290 drawn to much-anticipated virtual meeting
UPDATED, Sept. 25: For the first time since the officer’s published words began roiling Arlington nearly 23 months ago, Lt. Richard Pedrini addressed a diverse selection of town residents in a virtual meeting Tuesday, Sept. 22.
“I am not a racist,” the 51-year-old said during the unprecedented two-hour Zoom session attended by as many as 290 people. “My [published] words do not reflect on me or my leadership style. I apologize to everyone. I know I will have to work a long time to rebuild that trust.”
Michael Curry, former president of the Boston NAACP, retorted with a steady stream of probing queries.
So did many of the 17 round-table participants, who did not accept the officer's apologies on face value.
Near the end, Greg Christiana, an Envision Arlington Standing Committee cochair and Precinct 15 Town Meeting member, called “apologies nice,” but not action taken. He described three ways to resolve the issues involved – the officer could retire, decline to address the matter or “use his position to be a champion of change. “
“There was an audience for your writing,” he said. “What if there is no audience?”
Up to challenge?
He called the last option “hard to swallow,“ citing the officer's anger behind the October 2018 publication of three articles in a statewide police newsletter. Read them here >>
“Maybe you’re not up for it,” he said, referring to change. “What do you commit to?”
This direct appeal for change to the 51-year-old officer, on the force since 1996, hung in the air, and he did not respond to it.
The chief reason for the officer's Sept. 22 appearance, delayed from Aug. 4, was in response to calls from the public, to seek hear from him directly about the harm his words caused.
AFR makes demands
The citizens' group Arlington Fights Racism, long a critic of the restorative-justice process under which Lt. Pedrini was disciplined in early 2019, called for officials to disavow that process and fire Pedrini. On Sept. 16, it posted a statement on its website withdrawing from the Sept. 22 “Community Conversation.” Its criticism continued until the afternoon before with a claim posted on social media that there would be no conversation and that a recorded message from Pedrini would be offered.
Because of technical difficulties, Lt. Pedrini ended up reading his relatively brief statement, but a robust back-and-forth ensued. As Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine said in his introduction, restorative justice and the community dialogue about the issues raised are not completed.
“I hope this process allows us to move with specific issues,” he said,“opening doors around race and equity. I do not see tonight as an ending, but a beginning of a dialogue.”
Dressed not in uniform but in a dark suit, white shirt and a blue- and white-striped tie, the officer read the statement that had been recorded.
He took “full responsibility,” apologizing to those in marginalized groups, noting he had offended many in law enforcement. He added that Arlington leads the nation in how it practices community policing.
“My words do not reflect on me or my leadership style. I apologize to everyone. I know I will have to work a long time to rebuild that trust,” he said.
In denying he is a racist, he said he is married to a woman of color, has mixed-race kids and his family lives on tribal land.
Curry maintained balance, accepting the apology but pushing harder. He acknowledged that the 2018 deaths of police officers spurred Pedrini's anger. "We mourn for their lives as well … [but] can we also have a conversation about police misconduct?"
He wanted to know about the officer's written comment about “meeting violence with violence …. How do you reconcile that to what was happening across the country?”
The officer said he wrote those words in the context of the death of officer Michael Chesna, who, he said, “did not have a chance to deescalate” the violent situation in which he found himself.
But he said he understood in retrospect that the words were “ crude, insensitive.”
Curry noted the “shattered language” around how racism and white supremacist are defined.
“I don’t know if we have white supremacist officers,” Lt. Pedrini said. “In Arlington, we don’t."
He said he had never treated someone differently because of color of skin, social-economic factors or mental health. 'I know what I have been accused of, and it’s simply "not true,” he said, adding that he has never had a complaint, that he treated someone unfairly.
Curry, an attorney, pushed back, saying he never met an officer who said he he is racist. “I grew up in neighborhood and saw it all the time,” he said. “Statements you made were pretty broad.” He asked him to address those who believe he should have been fired, who express fear because he is still on the force.
Pedrini said he would “never discount their fear,” adding he has a pretty solid career, without a use-of-force complaint. He said he was disciplined once, promoted twice and in 2015 received an excellence award.
“How much have you grown?” Curry asked.
He responded: “I thought restorative justice would help me mend.”
Curry said he thought the officer “felt some contrition,” but he was unsure of the depth.
Pedrini said he had grown a lot in the past 17 months and “the journey will continue …. I’m embarrassed.”
Asked what he believes the police department should do to better address racial issues, Pedrini said that the addition of body and dash cams can increase accountability and that he is amenable to licensing and certification.
“Has your heart changed?” Curry asked.
“Most definitely, as a man,” the officer said, adding he is "more open-minded. I am truly remorseful.”
Asked about the evolution of his thinking and what he is reading, Pedrini paused long and could not cite a book or commentary other than police matters.
7 guests speak
Seven invited guests, reflecting a range of backgrounds, spoke.
Among them, David Valdes, who is gay, whose father is a Cuban immigrant and whose uncle was a police chief in Maine, wondered whether his expressed opinions about immigrants would continue.
Zane T. Crute, of the Mystic valley NAACP, allowed that the officer is “not the problem all police in U.S.,” but “what do we do to address the [police] culture” when Blue Lives Matter rallies are still held in Arlington?
Pedrini acknowledged that the police culture need to change. He said he would love to sit down with groups, one on one, including those with Black Lives Matter.
Scott Jones, a black police officer with 33 years' experience, said that Lt. Pedrini reflected in his published words "wasn’t the person I knew over the years." He said he thought “most don’t feel this way.“ He asked whether Pedrini was willing to issue a letter of retraction in The Sentinel expressing regret.
The officer said he thought that had occurred in November 2018, noting The Sentinel is no longer print. He said he is willing to talk to its leaders.
Response to rallies
Pedrini said that he had encountered “a lot of animosity toward the police from the counterprotesters” of the Arlington Backs the Blue rally held Sept. 10 on Town Hall Plaza. Susan Ryan-Vollmar, a member of the town’s LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission, said that Pedrini’s description of the behavior of some counterprotesters as “vile” combined with the fact that his sister-in-law had organized the controversial rally, showed that Pedrini had not evolved much, if at all, in his views on race.
Noting that the rally on the plaza was “vicious” and that language describing the event on Facebook showed that it wasn’t so much a pro-police event as it was an anti-Black Lives Matter protest, Ryan-Vollmar said to Pedrini, “It’s irrelevant where you are, Rick, in your evolution. This is larger than you.”
Phedjina Jean, a black woman, thanked Lt. Pedrini for the apology, adding, “I'm not sure you meant it.” She said he needs to educate himself about racial issues and said she has recommendations.
Doralee Heurtelou, an Arlington High grad and Black Student Union alum, said Pedrini's position of power as a lieutenant is something he could use to model behavior, encouraging other officers to look up to him.
Allentza Michel of Powerful Pathways, a town consultant on diversity and inclusion, closed the program, noting that the two years of the officer's ordeal, "is nothing compared to 400 years of oppression."
Oct. 12, 2019: From fury to reason, 27 address Pedrini issue for 3rd week
This news summary was published Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. It was updated to correct information about Valdes's family; Sept. 24, to add a guest's response; and Sept. 25, to fixed typos and other information suggested by a reader.
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