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Berkshire DA Talks Racial Disparity, Domestic Violence At NAACP Meeting

Josh Landes

The new Berkshire County District Attorney addressed an open meeting of the county’s NAACP branch Wednesday night.

The auditorium of the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield served as the venue for DA Andrea Harrington’s remarks.

“She sees the DA office as really being part of the community, which we didn’t have before. It became part of the community at election time," said Dennis Powell, the president of the Berkshire County branch of the NAACP. “All the years that I was here, the DA’s office never came out into the community and tried to work with community leaders and activists and really try to build a powerful community.”

Powell invited Harrington to speak about the progressive platform that swept her into office in the fall and answer questions.

“Clearly, one of the big things that came up – and we are the NAACP – is racial disparity, and how that is really impacting a level of interactions, whether it’s criminal, educational," said Leah Reed, the branch’s vice president. “People need to focus on that, and she’s really wanting to take a part and she is identifying that that is an issue, and it is shifting how people interact and respond to certain situations. So I think that was big for our community at large to hear that they have identified this problem, you’ve recognized it, and you’re hearing us.”

Confronting racial disparity wasn’t the only issue that emerged.

“I came out mainly to see – mainly, just to see the focus of what the DA was going to be going into," said Sherrie Bethel-McGregor. "I’m also a survivor of domestic violence, so I wanted to make sure that those needs were going to be met, and women that are going through it – whether they are in it now, or like myself, a survivor, are going to be getting the help they need, you know? And being looked at as individuals, instead of being put out as a case – because that’s the way it used to be dealt with before.”

Bethel-McGregor says she’s lived in Pittsfield for around 30 years. She’s a community activist on the west side and a congregant at the Price Memorial AME Zion Church.

“Even since I’ve been here, to be honest with you, DAs never come out in public like this," Bethel-McGregor told WAMC. She’s come to the church, even before she got elected. A lot of times, things would get done, but they would be done behind the scenes, and you really don’t know what’s going on or what the agenda is, what input you can have, or what you can have – so this is different for me.”

Bethel-McGregor says with Harrington, she feels things are moving in a new direction for her community.

“We just want to be looked at fairly," she said. "We want to be treated fairly. There’s a lot of people of color on the west side and it’s kind of a mixed balance over there, but we want to make sure our voices are being heard, and we’re being taken just as serious as everybody else in Berkshire County because sometimes that doesn’t always happen.”

Harrington – who fielded questions about her plan to institute a juvenile diversion program, accountability, domestic violence, and more – says she left the meeting with an important reminder.

“The number of people that are here – how engaged people were, the kinds of amazing questions people ask – it just really showed me that there is still a lot of support in the community for the ideas that I’ve talked about in the campaign and that it’s really important to me to remember that when there’s competing interests that it’s really my job to answer to the activists of this community who elected me,” the DA told WAMC.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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