As months pass since vote, Cambridge still needs a true alternative emergency response program
On June 8, this newspaper published an article titled “Alternative policing proposal for ‘Heart’ unit passes City Council with hopes for fast action.” More than five months later, we are still waiting for this important project to move forward. The next chance for action is Wednesday, when the council’s Public Safety Committee meets to hear an update on the city’s implementation of the Heart proposal as part of an alternative public safety response. The city manager and Public Safety Committee should ensure that Heart is implemented as written.
I have twice called 911 while living in Cambridge. As a white, able-bodied, cis-gendered, English-speaking professional, I did not hesitate before pressing those three digits into my phone. I could safely assume that the responders who showed up at my doorstep would treat me with respect and dignity. Tragically, this is not the experience for so many others in this country, including many of my Cambridge neighbors.
The Holistic Emergency Alternative Response Team will create a necessary alternative to the existing emergency response system that meets the needs of people in Cambridge who are most vulnerable to experiencing the violence of our current institutions. We cannot neglect those for whom calling 911 during an emergency is a risk, or simply not an option. This includes Black people, other people of color, the unhoused, low-income people and people with histories of incarceration and undocumented community members. These community members are also less likely to take part in public political discussions about their needs. Having heard their concerns, I am using my privilege to amplify the voices of those marginalized community members.
The Black-led coalition that envisioned Heart identified best practices to respond to the community’s public safety needs and outlined essential skills and tools for emergency responders. Heart responders will be trained in de-escalation, conflict resolution, nonviolent communication, emergency medicine, domestic violence awareness, trauma-informed care and much more. Rather than taking a punitive approach, Heart will work to address the root causes of harm, such as housing insecurity, food insecurity, domestic or neighborhood conflict, mental health issues and substance abuse.
One key component of the proposal is the creation of an autonomous phone number, giving people the option to call 911 or the alternative number. If there is no separate way for people in crisis to contact Heart outside of calling 911, communities who have deep-seated distrust in the police are not likely to call, even if both Heart responders and police officers show up.
It is time to fund and implement this visionary program. I hope all my neighbors will show their support for Heart by calling on the City Council to push the city manager to implement Heart as written, investing in this essential, community-based alternative to public safety outside of the police.
Meredith Moore, Alpine Street
Meredith Moore is a member of Showing Up for Racial Justice-Boston.