There was a Board of Health special meeting last night and you can read about it in the Telegram and on the social media. I’ve been listening to the recording, which is not the best (various bleep-bloops every time someone enters or exits the meeting). Below is a transcription (not yet complete) of David Fort’s presentation and remarks. I’ll be working through this today and tomorrow and record any other relevant remarks. My transcription isn’t neat (there may be slight misquotations and I’m not using all the capital letters I normally would) but should give you a sense of things. I welcome any suggested improvements!
Slidedeck is here
David Fort is introduced about 8.30 mark to present recommendations related to racism and discrimination.
I appreciate everyone being here tonight for this emergency meeting. I really appreciate it.
I just want to start out by saying to anyone who is on the phone or who may be listening at some point, especially the people who have been protesting and a lot of people in the community, that I apologize for not just me but for many of us on the board, apologize for the delay in having this meeting. I have mentioned this to at least one or two of the board members, that there was a lot of community concern about this topic and if the board of health was going to do about it.
So I just want to apologize for the delay, but I’m glad that we are here as a group, and that you’re here as well, those who are watching and listening.
Tonight, before I get to the recommendations, we’re going to go through some context, talk about a few things, and then I will get into the recommendations at the end.
9.56[Nicole skipped a few more introductory remarks]
Let me begin —
It seems as though after the murder of George Floyd, putting out statements against racism and support of Black lives is more of a marketing technique […] for many. These are people’s lives, and Black lives should never be a thing to play with. Practically every business institution that just months ago would have stayed silent on racism or who thought Black Lives Matter was some kind of fringe movement, have issued statements in support of the movement. And don’t get me wrong, I am pleased to see these statements being issued, great to see, however many African Americans, including myself, are very skeptical about the authenticity of some of these statements. The history and treatment of black and brown people in this country gives us good reason to do so. Our lives are not marketing tools.
While I believe most of the board of health did not want our statement issued several weeks ago regarding George Floyd and police brutality to be lumped into just a sea of statements with no follow-up actions, [that is why] I called for this emergency board of health meeting to take place.
Even though I called this board of health meeting, over the objections of the current chairperson of the board, she wanted to address these issues in a different manner or perhaps later time – I respect her position. But we seriously differ in our approach and time, that these issues could wait to be addressed at a later time in the year or in a different manner. We may differ on some items, but we are still colleagues and friends. We will remain that way even after this meeting.
The sole purpose of this meeting is to finalize the list of recommendations that will be sent over to the Worcester police department after this meeting. We are inviting members of the WPD to attend the next board meeting, which will be in July. This will be the last meeting until the fall. I believe in transparency, and I did not want the community to feel that the board was not supportive of further action.
I and other board members worked on recommendations that we believe would decrease the probability of acts of police brutality among police officers in the city, increase the likelihood of weeding out officers who possess racist or bigoted viewpoints, and lastly to increase opportunities to rebuild trust between the worcester police department and the African American, Latino, LGBTQ+ and other communities, who have been disproportionately affected by racism, bigotry and police brutality.
Let me give you some background with respect to public health and the board of health.
The board of health uses the CHIP, the Community Health Improvement Plan, to guide many of the issues that we address. When it comes to race and discrimination, the CHIP says the following:As a priority area, racism, discrimination aim:Improve population health by systematically eliminating institutionalized racism and the pathology of oppression and discrimination by promoting equitable access to, and use of, health promoting resources in the community.Reduce structural and environmental factors that contribute to health inequities
The CHIP is [our] guiding document – the CHIP if implemented throughout the WPD could drastically help to build a bridge between the black and brown communities in the city of Worcester and the WPD and decrease the probability of instances of police brutality in this city. So why is racism, discrimination, police brutality public health issues?
Anything that negatively affects the well-being, health outcomes, morbidity, and brutality rates of the community, is a public health issue. Organizations such as the American Public Health organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American College of Physicians, have all called these issues emergency public health issues. Even locales such as Cleveland, Denver, Indianapolis, Boston, San Bernardino County, have all called racism and law enforcement violence that relates to racism, emergency public health issues.
Locally, there has been a full week gap between Worcester police dept’s initial statement on the events in Minneapolis and their second statement issued just one day before this meeting. Neither statement specifically addressed how they are going to address some of the potential systematic racial/public health issues that are present in its own dept. Since racism and police brutality can lead to deaths, injuries, and a decrease in the quality of life that goes with the communities, the board of health believes it is our charge to work with the WPD to solve these serious public health issues. Before I deliver the board’s recommendations, allow me to provide some further context as to why this emergency meeting needed to be called, and why these recommendations needed to be developed.
There would be no need to have Black Lives Matter movement if black lives matter in schools, in the neighborhoods they reside, in the homes they grow up, and the workplace and social circles they socialize in; unfortunately, even the places of worship that the majority of whites worship in. Every anti-racist, anti-bigot expert will tell you that devaluing of black and brown lives and the racist views that emanate from doing so, has been and still is firmly intertwined in every institution in America, including all police departments.
However, institutions are made up of individuals and the conscious or unconscious devaluing of black and brown bodies starts in the homes, and emanates to the other areas of our lives and into the institutions that we are a part of. By the way, as an anti-racist, anti-bigoted advocate who has intimately studied race and its impacts on American society for nearly forty years, this devaluing of black and brown bodies and the pervasiveness of white supremacists, racist, and bigoted viewpoints, are not just the purview of those who proudly wave the Confederate flag or publicly use racist language. While these people are just the tip of the iceberg, rather a large substantial percentage of whites in America hold racist viewpoints, and the data supports it at every turn.
Like Dr Robyn DiAngelo, a nationally renowned white anti-racist professor has said while discussing in her book White Fragility why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism, the majority of white Americans hold some type of racist viewpoints, and unless white people have had years of sustained deep study of race interaction with black and brown people, they will continue to hold these racist views. Thus, the racists or white supremacists that still exist are likely to be the grandfathers, grandmothers, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, friends, coworkers, officials, politicians, and even many police officers that we see every day, than the publicly known racists that we hear about in the news. That is the cold, hard truth, and now is the time for white Americans to take their own moral and racial inventory and make changes to better themselves, America, and the cities and towns they live in.
Being nice to someone, or working net to someone, does not preclude someone from having racist views. For most white police officers, the first time they’ve had consistent interaction with black or brown people is in the line of duty during tense engagements. Since the data proves that a substantial amount of white Americans possess some anti-black views (for example, the Associated Press had a poll that 50% of Americans had anti-black views [this may not be accurate; I couldn’t hear that very well]). Another study reflected large numbers of white Americans possess anti-black sentiments, and since most police officers have had limited non-police engagements with black and brown people, you can clearly see how so many people like George Floyd, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, DJ Henry, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Amadou Diallo, Andres Aguado, and John T. Williams, have been killed by police officers.
A perceived increase in danger placed on one skin color is an example of a person possessing racist viewpoints.
Now, returning to the topic of the value of black and brown lives and racist viewpoints [garbled] you can see the affects all around us. The data is unquestionable. I have been in the field of health and public health for thirty years, and the racism disparities that they create are crystal clear for all of us to see. In housing, educational opportunities, job opportunities, income, law enforcement, politics, business, and health, just look at the covid-19 pandemic that we’re currently in and the glaring racial disparities that exist. Nationally, blacks make up 13% of the US population, are 3.5 times more likely to die of causes related to covid-19 vs whites. Latinos are 16.7% of US population and are twice as likely to die of covid-19 related causes.
Even in Worcester county, blacks make up 5% of the population but are 10% of the population in the hospitals for covid-19 related illnesses, and the number’s probably even more now.
Latinos make up 11% of the population in Worcester county but make up 30% of those seen in the hospitals.
With respect to police-related shootings, according to articles in the American Journal of Public Health in the USA, (Michelle, first slide please) as well as in the aggregated research called “Fatal Encounters”, black men are twice as likely to be shot and killed by a police officer in their lifetimes than whites.
Black women are 1.4 times more likely to be shot and killed by police officers than white women.
In fact, blacks that were shot and killed by the police were twice as likely to be unarmed. Actually, according to a USA News article, 17% of Blacks who were killed by police were unarmed. That percentage is higher than any other racial group.
[note that this makes up the bullet points of the first slide titled “Important Statistics”]
According to the aforementioned aggregate work, Fatal Encounters, police violence is the leading cause of death for black men between [age] 25 and 29. The killings are bad enough but just imagine how many more hostile engagements that black and brown people have to endure each year by police officers and the number of injuries that blacks sustain during those engagements.
In fact, according to the Journal of Urban Health, Blacks go to the emergency department 4.9 times more than whites with law enforcement caused injuries.
[note that the two points above make up the bullet points of the second slide titled “Important Statistics”]
Let’s go even further. A Pew Research study showed that a majority of blacks and whites believe that Blacks are treated less fairly by police officers than whites. 84% of Blacks feel that way, and even 64% of whites do too.
More, the majority of blacks and whites believe that the US Justice system treats Blacks less fairly than whites. 87% of Blacks and 64% of whites feel the same way.
[note that the two points above make up the bullet points of the third slide titled “Important Statistics”]
Black adults are five times as likely to say they were unfairly stopped by police officers because of their race compared to whites.
[note that the point above make up the bullet point of the fourth slide titled “Important Statistics”]
Out of this study, one of the most striking findings was when black, white, and hispanic officers were asked if the fatal encounters between [police] officers and Black people were signs of an isolated incident or a broader problem between police and the Black community, 57% of Black officers, 27% of white officers, and 26% of Hispanic officers said that these encounters were signs of a broader problem and not isolated instances.
[note that the point above make up the bullet point of the fifth slide titled “Important Statistics”]
What about the experiences of those in Worcester?
Even in my own family, I can speak to at least three generations that have been racially profiled, assaulted, or aggressively treated by members of the WPD.
My father was racially profiled.
When I was fourteen years old, a WPD officer pulled a gun on me and slammed me against a vehicle at East Park while my three white friends watched in horror.
And more recently, about a year ago, I was headed to Webster Square. A white WPD officer began yelling at me to get the hell out of here and move on when I just complained about some guy who was driving a truck covered with Confederate flags up and down Main Street and Park Ave and was driving erratically, rear-ending multiple vehicles, including mine.
Even some of my nephews, even young […] cousins, have been racially profiled by officers of the WPD.
Some ask why don’t you report these incidents – I learned as a teenager after my brother was grabbed by the neck by a WPD officer and had his head slammed through a store window at the old Galleria mall, that even if you report something, which my father did, nothing most likely will happen.
You walk in the shoes of a Black person or Brown person, you’ll have a different perspective.
Even with all this knowledge and my experiences, I have never been anti-police. Rather, I always seek to develop relationships with police officers. Many Worcester police officers who I’ve personally known – many that I’ve known for 30-40 years, can attest to that.
All these facts and many others speak directly to racism, the undervaluing of Black and Brown lives and the topic of injustice. These are the other reasons why millions of Black and Brown people have been joined by millions of white allies in Worcester and around the world over the last month or so. I am pretty sure that most of these protesters and their supporters are not even close to being anti-police. Rather, these individuals are anti-racist, fighters for fairness, and champions for justice.
So, again, why did I call for an emergency Board of Health meeting, even though there was opposition to do so?
It’s simple: there are thousands of non-whites and our white allies who are tired of living under the threat of police brutality. We want constructive and immediate changes based on collaboration.
Like many others, I’m on the streets regularly talking to ordinary people in the Black and Latino communities. I hear the non-sugar-coated views of these individuals and of others in the city. If you really want to know what people are thinking in most communities, ask many of us who know what people need and want in the city. We are there. If you are not directly part of these communities, you may not be hearing the true views, frustrations, or [??] of these groups.
Some police officers may deny that racist viewpoints are not prevalent in the police departments across the country, including the WPD. However, the data, the video, and the personal stories of those who have experienced police brutality substantially proves otherwise. Recently we have heard from political leaders on the national, state, and even local levels that we need to change existing police practices and procedures. Some of these changes that have come into place are no chokeholds, no knees on the back or head of a person, and even requiring fellow officers to intervene if they see a fellow officer commit an act of police brutality. All of these changes are good, but they don’t go far enough. And why?
Well, I played football in high school at North High and at college at Colgate University. If you change the rules that are played in the game, and you still have the same set of players, many of whom should not have been on the field to begin with, because they have a propensity to break the rules, or needlessly injure their opponents, you will see the same outcomes. Your team will rack up a bunch of penalties, the ball will being pushed back and not forward, and your team and community that wants you to succeed will lose.
This is a point of the recommendations.
I believe the majority of the board of health wants these recommendations – not demands! – to serve as an opportunity to collaborate with the WPD, to address serious public health issues, to ensure that the best people, the best officers, are in uniform. These recommendations are presented in a public forum so that the WPD can come to our scheduled July board meeting and begin the process of developing publicly announced plans to ensure that they have in their ranks anti-racists, anti-bigots, and fighters of justice for all communities that they serve.
The potential for police brutality does not just exist in Minneapolis, Atlanta, New York City, or Chicago, or other faraway cities; the potential for it to happen here in this city exists too, and unless there’s serious attention to identify those who possess racist or bigoted views and rooting them out, then Worcester will also part of that list of places. No one wants that.
These recommendations to WPD are here to encourage the WPD to be the best they can be, and no organization or institution can operate at their max potential if they haven’t fully addressed issues that have the ability to form an irrevocable gulf between themselves and the people that they serve.
So here is the Board of Health’s official stated recommendations that I put together along with a colleague of mine.
On June 1, 2020, the Worcester Board of Health issued a statement condemning the violence than resulted in the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers on May 25, 2020 and previous acts of racist violence. We condemn both.
As members of the Worcester Board of Health, we consider white supremacy, racism, bigotry, and police brutality, as significant public health issues in need of ongoing attention by our city.
To that end, the Board of Health recommends that the Worcester Police Department and police officers in the city of Worcester (and members of other law enforcement agencies that operate in the city of Worcester) do the following to protect and build trust with the African-American community and other communities historically impacted by racism, bigotry, and racist violence:
[note the above is the first slide entitled “The BOH Recommends]
Recommendation #1: Acknowledge that racist, bigoted viewpoints and structural racism are pervasive in society and in all institutions, even among police departments (and that includes the WPD). [this is a slide except for the comment in parentheses]
Recommendation #2: Adopt the element of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus “10 Point Plan” that includes this specific item: Peace Officer Standards and Training (which is called POST): resolves to provide for a special commitment on Peace Officer Standards and Training, to study and make recommendations concerning the implementation of POST system, report favorably now with rules committee. Establish a statewide POST system to certify police officers and enable de-certification for misconduct and abuse. [He reiterates that the last sentence is very important]
Recommendation #3: Commit to urgently develop a comprehensive plan to identify (i.e. through previous actions, social media, background checks, etc.) those police officers that may possess racist/bigoted viewpoints.
Recommendation #4: Once officers who may possess these views are identified, commit to educate, re-train and/or if necessary, preclude (in the case of cadets) or dismiss (in the case of current officers) officers who possess these viewpoints and are inclined to impose these views to mistreat (i.e. physically, verbally, legally, etc.) black, brown and other historically discriminated racial and socioeconomic groups.
Recommendation #5: Be immediately and continuously transparent and fair in the investigation of police officers who have been accused of police misconduct and brutality.
Recommendation #6: Commit to working with a newly established, community police misconduct review board which is comprised of residents of the city of Worcester and have at least 50% of its members from the following communities:
African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans. The makeup of the Board should also include members from the following communities who have been affected by racism, bigotry and violence:
• a. LGBTQ+
• b. Mental Health
• c. Homeless
• d. Drug/Alcohol Recovery
• e. Youth
• f. Low-Income
• g. Domestic Violence Survivors
[I’m mostly using the bullets from the powerpoint but he is essentially following the slide]
Note: since the board believes collaboration is the key to best practice policing, we believe that community misconduct police board should include at least one member who is a current or former member of law enforcement, who has had years — and this is important — who has had years of sustained study of good policing practice and anti-racist, anti-bigoted paradigm. That is key. We want to make sure that whoever’s going to be [the member of law enforcement] that that person has experience not only doing good work and understanding good policing practices, but also understands the paradigms when it comes to being anti-racist and anti-bigoted.
[The above paragraph was not on the slidedeck]
Recommendation #7: Every police officer should be required to attend anti-racist/anti-bigoted workshops annually; and at least twice a year, require officers to read publications or view informational videos (and produce a short written report afterwards) that are geared towards improving the understanding of the various communities mentioned above.
Recommendation #8: Commit to developing healthy and nonviolent relationships with all members of the African-American community and other members of communities that have a history of suffering police brutality and misconduct.
Recommendation #9: Adopt the element of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus (and by the way the Mass Black and Latino Legislative Caucus are members who are from the federal level all the way down to the municipal level who have come together to put together a 10 point plan to try to reduce racism, discrimination, and also police brutality) “10 Point Plan” that includes this specific item: Adopt clear statutory limits on police use of force, including choke-holds and other tactics known to have deadly consequences. Require independent investigation of officer-related deaths. Require data collection and reporting on race, regarding all arrests and police use of force by every department.
Recommendation #10: Adopt the element of the Massachusetts Black
and Latino Legislative Caucus“ 10 Point Plan” that includes this specific item: Civil Service Exam Review and Oversight: Establishes an Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity to establish guidelines and review for diversity plans for all state agencies; Establishes a peace officer exam advisory board to review examinations for appointment and promotion of peace officers.
Recommendation #11: Commit to providing training on and implementation of internal and external deescalation resources.
Recommendation #12: Establish a consistent periodic schedule to update the members of the BOH and the Worcester Community (i.e. via the media and in-person community meetings, etc) on the progress of your efforts.
The Board of Health is seeking for the WPD to issue a formal statement to the Board of Health and to the residents of Worcester by, before or soon after our next Board of Health meeting (in July), on how and when (i.e. include specific timelines) they will specifically address each individual recommendation. The Board of Health is recommending that the WPD issue an annual report on its efforts to reduce racist/anti-Black and Brown/bigoted views amongst its ranks, increase more officers who are antiracist/anti-bigoted and build stronger ties to the Black and Brown communities of Worcester and other historically affected communities.
I believe that anything short of addressing each of these recommendations, line by line, will invalidate the experiences of those who are affected by racism as it relates to the local police department, as well as the voices of all the protesters who have marched for justice over the last month or so.