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Activists Call For Police Reforms At Springfield Rally

Rallies, marches, and vigils continue in the region following the deaths last week of two black men at the hands of police officers and the lone gunman attack that killed five police officers in Dallas. A Black Lives Matter rally in Springfield, Massachusetts Monday included a U.S. presidential candidate.

About 350 people rallied in front of Springfield City Hall from the late afternoon into the early evening and heard more than a dozen speakers vent their anger and frustration over the deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota, and voice sympathy for the ambush in Dallas.  There were calls for broad criminal justice reforms, pledges to hold dialogues with local authorities, and appeals for activism through the political system.

After the two-and-a-half-hour rally, about 100 people marched four blocks from city hall to the federal courthouse.  Springfield police blocked traffic on busy Main and State Streets to accommodate the marchers.

Speakers at the rally included activists from western Massachusetts, New York, and Washington, D.C.    There was poetry, songs, and chants.

Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee for president warned the violence of racism left unchecked will engulf the country.

"No one is safe. While black lives are in danger, everyone is in danger. We must assure black lives matter," said Stein.

She called for civilian review boards with the power to hire and fire police officers and said police should be “demilitarized” and even disarmed, pointing to places such as the United Kingdom and parts of Australia, where police don’t routinely carry guns.

" Instead of having police control our communities, communities need to control our police," said Stein.

After the rally, Stein praised Springfield as “an important hub in community organizing.”

Rev. Talbert Swan, Springfield NAACP chapter president, said the rally was a groundswell for taking steps toward changes in local law enforcement.

" We anticipate we will be speaking with the police commissioner and the mayor regarding some changes in the police department, " said Swan.  " We will be speaking with the district attorney regarding how they investigate incidents where police officers injure or kill a civilians. We anticipate working to force that kind of change in our community."

Swan said in addition to demanding a civilian review board with the authority to discipline police officers, he’ll press for pre-employment psychological screenings and residency requirements for police.

Adam Gomez, a neighborhood activist who was elected to the Springfield City Council last year, urged people to register to vote and to hold local elected officials accountable.

"All I am telling you is your vote counts. Your voice is your vote," said Gomez.

Voter registration cards were distributed at the rally.

A Black Lives Matter rally was held in Holyoke Sunday night and one is scheduled for Tuesday evening in Northampton.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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