Dear Williams College students,
This is a painful letter to compose.
We write to you today as members of Williamstown Racial Justice and Police Reform. Our group formed shortly after the killing of George Floyd, with a specific eye towards police accountability and antiracism at a local level. We are residents of Williamstown from every walk of life: queer and straight, Black and white, young and old, Muslim and Jewish. We are community members who view ourselves as stewards of your safety during your time here as Williams College students.
You are the youthful, beating heart of our small town. These recent months, when the campus was shut down, Williamstown felt lethargic without you tucked into the corners of Tunnel City, or hurrying across campus to class or laughing on Spring Street with your friends. We are so happy you are back –– and so deeply ashamed you have returned to the news of disturbing behavior by members of our police department.
The details of the lawsuit can be found here. They describe a spectrum of concerning facts and allegations, from racism to sexual harassment and assault. Last week, we learned that one of our officers has also been named to a Brady List by Berkshire County District Attorney Andrea Harrington. This list is unfortunately reserved for officers with particularly concerning histories of misconduct.
For some, this news is shocking. For others, it confirms that no, we are not special here in Williamstown, and as residents, we can no longer mistake our beautiful geography as anything more than cosmetic. These hills hold no immunity to the rot at the root of America; our rainbow flags and Black Lives Matter lawn signs risk looking like costumes in the face of the evidence we must now confront as a community.
You deserve to feel safe. You deserve a just future. You deserve to know there are people in Williamstown who are committed to a future free of racial and sexual violence. We want you to know that we are here, we are working hard and we will not leave you.
Justice work is transgenerational work. It requires us to imagine a world free of harm, a world that looks beyond police as the sole solution to public safety, a world that amplifies the voices of the silenced and breaks the systems that too often cage us instead of offering health and freedom. We can imagine that future. We can see it. We hold its horizon, and promise to do what we can from where we stand to get us closer to that world, even though we may not live to see it.
This is a painful letter to compose. It is also a love letter to you — to each and every one of you. The great Mariame Kaba teaches us that hope is a discipline. Hope is not foolish optimism, but rather, a choice sustained by surrounding ourselves with justice-minded people, by doing our own small part in the fight against oppression and the knowledge that a different world is absolutely possible.
It is an honor to be in community with you all. We would welcome your voices at our weekly organizing meetings and are here to support you in whatever way you find most helpful. You can reach us via our website.
You have our word that we will not stop working for your safety, not only during your time here as students but for generations.
Williamstown Racial Justice and Police Reform