love

KINDNESS IS EVERYTHING

Everyone coming to our front door knows where we stand on these basic beliefs.

Town Hall statement

Similarly, no one coming to Town Hall should have any doubt about the full breadth of our own municipal affirmations, as debated and adopted by Town Meeting over a quarter-century ago and enshrined -- with a number of amendments -- in our by-laws as the policy of the Town of Arlington:

“...to bring about the elimination of prejudice, intolerance, bigotry, unlawful discrimination, threats, coercion or intimidation based upon an individual's race, color, religious views, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, citizenship, age, ancestry, family/marital status, sexual orientation, disability, source of income, or military status...”

These are the words that should greet visitors to our seat of government and which should serve as the starting point for our discussions and debates going forward. They aren’t catchy. They don’t fit on a bumper sticker. They require the reader to stop and think. And they contain the distilled understanding and compassionate commitments of several generations of Arlington policymakers.

Accordingly, if it is appropriate, I move as follows:

That the Select Board requests the Town Manager to cause to be displayed near the entryway to Town Hall, that portion of Title II, Article 9, Section 2, Subsection C of the By-Laws of the Town of Arlington as pertains to its purpose and enumerated protected classes, with temporary exceptions at the Town Manager’s discretion to accommodate display needs for Town-sponsored or sanctioned events or initiatives.

Engage in policy discussions

Our challenge as we move forward is to live up to the letter and spirit of our bylaws, not only in calling out and resisting hate crimes and incidents and in promoting diversity, but also in engaging in difficult and substantive policy discussions.  We must work to correct the harmful legacies of prejudicial policies and practices and to root out their present manifestations as we seek to further equity and inclusion in the realms of public health and safety, human services, education, housing and more. 

We are coming off a summer where we have had many such discussions, which will culminate in next week’s community round table with Lt. Pedrini, whose newsletter articles set in motion many of the tensions we have experienced over the last two years. 

I expect we will have further opportunities to debate policy choices at the upcoming Special Town Meeting and over the years to come. In many ways, our young people are leading the way. Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to listen in to an online conference between leaders of the Arlington High School Anti-Racism Working Group and their peers around the Commonwealth. The passion, eloquence and sheer professionalism of our students as they discussed ways to make their school a better place for all filled me with a firm belief that Arlington is up to the challenges of today and of the future.

Thank you for enduring my lengthy remarks. I respectfully request your support for my motion.

[This motion was adopted, 5-0.]


Sept. 13, 2020: Youth vs. age in face-off over police, racism

This viewpoint was published Monday, Sept. 21, 2020.

8th graders call for changes in town bylaw to boos...
 

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