June 25th Letter from Pelham Town Democratic Committee to Pelham’s Elected Officials, on Racial Justice
June 25, 2020
Dear Mayor Mullen, Mayor Monachino Lapey, Supervisor McLaughlin, Ms. DeDomenico, and Superintendent Champ:
We, the Pelham Democratic Committee, write with three purposes: to express support for your efforts to join the revolution for racial justice in Pelham, to urge you to push the envelope further than you think is possible and to outline our own internal action items to further the cause of racial equality. As elected or appointed leaders in Pelham, the burden falls on all of us to fight for drastic overhaul in Pelham’s policing and schools, and to increase diversity in hiring, on local boards and governing bodies, including our own Committee.
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of the Minneapolis police, and the protests that have come in its wake, we have begun to hear, some of us for the first time, stories of differential, racist treatment of persons of color in Pelham at the hands of Pelham police officers, teachers, school administrators, and fellow Pelham residents. Pelhamites have been sharing stories on social media, with neighbors and friends, at recent rallies, and in a remarkable exhibit at the Pelham Art Center that should break all our hearts.
We have learned that North Pelham is referred to as Parlem; that school children have suffered slights and taunts from their peers that were dismissed by teachers and administrators; that some Pelham youth think nothing of using the N word in casual conversation; that Pelham police officers have referred to Pelham youth as thugs; that black and other minority students are disproportionately subject to school residency checks by police; that black and brown Pelhamites suffer slights, or worse, on a daily basis; that our black and brown neighbors in Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, and the Bronx, expect to be targeted by the police in Pelham and consider us a racist town. We are sure you agree it’s time to shine a light on racial injustice in Pelham and get to work.
Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an Executive Order directing local governments to partner with community stakeholders and review “[C]urrent police force deployments, strategies, policies, procedures, and practices...to address any racial bias and disproportionate policing of communities of color.” The Democratic Committee is here to support our elected officials in the foregoing endeavor and to call upon Pelham’s for-profit, and not-for-profit entities to also undertake a review of their policies and practices in all areas, to listen to the voices of black and brown Pelham residents, to root out structural racism, to increase diversity in hiring, on local boards and governing bodies, and in our schools, and to make this town a place where all can live and thrive.
As a starting point, we urge the Town, Villages, School Board and Police Chiefs to hold a public meeting to address first-hand accounts of racial injustice in Pelham. We will help coordinate this event.
We also urge Pelham Town, Villages, schools, organizations, and all members of the Pelham community to pursue the following social justice goals:
• A transparent system for reporting and addressing racist incidents in Pelham, both those involving law enforcement and those that do not.
• Develop a plan to build community support for low-income and affordable housing, recognizing that resistance is often race-based.
• Research ways to increase support for early childhood education and childcare programs, which are systemically necessary to eradicate racism.
• Move swiftly to conduct a comprehensive review of our schools to ensure that anti- racism is actively taught, outdated materials replaced, diverse viewpoints represented, and course materials include the contributions of all ethnic groups and the often painful history of discrimination and injustice in the U.S.
• Increase diversity on the school board, administration, and teaching staff.
This is by no means a complete list, and it is obviously aspirational. We recognize that all of us operate under constraints, and it’s natural to respond to such aspirations with explanations of why they are impossible. That, perhaps, is the heart of what we are saying: we do not know yet the specific steps required to achieve our goals, but specific steps can and must be undertaken now.
We will help.
To that end, we commit not just to the changes we want to see, but the changes we want to be. As a start:
• We will expand and increase our outreach to black and brown neighbors.
• We will reach out to minority residents in nearby communities, to identify concerns they may have about visiting Pelham, and improve relations.
• We will participate in the comprehensive review of current police force strategies, policies, procedures, and practices, and help devise ways to foster trust, fairness, and legitimacy, and to address any racial bias, as ordered by our Governor.
• We will support and amplify efforts by institutions to improve practices, and will help generate community support for the changes, through means like creating and funding mailings, holding forums, and canvassing.
• We will raise money to help seed these goals.
• If community institutions are unable to provide a system for identifying and addressing incidents of local discrimination, we will work with residents to create such a system.
We reject the notion that addressing our community’s flaws means we love Pelham less; or that those who focus on our many virtues love Pelham more. It’s because we believe in Pelham, and have faith in our neighbors, that we commit to more fully realizing our ideals for all residents.
We invite individuals, organizations and institutions to join our effort, as we gladly join theirs. This work needs us all. We welcome suggestions and corrective feedback on our goals, practices and language.
And we remind our community that a mechanism for systemic change already exists: voting. To those without the time or temperament for activism, voting changes everything. It is our privilege, and our responsibility.
Thank you for your urgent attention to these concerns and those of the broader community determined to achieve meaningful change. We look forward to being part of the solution.
The Town of Pelham Democratic Committee