By Beth David, Editor
The Fairhaven Select Board welcomed six new firefighters, assessed penalties for violations at Rasputin’s Tavern, and addressed racist graffiti at Rogers School at its meeting on 11/20/23. Someone painted “F… N—-rs” on the Rogers School building a couple of weeks ago.
SB Chairperson Leon Correy started the meeting by thanking people who reached out to him and his family after the incident.
SB member Charlie Murphy ready a statement addressing the racist graffiti at the beginning of the meeting.
“This form of blatant hatred will not be tolerated in our town,” said Mr. Murphy. “We can not and will not tolerate any form of hatred and to further marginalize people, more particularly as it relates to racist and sexist acts.”
He said the incident speaks to the greater issue of acceptance and inclusiveness.
“We should not accept comments made upon leaders because of the color of their skin or their gender,” said Mr. Murphy. “We are not that type of people.”
Mr. Murphy also invoked the memories of his late mother, Kathleen Kobza Murphy; local author and activist, the late Myra Lopes; town benefactor Henry Huttleston Rogers who was noted for his generosity to Hellen Keller and other disadvantaged people; and Booker T Washington, who had a friendship with HHR.
SB member Bob Espindola also addressed the issue at the beginning. He said he reached out to people and learned about a variety of resources, most notably NotInOurTown.org, which offers a variety of resources, including toolkits to address hate crimes.
Mr. Espindola said although it is not always adolescents, it often is, and he said they should reach out to the school department and especially the School Resource Officer to provide more education.
Fairhaven Town Administrator Angie Lopes Ellison told the board that she addressed the racist graffiti with department heads, asking them to read the book, “White Fragility,” by Robin DiAngelo.
Ms. Ellison said when something like this happens in a community, it is important to address it. Anything can be explained away she said, but it should not be. If an abled bodied person can navigate a difficult road, no one argues it is okay to say that the disabled person should be able to as well.
She said the community has to let people know “it is not okay for our community.”
Ms. Ellison said she has been surprised at the support she has received since the incident. Some people are reading the book, she said, and want to talk about it after they are done.
She said she hopes the community is open to and says “this is not okay.”
“My biggest concern is not what happens when I am in the room,” said Ms. Ellison. “It’s what happens when I’m not.”
Mr. Correy said it was not okay to just blame it on “those silly kids.”
He said it is easy to scapegoat and makes it easy on everyone to handle it.
He said it is not graffiti, it is hate.
He also blamed the parents.
“Nobody is born racist,” said Mr. Correy.
He said those words are arguably the “most powerful, most hateful, most hurtful” words in this country.
He will not allow it to be “dismissed as those silly kids,” he said.
It affects people, it affects families, and people need to understand how egregious it is.
“This was flat out wrong,” said Mr. Correy.
Mr. Espindola said he reached out to the police chief and also looked up some graffiti and hate speech online. Later in the meeting, Mr. Espindola said it was important for private individuals to report all graffiti and not take it upon themselves to remove it. He said he learned that a lot of graffiti has hidden racist messages and it is important for the police to know and document each case.
Ms. Ellison agreed, and said no private citizen should be doing anything on municipal property without permission, not even cleaning up graffiti.
Mr. Espindola asked about more formal programs for staff. Ms. Ellison said she would draw on her former experience with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training.
However, it is not about policy, she said. It is about “people sitting in their discomfort,” to be able to talk about it.
The Belonging Committee is doing the work, she said, but it cannot fall only on them for the whole town.
“So it has to be addressed,” said Ms. Ellison. “It’s about the act and how people were affected by it.”
SB member Stasia Powers admitted she did not know what to do when she first heard about it.
“I really feel ill equipped to manage the racism and how to speak about it,” said Ms. Powers. “I’m working on that. I’ll continue to work on that.”
She said she will read the book and has spoken to the Belonging Committee chairperson Jessica Fidalgo.
“I think we all just need to learn more about how to manage it,” said Ms. Powers. “And how to support our fellow community members when things like this happen.”
She pledged to do better.
“That’s all anybody can ask for,” said Mr. Correy.
In another matter, the board announced after meeting in executive session, that they had come up with penalties for Rasputin’s Tavern for a variety of violations.
The board read each violation and penalty, settling on a six day suspension for each of five violations, for a total of 30 days. The bar will have to close for 10 days in December, 10 days in January, and 10 days in February.
The violations include serving alcohol after hours on more than one occasion, serving an underage person, serving an intoxicated person, disturbance of the peace more than once.
The remedy also includes changes to the license including that the bar must always have an ID scanner in working order to keep out underage patrons; must maintain a log of security personnel; must keep to a schedule of security personnel that includes two people in the later hours on busy nights; must keep a manager log, and a variety of other measures. All information, including surveillance footage needs to be kept for varying amounts of time and be made available to the police when they ask for it. The bar must have a security person outside at closing time to keep people moving along.
No dancing on bars, chairs, and no body shots.
The board voted unanimously to pass all items related to the Rasputin violations.
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