Independent review, my ass

There are so many lawyers in this city and you choose that guy?

First off, I tried to write about this in both of the columns that got spiked by the Telegram. It’s sort of old news by now but it’s super important and it’s a peek behind the curtain into the halls of real power in this city and yeah I’m burying the lede here but it’s my newsletter I’ll do what I want so be patient, OK?

Let’s talk about Michael Angelini, the lawyer Clark University hired to conduct an “independent review” of the way that 50-60 cops in full riot gear armed with weapons of war force marched demonstrators down Main Street after the Black Lives Matter demonstration earlier this month, and the four Clark students who were subsequently arrested.

I was there, by the way, and this is what it looked like. I’d suggest skipping to the ~4 minute mark if you’re short on time and want to see the way cops “de-escalate” the situation by forcibly pushing people down Main Street toward nowhere in particular. City officials are on record praising the cops for their “tremendous restraint” and that is not at all what tremendous restraint looks like to me.

Angelini sits on a literal city board. He’s on the Worcester Redevelopment Authority. Angelini has served as City Manager Ed Augustus’ personal attorney in the past. Augustus was the guy who appointed him to the WRA in 2016. In 2014, Angelini was the leader of a group of powerful Worcester people who lobbied the City Council to secure Augustus a permanent city manager contract.

He’s been politically involved in Worcester for decades. He serves and has served on the boards of countless companies and organizations. His list of political contributions is long and bountiful. He’s widely considered by people who know these things to be among the most powerful people in the city, if not the most powerful person in the city.

There are so many lawyers in the world, and this is the lawyer Clark University chooses to conduct an “independent” review of the Worcester Police Department and the way it handled a small group of rowdy demonstrators.

I like how Nicole puts it here. Worcester’s Master of Puppets.

City Councilor Khrystian King also feels this is not quite independent, and he was also there that night. I was on the phone with him earlier today and he told me as much. He said when I think about Angelini, I think about City Hall, which is a good way of putting it.

Clark has yet to release anything about the review, but promised to do so. I’m not holding out hope we’ll get anything much different from the cops’ “official” account. I have pointed out before that I saw plenty things that night that did not make it into the cops’ official account, like the pushing of young Black women in the back with batons, or this:

I wasn’t there for the whole thing, so I can’t say with any certainty what in the police’s official narrative did or didn’t happen. I arrived at 10:25 p.m., well after the “full video” the police department released. What I can tell you is I heard the popping sound of gunshots and the thick smell of pepper spray as I turned the corner of Main and Woodland, reemerging from my car where I hurriedly charged my phone. If it’s not recorded, it didn’t happen, I remember thinking. What I can tell you is that volunteers cleaning up the scene the day after found at least two eXact iMpact™ 40 mm Standard Range Sponge Round casings. These are sponge bullets, a sibling of the often-talked-about rubber bullet. This did not make its way into the police department’s official account. No, the police said they used “less lethal measures including smoke grenades and pepperball rounds.”

Gotta love the way they slip “including” in there! Sure does do a lot of lifting in this context!

Now, if you follow Worcester politics you know this story, so I won’t rehash it in any great detail. But it is so unbelievably dumb in a way that feels unique to Worcester and it’s necessary for my closing argument.

So the cops force march protesters down Main Street. In response, Clark stops giving off-duty Worcester cops private security gigs, and discontinues a policy of requiring Worcester cop details at events. A combination of gut reaction stupidity and somewhat misleading press coverage morphs this into “Clark bans Worcester cops from campus.” All of townie Worcester reacts poorly. City Councilor Kate Toomey goes so far as to release an official statement saying that Clark banned cops from campus, which is either stupid or in bad faith and it doesn’t really matter, it achieves the same result. The Worcester City Council and Augustus rally behind the cops and condemn Clark. Clark launches independent review. Clark hires a person deeply entrenched in City Hall for said independent review.

This reeks of a show trial, to be quite honest. And it gives Clark the out of being all “well our extremely independent review showed that the cops were in fact very good boys, whoops, sorry, here’s your cushy private security gigs back.” It wouldn’t surprise me should I ever just happen to learn by accident that there may have been a polite suggestion from the third floor of City Hall on which lawyer to hire (please don’t sue me I am very weak).

Augustus and Angelini are close. They are both extremely powerful. They are both what we in stupid media land like to call “movers and shakers” which is a cute way of saying they can do a lot of things to the city that you have no control over at all.

Colleges don’t pay property taxes, but they use city services. They need city approval for all sorts of things like the expansion projects on which they spend all that would-be tax money. It’s in a college’s best interest to be on good terms with its city.

So much of what happens in Worcester happens out of sight.


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