To Acting Mayor Terence Murphy,
On May 25, 2020, Darnella Frazier documented the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis, Minnesota police, dramatically amplifying the need to end police brutality against black and brown people with that one undeniable 9-minute-and-29-second video. One day after the first-year anniversary of Floyd’s murder, you rescinded former Mayor Alex Morse’s Executive Order declaring racism and police violence a public health emergency. This open letter is our response.
We are writing to you from the Wildflower Alliance (formerly known as the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community). We are a peer-to-peer community that centers the wisdom we’ve each gained from living lives full of interruptions due to hardships and struggle such as trauma (including from systemic racism and other forms of oppression), psychiatric diagnosis, being unhoused, problems with substances, etc., and then using that wisdom to support others facing similar circumstances. We offer direct supports throughout the Western Mass region (as well as trainings and other resources locally, nationally, and internationally), but opened our first resource center in Holyoke in 2007, and so have a particular attachment here. We also worked long hours behind the scenes in our Holyoke-based administrative offices to develop our first multi-day anti-oppression training. We are among the few who have remained open throughout the pandemic, supporting people who have had no safe place in which to quarantine. Many who have come through our doors are black and brown and heavily marginalized in our local cities and towns for the intersecting oppressions that they face. These are just a handful of the reasons why we feel it is important to write to you now.
There are many confusing parts to your decision. They include:
- Timing: Rescinding this order within days of the first anniversary of George Floyd’s murder sends a message. We realize it may be a message you didn’t intend to send. However, even if you did not realize the timing, that only raises more questions about whether or not you were informed enough to rescind an order designed to raise visibility of the very same issues that led to Floyd’s death.
- Justification: The main reason you cited for rescinding this order was that there had been little follow through on its terms. However, Mayor Morse signed this order on June, 2020, only a little more than three months after the COVID state of emergency began. At that point, few of us realized the longevity of the pandemic crisis we would be facing. It’s hard not to imagine that lack of implementation of various pieces such as formation of new committees was not at least somewhat connected to inability to gather and hyperfocus on surviving a deadly virus that also unfortunately has had disparate impact on communities of non-white peoples. We wonder if you considered this when determining inactivity was reason for rescindment rather than renewed commitment.
- Failure to name Juneteenth by name: In your letter, you recognize that June 19 has been declared a state holiday, but do not name that holiday as Juneteenth. The implication in your words is also that – were Juneteenth not formally recognized by the whole state – you likely would have rescinded that part, too. Some of this may be the product of your effort to keep your statement brief. Nonetheless, leaving out the name of such an important holiday that represents the day when the furthest reaches of our nation found out that slavery had been abolished (as well as the appearance that you are keeping it only because of statewide legislation) suggests an underlying lack of belief in the importance of that moment in history.
- Welcoming Diversity: As an organization that holds a significant portion of its operations in Holyoke and employs several Holyoke residents, we stand with you on wanting this city to be a place that values and celebrates many different experiences. However, in the context of rescinding anti-racist legislation, it’s very difficult to not hear your concluding statement about how Holyoke should be a place that “welcomes diversity in its many forms” as something akin to “all lives matter.” While we absolutely believe that everyone matters, “all lives matter” was a slogan developed expressly to counter “Black Lives Matter.” As such, it fundamentally misses the point that saying one group’s life matters is not at all the same as saying other lives don’t. Rather, it was designed as a statement to center the reality that black and brown lives are often treated in this country as if they are of less value than others, when in fact they are not. So, when people push back on that or attempt to generalize the focus to all groups, it comes across as an effort to ignore the substantial inequities and harms that certain groups among the “all” are facing. It comes across as denial of racism, and that in and of itself causes harm.
There is also a significant difference between not choosing to enact a particular order, and choosing to cancel one that already exists. Had you simply been in a position to choose not to create an order of this nature, you would not be alone. Many – if not most – Mayors across the nation would be in your company, and thus you would likely not be at risk of being accused of doing much more than maintaining the status quo. However, when you choose to remove this sort of legislation, it comes across as you saying clear anti-racist efforts are not important to the City of Holyoke. It comes across as you saying police violence is not an important issue to be addressed here. It comes across as you actively devaluing the over 50% of residents here who are Black or of Latin or Hispanic heritage. Regardless of your intent, this is the impact.
We recognize that you have taken on a big job, and that you must be facing pressures of which we are not fully aware. We know that it was difficult to even find someone to take on this interim role when Alex Morse left, and we thank you for stepping up. However, we also call upon you to rethink this decision.
Rather than cancelling this order for lack of implementation, we ask that you re-commit to seeing it through as pandemic restrictions finally begin to lift.
Rather than making general statements about welcoming diversity, we call upon you to center the voices of black, brown, indigenous, and other people of color who live and/or work in this city.
Rather than taking steps backward, we call upon you to continue the steps forward, so that we can stand beside you.
It takes great courage and strength to acknowledge you’ve made a mistake, and correct that. We hope that you will act as an example by doing that now.
On behalf of the Wildflower Alliance,
Sera Davidow, Director 413.539.5941 x 203 firstname.lastname@example.org