Pioneer Valley Project organizes protest for police reform outside the Springfield mayor and police commissioner’s homes

Outside the residences of Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno and Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood, a usually quiet Saturday was punctured by the sound of car horns protesting the lack of reforms resulting from a scathing U.S. Department of Justice report.

Just after 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, 48 cars set off from the parking lot of the South Congregational Church in Springfield. Their destination was the homes of Sarno in Springfield and Clapprood in Wilbraham to protest the “vague statements and few specifics regarding [police] department reforms” since the Department of Justice report was published on July 8.

The 28-page report presented a withering picture of Springfield’s Narcotics Unit, highlighting instances of falsified reports, lax oversight and alleged beat-downs of arrestees with a particular focus on punches to the head and neck.

“It’s true that today’s caravan could be considered a disruption to our mayor and police commissioner on their Saturday afternoon,” Tara Parrish, the director of Pioneer Valley Project, said in a statement. “It may be a little inconvenient and uncomfortable to hear horns honking as dozens of cars pass your house for a few minutes. Imagine the disruption that Delano Walker’s mother felt and continues to feel after her teenage son died at the hands of a Springfield Police officer. Imagine the disruption felt by Douglas Greer as he was dragged out of his car and beaten by Springfield police officers while having a diabetic attack.”

Parrish told MassLive that PVP, as well as the Greater Springfield NAACP, invited the mayor and commissioner to attend three digital town halls on police accountability and reform since June, with both refusing to attend each time.

Pioneer Valley Project Caravan

Tara Parrish, director of Pioneer Valley Project walks the sound system back to her car. (Douglas Hook / MassLive)

The convoy turned onto the quiet Springfield street the mayor lives on and pulled over to the curb. Mike Anderson, a PVP member and basketball coach at Central High School, got out of his car and set a speaker attached to a microphone on the sidewalk opposite the mayor’s house.

“We are here for those that have been victimized brutalized and are silenced by this system,” said Anderson, who had a tear roll down his cheek as he spoke. “I can give you 5.25 million more reasons why we are here. Over the last 13 years, the City of Springfield has paid over $5.25 million out of pocket to settle police misconduct cases.”

Between 2006 and 2019, Springfield spent more than $5.25 million in police misconduct settlements, according to the DOJ. As taxpayers, Parrish said, the city’s residents shouldn’t be expected to pay out millions of dollars in legal settlements to victims because of police misconduct.

“We’re still talking about the same stuff,” said Anderson, recounting the rally. “These are issues that my mom had to deal with.”

Anderson has two children that he thought about as he spoke outside the mayor’s house, a 28-year-old boy and a 20-year-old girl.

“People don’t understand the impact that this has,” said Anderson to MassLive. “I think about my own children and the impact this has on them.”

According to a press release from PVP, the group has filed a joint public record request on Nov. 16, requesting details on the changes made in the police department since July 8, the day the DOJ report was published.

“PVP members want to know more about the specifics of these public statements as they appear to only scratch the surface of the DOJ recommendations,” said Parrish. “The mayor and the commissioner have been unwilling to be more specific about their claims of reforms in the Springfield Police Department.”

Pioneer Valley Project Caravan

Mike Anderson, Pioneer Valley Project member and basketball coach at Central High School tears up. while addressing the Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno. (Douglas Hook / MassLive)

The procession moved off to travel out of the city to Wilbraham where the police commissioner lives. As they made their way out of the city, some drivers turned cars around and went back to their homes. According to Anderson, the apprehension comes from negative experiences with the town’s police force.

Sister Melinda Pellerin, the first African American Sister of St. Joseph in the Northeast, spoke outside of Clapprood’s home.

“We have one of the worst police departments in the country,” said Pellerin. “Police brutality and misconduct are deeply embedded in Springfield. When will you do something about it.”

After Pellerin spoke she started toward the commissioner’s front door holding a letter. Parrish and another of the convoy joined her. In the letter is a list of the concerns that the group has on the lack of reform and the reasons for the protest at the places of residence.

The caravan aimed to keep the pressure on the mayor and commissioner to address the community concerns, Parrish told MassLive. Otherwise, the worry is that this will be forgotten about and no change will be enacted.

“The residents of this city want meaningful police reform,” the letters to both Clapprood and Sarno stated. “We demand meaningful police reform. We won’t quit until we get it. Enjoy your weekend.”

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