Sunday, May 26, 2024

We write to encourage Cambridge residents to ask the City Council and city manager to support and fund a truly transformative approach to public safety. The 2020 wave of uprisings in response to the racist and brutal police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery and others are a call to change our existing carceral, punishment-based systems within the police, child services, psychiatric wards, prisons and detention centers; these systems do not protect all members of the public and often end in violence and social disruption. Although the city formed a task force to investigate public safety alternatives, it operated without transparency. Over the past several months, a diverse group of Cantabrigians has come together to reimagine public safety through a fully participatory process. This group included members of activist, neighborhood, health, human services and faith organizations and represented a broad range of ethnic, age and socioeconomic backgrounds. Collectively, we developed a paradigm-changing approach to public safety rooted in transformative justice, a system in which the community, rather than the police, ensures many aspects of public safety. This would follow similar successful programs such as Cahoots in Eugene, Oregon.

The proposed program, the Cambridge Holistic Emergency Alternative Response Team, is informed by interviews with those community members most affected by current policing practices. Heart’s services are therefore rooted in community needs. We also consulted with experts who have created and successfully run alternative public safety programs in cities such as Oakland, California and Eugene. The program’s services include a first response team; conflict resolution through restorative and transformative practices; mutual aid services; and community-based training. Community members given EMT and conflict resolution training would provide the services, and the program would be situated in a quasi-governmental agency that is accountable to the community it serves. The program would, of course, have adequate liability insurance. We know similar programs have functioned safely for many years.

Heart promotes the dignity, self-determination and well-being of all in our community. It would protect those most vulnerable to violence from our existing institutions, including Black and Brown people, disabled people, those experiencing homelessness, low-income people, immigrants and those living at the intersection of these identities. Please join us in championing this truly transformative approach to public safety by emailing the City Council and city manager and asking them to fund Heart.

Louise Parker, for Our Revolution Cambridge