Friday, July 17, 2009

Just two of the painful and bizarre incidents in Springfield this week

When will homeless people get a break? When will children stop being afraid of the police?

This morning the Springfield Republican reported that Bill Miller, Executive Director of the Friends of the Homeless Shelter on Worthington St., has had a sexual harassment charge filed against him by a social worker who had also been employed at the shelter. President of the board Bob Carroll is defending Miller, but the social worker, Holly Bell, has a letter from Bob Carroll that states, "The Board determined that many of your allegations were substantiated and that the Executive Director made comments to you that were inappropriate. The Board of Directors has taken appropriate discipline against the Executive Director."

So Carroll can deny Miller's culpability now, but he admitted it in print in a letter.

Part of what makes me sick to my stomach is how many people must have known about this, who just hoped it would go away, who found it more important to cover Miller's (and the Friends of the Homeless) ass than make the tough decisions. It reminds me of the Springfield Housing Authority in the Ray Asselin days, when it was common knowledge that maintenance men would attempt to solicit sexual favors in return for apartment repairs, with threats of evictions if tenants didn't comply.

I suppose I can feel sorry for Miller, put him in the same category as the numerous politicians who have seemingly lost their minds over a woman, betrayed their wives, and put their careers in the toilet. But Bell didn't want a relationship with Miller, she told him to stop, and she took it to the board of directors.

The last permanent director of the Friends of the Homeless shelter before Miller was Frank Keough, who has recently finished serving three years in prison for stealing from the shelter and putting his friends in no-show jobs, among other things. Rumors of sexual misbehavior on his and other staffs' part were common. Arise fought for years to get rid of Keough, but it took a Justice Department investigation, the same one that swept the Asselin family, the Ardolino brothers, and so many more, to accomplish the change.

Don't the homeless people who live at the Worthington St. Shelter deserve a director who pays attention to running the shelter?

Thursday night, 15 year old Delano Walker ran from police into the street and was immediately hit and killed by a car.

Delano and two friends, all on bikes, were observed by the police just emerging from the car lot at Balise Hyundi on Columbus Ave. The police, who were part of an anti-car theft detail, went to stop them for questioning. Delano jumped off his bike and ran. Apparently, and I am only going on news reports so far, he had a knife and likely knew he'd be in trouble if searched. (Obviously, the kids hadn't just stolen a car.)

The police were doing their job, and Delano reacted with fear. We'll hear a lot more about the roots of that fear over the next few days. Delano had a knife. Did he also have a record? Or was he just one of those kids on bikes who get stopped and searched by the police because they are in a place deemed inappropriate by the police?

I think of a young African-American friend of mine who was stopped and searched cutting through a Mass Mutual parking lot who had some pot on him and got busted. (This was before the shift from felony to misdemeanor.)

I think of the small business owner not far from Arise's office who was questioned and frisked recently by several police officers in broad daylight outside of his store. Apparently he'd been observed by the officer on traffic detail across the streethanding some money to another man. I talked to the guy later; he was humiliated and embarrassed. Apparently a former teacher of his was walking by on his way to the drugstore and they stopped to talk. The teacher realized he'd left home without his wallet and asked if he could borrow $4. It was this transaction that brought him under suspicion. I mean, come on, why would a business owner be handling money?

I called Community Policing later that day to ask if there was a policy to determine when a conversation goes to the next level and becomes a search. Yes, indeed, there is such a document-- it's called the Use of Force Procedure. I asked if I could have a copy and the officer said she would email it to me. A few weeks later I called again to remind her. I'm sure such requests are not high on the priority list, given how busy the police are, but I would like to know, and right now I'm still waiting.

It's very difficult for people who are not poor and not of color to understand the relationship between the inner-city community and the police. I could write a book about it, but I won't. What I will say is that on both sides, suspicion and fear continue to damage our community.

I'm sorry for everyone involved in what happened Thursday night: the officers and driver who helped lift the car off Delano, his friends who had to watch him be killed, the Walker family, and most especially, Delano.

Photo of Bill Miller from Friends of the Homeless.

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