Thursday, June 13, 2024

The Cambridge Review Committee has agreed to meet with city councillors to explain its work identifying lessons to be drawn from the July 16 arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., after councillors vented about being kept in the dark for a second week.

“It was made clear we wanted updates … I recall asking for monthly updates,” councillor Marjorie Decker said Monday, dismissing a two-page committee progress report as a vague, padded “summary of a summary.”

Denise Simmons remembered that even last year, when she was mayor and called upon to answer to the media about the Gates incident — a wealthy black professor arrested at his home by a white police sergeant on charges of disorderly conduct that were later dropped — she seemed to be an afterthought in the handling of the furor. She was told about a major press conference less than an hour beforehand, she said.

And Ken Reeves, who has grown increasingly active on the issue as time passes, and as the committee’s February deadline has come and gone, quoted a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union as saying, “This just looks like a whitewash commission.”

But the issue under discussion was the city manager’s request for $31,360 in committee expenses, mainly reimbursement for travel, that had been tabled from the previous week’s meeting. When it seemed it might be tabled again, Tim Toomey spoke up with a common-sense rebuke: That in freezing reimbursements, “it seems we have penalized committee members who thought they were coming to help the city. I’m trying to think what precedent this will create.” He also chided his fellow councillors for the timing, considering the committee has been operating for several months.

The council ultimately voted 8-1 to provide the reimbursement funds, with Reeves opposed.

By Wednesday morning, committee members had agreed to meet with the councillors to take questions and brief them in person about its work, said Jennifer Flagg, the former Massachusetts Turnpike official chosen to serve as the committee’s facilitator.

One of the committee’s three Cambridge-based members was available to talk to the media, and clarified a few issues while trying to hold back what councillors might want to hear first.

Marian Darlington-Hope

In answer to a concern of Reeves, for instance, there are still three Cambridge-based committee members, said Marian Darlington-Hope, a professor at Lesley University, city human services commissioner, and member of the Area 4 Coalition and of the Margaret Fuller House Neighborhood Board.

Reeves worried Monday that Judge Joyce Alexander, a long-serving magistrate on the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, had dropped out, but Darlington-Hope said the judge “hasn’t dropped out, actually. In fact, she’s been quite involved. We’ve been in touch with her. I think she has sort of lots of other kinds of commitments, and it’s kept her from two of the meetings, but she’s been involved. She’s knows exactly what’s going on. When she wasn’t able to be at the next meeting, she had asked me to take over a community subcommittee she was leading — but she hasn’t dropped out. I feel bad because you know she’s missed half of it, and there is this view that people think she has.”

She also said the committee is looking at the issues of police stops in which race seems to play a role and has an entire subcommittee on the issue of police discretion, meaning the latitude officers are given to interpret whether to make an arrest. While she wasn’t willing to discuss findings, she felt data provided the committee on race-based stops “wasn’t particularly significant in the numbers.”

Asked about the committee missing the up-to-five-month window for work given in September by Police Commissioner Robert Haas and confirmed by committee chairman Chuck Wexler, she explained a few factors complicating the members’ work.

“We’d like to have a meeting with professor Gates, and that’s been hard to arrange,” she said. (The committee has met with Sgt. James Crowley, the arresting officer.) “We have 12 people are all up and down the Eastern Seaboard and who have quite busy schedules. And I think while it’s a challenge to work via conference call, we’re conscious of the cost of meeting in person. It’s quite expensive. I’m not sure I would characterize it as — in fact, we’ve been working quite hard — it going slowly.”

Update: The meetings between members of the council and Gates committee are ongoing, Flagg said. As of Friday, not all had taken place — in fact, not all council members have scheduled one yet. The individual nature of the meetings means they do not fall within public meeting law and do not have to be open to members of the public, she said.