For 16 years, Kyle Johnson has had the opportunity to demonstrate his leadership as the Williamstown Chief of Police. Thanks to the facts outlined in a federal lawsuit filed against you, the Williamstown Police Department (WPD) and the town itself, we now know that Johnson’s leadership has resulted in an outrageous pattern of racist acts, sexual harm and — most recently — a literal photograph of Adolf Hitler being hung in an officer’s work locker in our precinct for three years until 2019 according to the lawsuit. In response to a complaint filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), Johnson claims he was unaware of the photo — a claim that stretches the imagination to the point of disbelief given the diminutive size of our precinct at that time, but if true, only underscores his failure to attend to his job with care.
To Jason Hoch: as Town Manager in charge of police oversight, you have now acknowledged much of the misconduct unearthed by the lawsuit, and insist that Chief Johnson can do better in the future. Yet, just three weeks ago, the WPD’s police union sent a letter to the Select Board that specifically accused our Diversity Inclusion and Racial Equity Advisory Committee (DIRE) — the first majority-Black committee in the history of Williamstown — of creating low morale among officers. The DIRE Committee is composed of exceptionally experienced and thoughtful individuals, with a range of knowledge that includes social work, dialogue facilitation, legal practice, and school administration. They have been generous in fielding calls and emails from people too afraid to call the police or even voice their concern in public, including women, Jewish people, BIPOC, queer residents and others who have literally created their own networks of personal safety protocols in order to feel secure.
As a community, we have not heard a single word from Johnson regarding the myriad acts of police misconduct that occurred on his watch. Now, rather than take responsibility for the atmosphere he has contributed to through his own actions and inactions, Johnson’s silence continues. It is also important to note that shortly after the police union issued its letter, one of our most beloved residents received a violent letter threatening them based on race and sexual orientation.
Chief Johnson, is this your version of “doing better?” Do you expect victims of crime to trust this police force when they are at their most vulnerable? Do you expect victims of hate-based crimes or sexual harm to see this chief as an ally?
Sixteen years is long enough. We cannot afford to spend any more time experimenting with Johnson’s mismanagement. If he was chief operating officer of a company, or a public school administrator, he would have been terminated long before now.
Mr. Hoch, you once wisely said that as town manager, the “broader humanity” of the world can get lost among administrative box-checking. Now is the time to summon that broader humanity. Now is the precise moment, when people are in pain and being threatened.
This community deserves safety, peace of mind, and healing. In order for that to happen, we need new leadership at the Williamstown Police Department.
The Williamstown Racial Justice and Police Reform membership