He really went and said that

Worcester Police Chief Steven Sargent let it all hang out at the Board of Health meeting yesterday

This is going to have to be a quick one because I got work in a few, so please consider subscribing because I’m about 75 percent of the way to this being something I can comfortably do full time and on your end it’s sort of an insignificant amount of money and I promise you what you’re about to read no one in Worcester media would write. We’re taught as local journalists that we are basically the cops too and everything they say is always true and good. Most of us still believe it.

Last night Police Chief Steven Sargent finally got around to meeting with the Board of Health regarding its decision to declare racism in Worcester a public health emergency, which yes, obviously it is if you just look around for a second. He did so after jerking the board around for a couple months. The board called for an emergency meeting in June and now it’s late August and also Sargent flagrantly bailed on the first scheduled meeting with some vague reference to “prior commitments.” So going into this meeting last night he’s already demonstrated this Board of Health declaration isn’t the biggest deal to him, but what he said at the meeting confirms it fully. I’m going to spend the rest of the piece harping on the following quote:

“I can say through my entire career that I have not personally witnessed acts of racism by the Worcester Police Department.”

He said that on record. In a public forum. It’s on video. Just flagrantly putting on display that he does not understand nor care to understand the concept of systemic racism. 

He was on the force when Worcester Police Officers brutally murdered Cristino Hernandez in 1993, a police killing that so closely resembles the murder of George Floyd that the Worcester Historical Museum and the Latino History Project of Worcester are putting on a presentation about it on Thursday.

Worcester cops beat a Latino man to death and Sargent said he’s never witnessed any racism while on the force. I can say a lot of snarky things about this and I did on Twitter already but earnestly how can you adopt that position and instill any trust at all that you understand or even care about systemic racism? You can’t. It’s a semantic hard stop. Sargent has certainly and beyond a shadow of a doubt witnessed countless acts of racism in his time as a cop. He’s lying, or he doesn’t understand what racism is, or more likely a little of both. 

Later in the meeting, he doubled down when Board of Health member David Ford pressed him on the point that inherent bias and systemic racism exist in every institution, including the Worcester Police Department. In so many words, Sargent said nope, no it doesn’t. Ford said the Board of Health is here to help the police better understand the concept of racism as a public health issue. They’re public health experts and race relations experts, and Sargent is not. Sargent responded in the way he always does: he said “We’ll have the conversation,” which basically means we’ll sit here and pretend to listen and then go back to doing what we been doing. When someone tells you they’ll have the conversation you know off the bat the conversation is pointless. 

Denying that racism exists in your institution is not just a dumb thing to say, it’s actively harmful. It’s closing your eyes and putting your hands over your ears and going lalalalala. Sargent’s rhetoric very closely mirrors that of School Committee ghoul John Monfredo when he said last year he’s never seen an instance of racism in the Worcester Public Schools. Seems like it’s the preferred townie line and I’m sure it plays very well to all the people in Worcester who would rather not grapple with the relatively straightforward concept of systemic racism and that is unfortunately a lot of people.

That is the main problem here. You have to acknowledge there’s a problem to fix it. In Worcester we are not acknowledging the problem. We’re saying it doesn’t happen here and oh it’s a shame what these other places are going through but here in Worcester we’re different. Nonsense.  

Above all else, this meeting between Sargent and the Board of Health demonstrates the limit of police reform. You can’t just keep throwing money at an institution for new toys and new programs and new training if the leadership of said institution is going to get defensive and deny the problem. It doesn’t work.  There’s a ton to unpack in this meeting and I suggest you watch it if you’re interested. The discussion starts around the 10 minute mark. Also, Defund WPD did a great job covering the meeting on Twitter.

This meeting certainly warrants a more substantial post but I’m rushing to get to work on time and it feels very important to me that Sargent’s denial of systemic racism be pulled out and framed and acknowledged and discussed. He’s Worcester townie royalty and he’s not going anywhere and neither are the political forces which made him the top cop.

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I play in a Tom Petty cover band and we’re doing a livestream set tomorrow night at Milford TV which is actually a pretty nice studio and I’m excited about that. Music is cool and I’m looking forward to playing my next show in 2025

Ok, off to the kitchen I go. As always, if you liked what you read you should share it with your friends and also consider signing up for a paid subscription so I can keep antagonizing powerful people in Worcester in a way that writers with real jobs can’t do without getting quietly pressured for months to tone it down and avoid controversial topics until you don’t and then for two straight weeks your columns get censored without explanation or opportunity for revision so you quit in a huff and start a newsletter haha happens all the time.

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