Where we go from here

This is the first day of Defund WPD's life

Tonight is an important night for the movement we’ve come to call Defund WPD, meaning Defund The Worcester Police Department. There’s a rally outside City Hall, and an agenda item on the meeting which allows people to demand that the city take money from the police and put it anywhere else but the schools would be nice. The City Council is not going to do anything and I’d bet my left never-you-mind on that, but this is an opportunity for Defund WPD to establish itself as a player in the city who’s here to stay.

This post might go long on analysis and I might get a little in the weeds because there are certain dynamics on the City Council that you have to be a real nerd to pick up on but they’re important in understanding the way this stuff works. But first, here’s how you can get involved. The rally outside City Hall starts at 6:30, with the idea of going head-to-head with the meeting. Since the meeting is mostly online and not every councilor will be there, the thought is to have a demonstration playing out on social media while the Council goes on doing Council stuff. Pa’Lante, a community-based Latinx advocacy organization, is leading the charge along with a dozen or so other groups. If you can show up, you should. Here’s the Facebook event. I will unfortunately be at my other job that I still need but I might not need it if you smash that subscribe button haha!

I talked to Pa’Lante’s Em Quiles this morning about the rally and here’s what she had to say in absolutely no uncertain terms.

“We’ve been calling in and following your structure, your rules, through the chair and all that bullshit, and we’re not being heard, so we’re going to be heard.”

Rock on, sis!

If you want to call in to the meeting and don’t know how or just want to watch the meeting, Defund WPD will help you.

Now, at the meeting, the Council will have to act on a motion from Councilor Khrystian King to reconsider the unanimous vote the Council took last week to approve the city’s budget as-is, with a $250,000 increase to the Police Department budget. It is unlikely this motion will get the votes it needs to go through, and in a call over the weekend with King he said he filed it mostly to allow people to speak. I don’t know if any other councilor will stick their neck out and go along with him. Spines have been in short supply of late. I have heard a rumor from a few people that Councilor Moe Bergman will support the motion to reconsider the budget, but only to let King change his mind if he wants. Here’s the skinny on that: Bergman and King are consistently toward the bottom of vote-getters for the six at-large seats. Bergman probably sees this as an opportunity to hang King up politically as being anti-cop. Being anti-cop in Worcester is a dangerous political position for a number of reasons, not least of which is that the police union has insane political pull. If they don’t want you on the council, they can make it happen a little bit. This is why we can’t have nice things.

Not for nothing, and as an aside, King did manage in the political hell of Worcester to get $120,000 diverted to hire school social workers. In total, we pay about $820,000 for cops in schools, and of that the school pays $120,000. Sort of a direct payment to the cops, which seems normal. But the cops are still going to get that money somehow, so…

King here has an opportunity to make a new political play to Defund WPD, a group that has so many people who have never paid attention to municipal politics before deeply invested in a budget approval process. Never in all my years as a local reporter have I seen so many people so fired up about something that usually bores everyone involved to tears. What the defund message does, and is doing across the country with success but not here in Worcester — hmmm wonder why — is it gets people to think critically and deeply about the way we allow our tax money to be spent. Why are police officers given weapons of war without a second thought, but teachers are making Staples runs to get their kids notebooks? Why are there cops in schools when social workers have case loads in the high hundreds, rendering them helpless to help any kid in particular? Budgets are moral documents, and we can do better than this.

But here’s the thing, and this is why it’s so important that Defund WPD sticks around and buckles up for the long run. The political reality of reallocating money from the Police Department’s budget in a city with a Council that has plainly told you to pound sand is grim. It’s going to take a ton of organizing, strong City Council candidates, and creative ways to sustain pressure. That’s why I said this is the first day of Defund’s life. They’ve got a long road ahead in a city that routinely punishes you for caring. But baby I’m glad I didn’t die before I met you.

So how are they going to do it? I had a few beers last night with a member of the group who would prefer to remain nameless and that’s probably smart given how many hateful little weirdos there are around here and we talked about this question. He’s got some really strong exciting ideas, but they’re not ready for prime time yet. What I think we need is a council candidate to launch a campaign right now, even though the election isn’t until next fall. Launch the campaign, and say clearly and boldly ‘I am the Defund WPD candidate and I believe I have enough support on that message alone to win a seat.’ It’s a bold proposition, and it would take someone who’s deeply committed to the struggle, but I’ve got a nose for these things and I think it’d gain traction quickly.

We’re at a moment as a society where we could see a dramatic sea change in the way people think about municipal politics. The young people are done with this shit, and they’re fired up, and the beauty of Black Lives Matter is that it is entirely focused on city politics because that’s who pays the cops and that’s where the change can happen. It’s not about Professor Drumpf Covfefe, despite the constant attempts by corporate media to make it that way. It’s about an institution that upholds white supremacy on the front line. The defund movement is the way we continue to harness the anger we saw on the streets of every city in America and felt in our hearts and turn it into political power. So let’s do it, baby, let’s get to work.  

Here’s some ammunition.

The city recently released a list of the highest paid municipal employees, and surprise surprise it’s almost entirely cops as it is every year. 90 out of 100. We’re paying cops the salary of a full-time teacher on top of their salary to sit on their phones while other people work. The detail pay is absolutely outrageous. The sixth highest paid employee, at a total $227,129 after a whopping $113,974 in detail work, is one Officer Joseph Vigliotti, who had a domestic violence arrest in 2015, and in 2014 was probed by the literal Secret Service for a comment made about a bomb during President Barack Obama’s visit to Worcester Tech. Last year, the Civil Service Commission ruled that he should not be promoted to sergeant. But he still has a job! We still pay him almost as much as the City Manager! Councilor Kate Toomey told me in an interview that we don’t need to defund the police because “the City of Worcester is different from other communities.” Haha, okay.

The Telegram’s Brad Petrishen — who I couldn’t back harder, he’s head-and-shoulders the best reporter in Worcester right now — is getting stonewalled by the Worcester Police Department for access to disciplinary records. The story is striking, and I suggest you read it. Even more striking is the image of a redacted record the cops sent back to him.

And finally, ask yourself, what does “community policing” even mean? It means whatever you want it to, ya turkey! It’s a nonsense term, and don’t fall for it. You’re going to hear it a lot tonight, I can guarantee that.

At least this happened last night, though.

If you made it this far you are a hero and I love you. If you haven’t, please consider subscribing because I could do this all day every day and love every second of it.

I’ve been on a mini press tour about how I quit my job, which is sort of funny if you think about it. Here’s me on Talk Of The Commonwealth, which is a great show.

And here’s me on Seltzer Time, which is a great podcast. Give them a follow and subscribe where ever you do that.

That’s all! This post is long, huh?