Yesterday Kai Price made me aware of this complaint filed with the Monson Police over the way a volunteer, helping with recovery from the deadly tornado that roared through our Valley earlier this month, was treated by local police officers:
On Jun 10, 2011, at 4:24 PM, "subversive01057"
I do not want to discourage anyone from helping with the tornado volunteer cleanup effort. The town has been devastated, and we can still use all the help we can get. And overall the police have done a tremendous job. However I wanted to report that I am about to file a compliant with my town of Monson, MA, as follows:
Sometime around 10pm on the evening of Tuesday, June 7th, Will of Amesbury, MA, was outside the Unitarian Universalist Parish of Monson, which had been affected by the tornado, dropping off some extra slate tile donated from elsewhere, with the fore-knowledge of UUPM minister.
Will had heard about the tornado in the news, saw the devastation on TV, and being a tradesman/electrician, he thought he could help and he packed up and moved to the Monson campground and worked as a registered volunteer around town for a week, including at the UUPM, where he made a real difference. At the time, three of his chainsaws had been well used by the First Church of Monson and were in the process of being repaired by him.
Given the rubble outside the church, the time of day and the looting that has occurred in town, this constituted suspicious behavior, and Will was stopped by the Monson Police Department, questioned, and his vehicle was searched. In my mind, this was all very reasonable (with the exception that Will's glove compartment may have been damaged during the frenzy of the search). The Monson PD does an excellent job of helping residents feel safe and secure in their homes and businesses.
Will explained his presence, presented the Rev. Jackson on his cell phone to the officer involved to corroborate his presence, and as no evidence of looting was found, Will was not arrested.
In the search of Will's vehicle, the officer found a small amount of marijuana. It seems that as a result, Will was ordered to leave the town limits of Monson immediately under police escort and threatened that should he ever return he would be subject to immediate arrest. When he explained that he was staying at the Monson campground and that the medication he was under made it seriously unsafe for him to drive, he was told that he would not be allowed to stay there and must leave Monson immediately.
The Monson PD should be very well aware that following overwhelming voter approval that in Massachusetts, simple possession of an ounce or less of marijuana is a civil infraction punishable only by a maximum $100 fine and forfeiture of the marijuana. The penalty for possession of marijuana does NOT include being run out of town. Will has had a challenging life and was deeply emotionally hurt by being (unofficially?!) trespassed from the Town of Monson and denied the opportunity to help further, especially after he had just donated a week of volunteer labor and had done nothing that would warrant this banishment.
The Monson PD has responded incredibly well to a challenge that few police could have ever imagined that they would be called upon to face. The widespread tragedy of this tornado, combined with the heat and the long hours, make the generally magnificent response of the Monson PD in the past week all the more heroic.
However sometimes mistakes are made--I've certainly made mistakes in my life, and I'm sure that nearly everyone else has too at some time or another. The way Will was treated is deeply appalling to me as a Monson resident and home-owner (and please note that I am not nor I have ever been a member of the UUPM), and I would like to think that it was just a misunderstanding. Surely this was not the instance of prejudice that it appears to be. And when mature adults make mistakes, what they are called upon to do is man-up (or woman-up), admit to the mistake, apologize for the mistake, and reasonably try to rectify the situation.
Today Kai Price released the following update:
Lesson learned: file the written complaint.
A half hour after I dropped off the form the police sergeant stopped by and explained that it was all a big misunderstanding, Will was not trespassed at all and is welcome to come back to volunteer without fear of police harassment, and the problem was that his associate/passenger did not have ID, gave sketchy answers to questioning, and they were both in an area where looting had been reported and it was late at night.
You may now return to your regular programming.
Despite the way Kai Price bends over backwards to praise the police, is this really a happy ending? Unanswered questions remain. Would the police have backed off if no complaint was filed? When they realized that there had been, in their words, "a big misunderstanding" why didn't they contact the person involved on their own and apologize instead of waiting for a formal complaint to be filed? Does the glove compartment damaged in the search need to be repaired, and if so, who will pay for it? The police justify what they did by claiming to have been searching for looters, but was everyone stopped in that search given a police escort out of town?
This incident is hardly the most earth shattering local controversy, but it does clearly illustrate the tendency that law enforcement still has to overreact in instances where marijuana is involved, despite the fact that the drug has been nearly legalized. To prevent further such overreactions in the future, the best and most effective way would be legalize marijuana entirely.
Meanwhile, fascinating videos from the June 2nd tornado continue to surface. Here's an amazing one showing the dangerous scene as severe winds strike a downtown Springfield parking lot. Notice how a car moves just in time to escape deadly debris that soon strikes that spot.
There was some dark clouds and thunder and lightning this past week, but thankfully nothing like the violent storms of the week before. Here's some of the electrical show the other day over Holyoke as captured by Greg Saulmon.
Mary Serreze caught these dark clouds hovering over Northampton City Hall.
My neighbor assembled these stones on his front steps in accordance with a feng shui pattern of good fortune.
Happy UMass summer school students.
Kurtis and Rob are traveling in style to the Amherst Survival Center.
The following feelgood video was filmed entirely in Amherst.