Bully pulpit in Peabody

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Peabody’s Jerry Halberstadt, who authored legislation on bullying, reviews his soon-to-be-published book on the subject.

BY ADAM SWIFT

PEABODY — A Peabody man’s experience paved the way for a measure establishing a study commission on bullying in public housing that was passed by lawmakers Sunday.

Five years ago, Jerry Halberstadt, 80, launched the Stop Bullying Coalition to help stem the tide of abuse against elderly and disabled public housing residents.

He knows first hand what it’s like to be bullied. When he moved into public housing in Peabody, Halberstadt said a group of residents controlled the building.

“Their attitude was that if they did not like you, they would get rid of you,” he said. “It was a reign of terror. People were being bullied, harassed and forced out of their houses. I pulled together a group where I was living to create a more tolerable environment.”

In “Stop Bullying” a book Halberstadt is writing, he tells the story of how he was bullied, using a lightly fictionalized version of Peabody he refers to as Riverby.

The perpetrators of bullying had a clique that I call the New Guardians,” Halberstadt wrote. “They were saying that they wanted to get rid of the riff-raff in the building, they wanted to get rid of the two Jews, myself and a friend. They had a record of harassing people they didn’t like and managed to drive them out of the building, or get the management to evict them. The resident service coordinator laughed off my report and management did not feel they should get involved in disputes among tenants, despite their obligation to assure ‘peaceful enjoyment.’”

Eventually, Halberstadt was urged to file a bill in the Legislature to address the issue.

State Sen. Joan Lovely (D-Salem) said Halberstadt prompted her to file the measure.

“This constituent came to me seeking to be a voice for those who were afraid or unable to speak for themselves and it has been an honor to partner with him and sponsor this legislation to address the issue.”

The legislation, which is awaiting Gov. Charlie Baker’s signature, is the first of its kind in the country.

“The task is to study and seek remedies for bullying in multi-family housing,” Halberstadt said. “The primary focus is with elderly people and people with disabilities, the two most vulnerable populations. If I am on the commission, I’ll look to learn from people to better understand the problem and hope to find people who have solved those problems and share those ideas.”

The 19-member panel will include House and Senate leaders, executives of state agencies and members appointed by the governor to represent the interests of management and residents. The group will hold hearings to gather testimony and make a report by the end of next year.

While Halberstadt introduced the original legislation through Lovely, he had high praise for the many legislators, especially those on the North Shore, who had a hand in crafting and passing the bill.

Michael Kane, executive director of the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants, credited legislative leaders for recognizing that bullying is an epidemic in subsidized housing, especially afflicting the elderly and people with disabilities.


Adam Swift can be reached at [email protected]

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