UMass police officers stationed at Northampton protest

15 officers were stationed during the peaceful Black Lives Matter protest

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Collegian File Photo/Daily Collegian

By Irina Costache, Assistant News Editor

Fifteen officers in riot gear from the University of Massachusetts Police Department were stationed at the Northampton Black Lives Matter protest on June 6.  The officers were stationed away from view at the Hampshire County Courthouse and did not engage with the protestors.

The officers were assisting the Northampton Police Department, whom UMPD have a mutual aid agreement with, as well as officers from the Amherst, Hadley, Easthampton and State Police departments.

“I was really surprised to see them there. Because Northampton is two towns over, most of the students are out of UMass at this point, all in-person activities on the UMass campus have been transitioned to online, so why is UMPD even active at this point?” said Zac Lounsbury, a master’s student in the College of Education.

The officers did not end up being deployed into crowds or engaging with any protestors.

According to Ed Blaguszewski, executive director of strategic communications for the University, the UMPD is exempt from current campus furloughs and overtime expenses for the stationed officers will be reimbursed by the NPD.

Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper said in an email statement to Lounsbury that reaching out to mutual aid partners for support during large scale events in the area is “not uncommon.”

“For Saturday’s event, we reached out to UMass PD and were aware that they employ some officers who have special training in crowd control,” Kasper wrote in the email.

The protest began at 4 p.m. and ended at 8:30 p.m. The protestors marched around downtown Northampton, chanting and holding signs and ended by standing in front of the NPD building reciting a list of 12 demands.

Some of the demands included reducing the NPD’s budget, creating a community oversight board, establishing Restorative Justice programs in schools, eliminating police-based mental health and addiction services and placing a moratorium on collaborations with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“It was very clear before the event happened, and very clear during the event that it was meant to be a peaceful protest. Absolutely,” Lounsbury said.

On the event’s Facebook page, the “about” section reads “This is a peaceful rally! Absolutely NO violence will be tolerated, steps are being taken to ensure the safety of all who attend.”

The page also stated that protestors “must wear face mask[s] and maintain social distanc[ing].”

The event also had chant leaders and marshal volunteers sign up through a Google form. Anyone who signed up had to agree to abide by five nonviolence guidelines.

“UMass police, in particular, in their role as riot police were not there for my safety as a UMass student or my safety as a Pioneer Valley Community member — they were to quash the protesters if anything happened, they were outfitted to cause harm,” Lounsbury said.

Lounsbury also said that, to see the officers stationed at an event where they weren’t needed is a “tone deaf signal in this time” to UMass staff taking furloughs.

“To see Subbaswamy and the Dean of the College of the Education, folks in my department, write all these mean meaningful letters supporting this movement and supporting these protests and supporting Black Lives Matter, but then to see that as an institution, the actions that they’re taking in this time are to send police to potentially squash these protests is really strange,” he said. “They took an institutional action against the protests that they claim to be supporting.”

Irina Costache can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @irinaacostache.