While Springfield grapples with the fallout of a highly critical U.S. Department of Justice report, other police departments throughout the Valley are implementing changes in the wake of a national wave of protests following the death of George Floyd.
In Northampton, members of a 15-person Policing Review Commission were appointed on Sept. 9. The commission is tasked with studying policing in the city and recommending changes. The formation of the commission came on the heels of a significant budget reduction to the city’s Police Department in June.
The town of Amherst is also exploring alternatives to reimagine policing. Town Manager Paul Bockelman is calling for volunteers to serve on a Community Safety Working Group that will make recommentatiosn on alternative ways of policing and to make reforms to organizational oversight.
Meanwhile, activist groups across the Pioneer Valley such as “413 Stay Woke, Stay Active,” have been calling on cities and towns to make reforms, whether by divesting funds from police departments or finding new alternatives to existing systems entrenched in systemic racism.
The group’s co-founders, Stephany Marryshow and Simbrit Paskins, both of West Springfield, started the activist group in response to the death of George Floyd and as a part of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We created the group just so we could have a place for people to come together and figure out what to do next,” Marryshow, 29, said. “We believe that these protests are so necessary to raise awareness and get people activated. But we strongly believe in taking action afterwards and not just leaving it at a protest.”
Since June, the couple have organized or co-organized protests across the Pioneer Valley in Holyoke, Agawam, Ludlow, Springfield, Chicopee and Easthampton,
Other activist groups centered on individual communities have formed since connecting through “413 Stay Woke, Stay Active.”
“Me and Simbrit knew how devastated we were feeling because of what happened to George Floyd and we are the kind of people that like to take action, we try to make change. It was amazing to see the turnout and the ripple effect,” Marryshow said.
Now, the couple plan on creating an activist coworking space called “The Ethnic Study” at 222 Worthington St. in Springfield to allow the work that they started in June to continue to grow throughout the local area.
The idea of the space is to “mirror what the academic discipline ethnic studies does for people of color nationally,” says Paskins, a 26-year-old ethnics studies teacher at Holyoke High School. “The discipline creates a safe space for students of color who have never or rarely seen themselves reflected in the school that they attend and or what they learn.”
Paskins said she and Marryshow want to build the space together with communities of color and marginalized groups, while promoting anti-racism and anti-colonialism education. The space will have a soft opening later this month.
“It’s validating people’s identities that often are not validated,” she noted. “It’s validating people’s struggles and needs. We’re hoping that this space will do just that.”