Friday, May 24, 2024

Dear councillors Dennis Carlone, E. Denise Simmons and Marc McGovern:

We hope this message finds you well.

We are writing to request that you, the co-chairs of the finance and human services subcommittees, call a joint meeting to discuss the next fiscal year and the alternative public safety program.

I, Stephanie Guirand, write this letter on behalf of The Black Response Cambridge. We are an ad hoc group of young Black and brown Cambridge residents who are concerned about the discussion and process for developing the alternative public safety program in Cambridge. We have been working with councillors Quinton Zondervan and Marc McGovern on these issues, which led to the joint public health and public safety subcommittee meeting Jan. 19. We hope we can start to develop a working relationship with you all toward a similar aim.

During the January subcommittee meeting, the focus was the purpose and aims of designing an autonomous alternative public safety program in Cambridge, The Black Response Cambridge took the lead in inviting speakers from Oakland and Sacramento, California, to discuss their own alternative public safety programs. The next and arguably most crucial part of this discussion is finance and human services. We would like to work with you all to call for another joint subcommittee meeting to discuss the human and capital resources for implementing a bespoke community safety program in Cambridge. The sooner we begin these discussions in Cambridge, ahead of the city manager’s budget, the better. We would like to propose the first week of March.

I cannot impress the urgency of this matter enough. The public discussions are useful. As you can see, the creation of a functioning and people-centered alternative program is our only objective. We wish for this program to be more than just a symbolic gesture while policing continues to be the dominant mechanism of “public safety.” This is only one of our five demands to implement in the discussions of community/public safety around the City Council, police and budget.

We have created demands in coalition with organizations such as Transition House, Goree Freedom House, BlackYard Arts, Community For Us By Us and the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School’s Black Student Union. These demands are based on five main components of our non-carceral vision for community safety that include:

  • Traffic enforcement
  • Youth engagement and support
  • A community street team
  • Demilitarizing Cambridge’s police
  • Domestic response

Update on Feb. 26, 2021: A clarification is needed on the publication of this letter, within which we stated “We have created demands in coalition with organizations such as Transition House, Goree Freedom House, BlackYard Arts, Community For Us By Us and the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School’s Black Student Union. ”

What we meant was that “We, the members of The Black Response Cambridge, have created a set of demands as part of our coalition building efforts.” We have been in conversation with organizations including Transition House, Goree Freedom House, BlackYard Arts, Community For Us By Us and the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School’s Black Student Union.

From each of the organizations listed above, we heard of different needs and potential uses of a Cambridge-based alternative public safety program. From the BSU and BlackYard we heard the importance of addressing youth engagement and support; from Goree House we heard the importance of a community street team and the need to make more resources available to vulnerable community members; and from Transition House we heard the importance of addressing the complexities of domestic response programs. Out of conversations with these organizations and among ourselves, we put together The Black Response’s demand for a new alternative public safety program.

We ought to acknowledge that this clarification is needed because we have named Transition House as an organization with which we have had conversations about the alternative public safety program. Its letter (“Transition House clarifies to councillors, police that it didn’t cosign Black Response open letter,” Feb. 25) indeed confirms that we have been in conversation as neighbors. The wording of our letter may have brought harm to Transition House, though, precisely because The Black Response is a controversial organization. We apologize to Transition House for any harm we may have caused. We support the work of the organization. We simply wished to call on their expertise in domestic circumstances that we are all better informed on the matter.

We are in the process of building a coalition to participate in the challenging dialogues of democratically and transparently envisioning a public safety program. We, The Black Response Cambridge, are pushing for that new program to exist outside of the punitive policing system. That is, we would like for people to have access a program that does not require them to risk harming themselves or relatives (risking arrest) over immediate threats to their safety. We also recognize that we don’t speak for all of Cambridge, and we certainly would not pretend to speak for all Black Cantabrigians. But we do wish to bring in all Cantabrigians, especially all Black Cantabrigians, to the discussion so that we may all learn from one another.

Another large component of our response is the demand for a participatory budgeting process within Black, brown and low-income communities in Cambridge. We envision a community safety initiative that exists outside of the control of the Cambridge Police Department and allocates funding and other resources to our most affected communities based on a democratic process.

With your permission, we intend to invite organizations to the joint committee hearing to speak and present on the core points of the community response program we have outlined above, as well as the budgeting processes other cities have used to create similar programs and respond to the root causes of harm. The organizations and experts we hope to invite include Urban Strategies, Anti-Police Terror Project, The Denver Alliance for Street Health Response and Transition House, and a current Rhodes Scholar to discuss participatory budgeting.

For low-income and marginalized populations in Cambridge, there is a real fear of the police and larger systems that work in cahoots with them. The police do harm. They have the potential to wipe out entire livelihoods. This means there isn’t a real system for marginalized Cambridge residents to solve disputes or to address violence. Instead, these issues fester under the cloak of secrecy until physical violence manifests.

We recognize that we don’t speak for all marginalized Cantabrigians. But our campaign brings perspectives and lived experiences that are too often left out of public discourse in our city. We believe the organizations and individuals that we bring to these policy discussions are necessary voices in honoring a full expression of democracy within Cambridge.

Please let us know if you are able and interested in calling a joint subcommittee meeting of human services and finance to the process for implementing an alternative community response program in Cambridge.

We look forward to hearing from you.

The Black Response Cambridge