The Springfield Police Advisory Committee met for the first time since February to hear from the public, discuss recent protests and announce an opening on the committee in a public meeting held online over GoToMeeting Thursday, Aug. 6.
Although public comment wasn’t on the agenda, committee members started the meeting by allowing 20 minutes of comment after they received a large outpouring of interest from the community. Each person had two minutes for comment and committee members said they would not be responding.
All but one of the community members that spoke at the meeting expressed their discontent with Springfield Police Department’s overreaction to the Black Lives Matter-related protest against a noose found in a Thurston neighborhood that took place on Wednesday, July 29. The other community member spoke about an unrelated police matter.
One commenter, Joshua Robert, said a counter-protester sprayed wasp spray in the eyes of his wife, a curator for the Springfield Historical Museum. He said he felt that police allowed the counter-protester to attack his wife. Many of the commenters echoed the same concerns about police allowing counter-protesters to assault protesters during the Thurston march.
Thomas Lawrence, another community member, said “for the first time in my life I was scared of our police department,” in reference to SPD officers breaking through their own barricade at the protest, striking multiple protest leaders and arresting five individuals.
After comments from the community and some updates on promotions within the department, the committee moved on to updates about SPD policy changes. Police Chief Rick Lewis, said that a number of changes are being made at the department to fall in line with recent federal legislation that bans chokeholds and requires more policy urging officers to step in to police their own colleagues.
Lewis then gave the committee a brief description of the past two months of Black Lives Matter protests. Two community members proceeded to heckle Lewis and were asked to mute themselves or leave the meeting.
Lewis broadly recounted the events of the past eight major protests in the city saying that relations between marchers and police have been peaceful, except when they have attempted to march onto Main Street or into the heavily armed Bluebelle neighborhood near 42nd and Main streets, he said. He claims the protesters attempting to march onto Main Street is what led to police setting up a barrier igniting the conflict on July 29. BU leaders decided to push through the barricade to follow their original route regardless of whether it would lead to a confrontation with police. Leaders asked the crowd for anyone uncomfortable with such a confrontation to leave before they began their surge forward, according BU leaders.
After the recap, Lewis told the committee that more arrests would be coming on both the Black Lives Matter and counter-protest/All Lives Matter sides related to the July 29 protest.
Lewis added that the noose that started the march that night was just a Halloween decoration. Sophia Kinaya Haug, a leader with Black Unity, said in an interview that a Black woman who lives next door to the man hanging the noose has had previous issues with the man before. She said that the woman called Haug after seeing the noose, Haug drove over to check on her and was approached by police officer Joe Burke who said he knew her car as it was associated with the recent protests. Haug said the noose was meant to scare and was not indeed just a Halloween decoration.
The meeting ended with a discussion about filling the recently vacated minority representation seat. All the committee members agreed that this is a time in which minority representation on the advisory committee was of the utmost importance and accordingly, and they will take great care to fill this position as soon as possible.
Open positions are posted to this Springfield site and applications will open shortly. While the advisory committee doesn’t have any real decision-making powers, they do provide advice to the department on policy, long-range planning and program services.
To end the meeting, members came to a consensus that instead of meeting quarterly, they would meet once a month going forward to address the outpouring of community concerns.