Cambridge demonstrators call for community safety response team in place of law enforcement

Cambridge demonstrators call for community safety response team in place of law enforcement

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — As demonstrators across the country continue calls to defund the police, activists in Cambridge have a specific plan in mind for how to start that process.

The group “Community For Us, By Us” hosted a rally on Saturday night at City Hall, pushing for City Manager Louis DePasquale and members of the city council to adopt a community safety response team.

“It’s just super important that we push for a program that is really rooted in restorative justice rather than outright punishment,” explained Summia M., a co-founder of the group.

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Logistics behind the idea are based off of a mental health crisis intervention program in Eugene, Oregon called Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets, or “CAHOOTS.”

According to The White Bird Clinic’s website, which runs the CAHOOTS program, one of the organization’s objectives is to enable people to gain control of their social, emotional and physical well-being through direct service, education and community.

“It does provide services for mental health crises, domestic violence, substance abuse and housing crises, which are extremely important in Cambridge,” said Queen-Cheyenne W., another co-founder of Community For Us, By Us.

She added that while CAHOOTS works alongside law enforcement in Oregon, local demonstrators would like to see Cambridge Police defunded and replaced by a similar, amended model.

“We are pushing for, specifically, zero police involvement and completely a community-led initiative,” she explained. “We are also pushing for the city councilors to do more research on these programs around the nation and around the country and around the world, so we can really start to identify what are the needs in Cambridge and what are the different programs that we can bring in, so we’re not just copying and pasting one type of program.”

At the rally, several demonstrators expressed disappointment in the actions of local law enforcement during calls for help.

“I hate being fearful for my own life and for the life of my friends and family when they’re having interactions with the police, because you really never know what could happen,” Alex Leigh of Cambridge told Boston 25 News.

“There’s people that are in pain, there’s people that are hurting,” added demonstrator Mal Me.

A spokesperson for the Cambridge Police Department gave the following statement to Boston 25 News regarding the initiative:

“Cambridge PD, including members of our Clinical Support Services Unit, has been involved in a series of preliminary discussions on this possible model and we hope to remain actively involved in the ongoing discussions.”

The Cambridge City Council is expected to discuss the proposal of a community safety response team during a public meeting on Monday, September 14 at 5:30 p.m. There, they will determine if a response team is feasible, who would oversee it and how it could be implemented.

The following is listed on the Agenda Summary:

  • 20-41. Report on working with the Cambridge Police Department, Emergency Communications Department, Department of Public Health, Department of Human Services and other relevant departments to determine the feasibility of an alternative Public Safety Crisis Response System, which department would be responsible for it, and how it would be funded and implemented in FY2022. Vice Mayor Mallon, Mayor Siddiqui, Councillor Simmons, Councillor SobrinhoWheeler, Councillor Carlone, Councillor McGovern, Councillor Nolan, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Toomey (Calendar Item #4) from 6/29/2020

The group “Community For Us, By Us” is also collecting money as part of their Mutual Aid Fund to help support low-income residents in Cambridge, people struggling with homelessness and more.

Cambridge Police Commissioner, Dr. Branville Bard, Jr., released a statement about the proposal.

“I am supportive of creating an alternate or non-police response for appropriate non-emergency situations involving individuals experiencing mental illness.”
Commissioner Bard

To donate or find out more information about the group, you can visit their Facebook page here.