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Worcester Residents Push for School Police Removal, Call for Faster Timelines and Community Input

Community members in Worcester, Massachusetts, including our grantee partner Worcester Interfaith and Schott's Programs & Advocacy Director Marianna Islam, are helping push city officials to take stronger steps against structural racism in the city. At the most recent city council meeting, residents voiced support for a report that recommends removing school resource officers from Worcester public schools, but urged a faster timeline and greater community oversight. This comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed by a coalition including Worcester Interfaith claiming the city's school committee elections system discriminates against communities of color.

The Telegram & Gazette reports:

WORCESTER—The City Council Tuesday bumped to next week discussion of City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr.'s executive order on structural and institutional racism and accompanying recommendations, but that didn't stop many community members who called in to the virtual meeting from making their voices heard. 

Mayor Joseph M. Petty announced at the beginning of the meeting that the manager's report, which includes an executive order acknowledging the role structural and institutional racism have played and continues to play in the city, would be taken up at next week's meeting. 

The report includes recommendations to remove resource officers from schools and restructure how police interact with schools; to implement some form of alternative deployment that sends mental health and social workers on calls with police; and to establish a new investigations division at City Hall that would address both employee and resident complaints. 

Residents reacted to the executive order and the slate of recommendations with cautious optimism in some areas and outright praise in others, but also pointed out that some recommendations with community support, like the creation of a civilian review board, didn't make it into the report, and said they wanted shorter timelines on some of the initiatives. 

Much of the residents' interest in the report Tuesday appeared to center around Augustus' recommendation to remove police resource officers from city schools by the end of the year. 

Marianna Islam said all over the country, there are very intelligent conversations going on about moving away from a culture of police and providing students more holistic support. Communities from coast to coast are embracing restorative healing models, more training, restraint regarding interactions between police and schools, and greater transparency, Islam said. 

Augustus' recommendation was a good place to start, but there is real work to be done here, Islam said. 

Isabel Gonzalez-Webster, director of Worcester Interfaith, said Augustus "finally responded to the community's cry for reform," but said it's important that the implementation of the recommendations include a true and genuine community process.

"We have to have them involved," Gonzalez-Webster said. "We can't do it without them." 

Gonzalez-Webster said other parts of the proposed reforms need more discussion. She said Augustus is recommending the creation of an investigations division that would have the power to investigate citizens' complaints against police. She said police cannot be trusted to investigate themselves. 

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