Denise Molina Capers appointed as City’s first racial and social justice director, a Civilian Oversight meeting, and a vaccination clinic for veterans.
Welcome to the Somerville Wire’s March 30 Weekly Roundup—a fast look at local news published every Tuesday at somervillewire.news. Readers with Somerville-focused news tips or press releases or calendar items or letter and opinion submissions can send them to Wire staff at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call us at (617) 209-9511.
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Denise Molina Capers hired as Racial and Social Justice Director
Denise Molina Capers began working as Somerville’s new racial and social justice director on March 24. The position was created as part of the establishment of a Racial and Social Justice Office for the City, through which Molina Capers will work to develop processes for re-imagining policing and “for informing and guiding the City’s racial and social justice priorities,” according to a press release.
“I am honored to be the City of Somerville’s first director of racial and social justice,” said Molina Capers, in a press release. “There is important work to be done, and the creation of this department is a testament of Somerville’s continued commitment in action to dismantle systemic racism and social inequities. Part of the vision is operationalizing the work across the board so that we go beyond conversations and create real transformative change that makes a difference in people’s lives.”
Molina Capers began working with issues of equity and inclusion when she was a teenager, working at a community center at age 14 and having been mentored by a teacher in civil rights activism. She has also been a teacher, started her own consulting firm, and worked at non-profit organizations. She has also served as executive director of South Boston en Acción, a group that “empowers South Boston residents to create change.”
Councilor Will Mbah said that a quality that drew the City to hire Molina Capers was her empathy and ability to listen. While many qualified candidates applied for the position, Mbah said that she showed a deep understanding of the problem of systemic racism and could grasp the complexity of its nature. Living in a society “based on racial hierarchy and subjugation,” Mbah said that he envisions the empowerment of different groups who have been disenfranchised, holding conversations together and taking action. With Molina Capers’ leadership, Mbah said that he is hoping discussions about justice will become more than a catchphrase.
“She’s going to be the kind of person who can help assess different policies that we have in place and see how we can improve them, to be equitable,” said Mbah. “When you talk about equity, it becomes a buzzword. If the government doesn’t reflect the community it serves, then equity is just another fancy word … I’m hoping that she can zoom in and just see where we are and help us chart a path forward.”
City holds first public Civilian Oversight of Police meeting
The City of Somerville held its first public information session discussing civilian oversight of police on March 24. Two new hires, Public Outreach Coordinator R. Mason and Legislative and Policy Analyst Ayerim Decena, oversaw the meeting. The goal of the discussion was to explore what form civilian oversight in Somerville could take and to start a community process. Speakers Adaline Lining, Tracey Pratt from Just Us Somerville, and Matthew from Defund SPD shared their hopes for the future as well.
In the wake of the killings of George Floyd and others, there has been a more pronounced call for change in police systems across the country. While talks about reimagining policing have been happening in Somerville over the last couple of years, the City recently reallocated approximately 7.7% of the Police Department’s budget to other social services.
“Communities are more frequently looking to civilian oversight as a way to enhance police accountability across a variety of fronts,” said Decena. She added, “A Tufts University survey conducted in November 2020 shows that Somerville residents are overwhelmingly in favor of establishing a civilian review board to oversee the Somerville Police Department. As it stands, residents can only make complaints of alleged police misconduct to the police department.” She explained that many residents feel a civilian review board should have its own power to investigate allegations against police officers.
Decena gave a presentation on the different models for civilian oversight that the City could use. Review focused models rely on completed SPD investigations of misconduct, which are then reviewed. “Investigative” models can conduct their own, independent investigations of police misconduct. “Auditor/monitor” models focus on overall, systemic reform and investigate police activity and procedures. Hybrid models combine aspects of the others, to “fulfill the needs of individual communities.”
Lining said that she believes Somerville is in need of oversight and that she no longer associates safety with policing, adding that residents deserve to live in a community where no one is afraid. Matthew expressed that he believes an increase in the funding of a police force will not result in an end to police violence and was skeptical about the effectiveness of civilian oversight.
“Civilian oversight of police has never been a priority for Defund SPD for one major reason,” said Matthew. “Oversight agencies don’t have any power.” He added, “If Somerville is to go forward with civilian oversight of police, there are two crucial factors that will make Somerville’s oversight meaningful. First, the members of the oversight board have to be elected residents. …Secondly, the people on the oversight board need to be paid for their work.”
Somerville to host vaccination clinic for veterans
Somerville’s Office of Veterans’ Services, together with the Revere Office of Veterans’ Services and the VA Boston Healthcare System, will be holding a vaccination clinic for veterans of all ages. It will be hosted on April 3, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and it will be based at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Beachmont Post 6712. located at 150 Bennington Street, in Revere.
“It was imperative that we create a multi-faceted strategy to reach the Veterans population by bringing vaccinations directly into impacted communities and offering an exclusive COVID-19 clinic for Veterans of all ages,” said Somerville Director of Veterans’ Services Ted Louis-Jacques, in a press release. “This partnership is indicative of the fundamental changes that can happen when you provide access, break down barriers, and close equity gaps for the people who need it most.”
Both the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be offered. While the Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not require a second dose, those who receive the Moderna vaccine will be able to make an appointment for the second dose on May 1. Veterans must be enrolled in the VA Healthcare, and no registration or sign up is needed. The vaccines will be administered on a first come, first serve basis.
New reopening steps and outdoor performance rules
On April 5, the City of Somerville will be moving forward with a few modest business reopening steps. While some changes will go into effect, the City will remain in Phase 3, Step 1. The decision was made based on more residents’ having access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
New steps include that restaurants will be able to stay open beyond 9:30 pm, until their regularly permitted closing hours, but they still must remain at 25% capacity. The City will also work with recreation facilities to safely expand their operations. The Somerville Museum will be open but “must adhere to special event capacity caps in effect citywide of 10 persons indoors and 25 persons outdoors.”
In addition, some outdoor performances will be allowed to resume in public and private spaces, including in parks, plazas, or outdoor dining areas. Crowd size will be capped at 25 people per gathering. Performances must have no or very low aerosol projection; therefore, no singing, speaking, or use of a woodwind or brass instrument would be allowed.
“In terms of COVID-19 transmission, we know that being outdoors is far less risky than being inside,” wrote Mayor Joe Curtatone, in a statement. “With the weather warming up, this was an opportunity to allow members of our arts community to go back to performing and provide some much-needed entertainment for residents. Like everything we have done throughout the pandemic, we put safety first, which is why outdoor entertainment is currently limited to performances that don’t spread aerosol droplets.”
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Shira Laucharoen is assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and assistant editor and staff reporter of the Somerville Wire.