When the Somerville police stopped six Latino Somerville High School students on their way home from school last month and wrongly accused them of being gang members, a situation that led to allegations of violent acts committed against the students, the city of Somerville reacted to what was believed to be a case of racial profiling. But in its quest for answers, the city only raised more questions.
During the investigation, a majority of the Somerville Board of Aldermen signed a resolution that supported the police department, stating the police should have all the tools necessary to successfully fight gangs.
Certainly, the Somerville Police should possess the freedom to do its job effectively; yet there are two disturbing features of this resolution.
First, the fact that the resolution was proposed during an ongoing investigation of the incident diminishes its credibility. Essentially, the city came out in support of the Somerville Police before the facts had been pieced together and verified.
This is not to say that a majority of the town’s aldermen were in the wrong for standing by their police — but it is just too early to make that kind of statement. The resolution completely undermines the investigative process, and it seems irresponsible for the city even to consider taking action prior to reaching clear conclusions on the issue.
Second, residents have scrutinized the resolution for stating that “every citizen in the city has the right to feel safe and secure.” Such wording has now led many to accuse the aldermen of discrimination, as the word “citizen” does not encompass all Somerville inhabitants, who the police have the responsibility of protecting.
But it’s not just the wording itself that should raise eyebrows. Rather, it’s the way in which the signees of the resolution have defended the document. According to an April 2 Somerville Journal article, the aldermen defending their decision to sign the resolution either didn’t consider the statement to be discriminatory or didn’t read the document closely enough to see the possibly inflammatory language.
That’s just scary.
That kind of excuse is unacceptable — irresponsible at best. The members of the Board of Aldermen who signed this resolution should have considered reading and synthesizing it first. Neglecting to do so is how mistakes get made, and in this case, board members are now being accused of discrimination in their handling of a case that was originally brought about due to the case’s allegedly discriminatory implications.
These aldermen will likely get away with their negligence — and that’s probably a good thing — but hopefully neither the investigation of the incident nor the town as a whole will suffer from it.