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Racial-justice talks resume in Lynn

LYNN —  Less than a month after canceling racial-justice conversations between city councilors and community groups, Council President Darren Cyr has announced the talks will resume. 

Cyr canceled the talks at the beginning of September, citing confidentiality breaches stemming from a social media post, and an internal disagreement between Lynn’s only Black councilor and a community leader. 

On Friday, Cyr, in a joint statement with fellow Councilor Fred Hogan, and representatives from the community groups that have been involved in the discussions, said the racial justice talks were back on. 

“As reported earlier this month, a misunderstanding led to the cessation of these monthly meetings,” the statement said. “Everyone has agreed that the greater good of the community in conducting these meetings, which encourage open dialogue on issues of race and the development of concrete proposals that address systemic racism, far supersede any past misunderstanding and disagreements between the parties.” 

A group of elected officials and representatives from six community groups — Diverse People United, Essex County Community Organization, Lynn United for Change, New Lynn Coalition, North Shore Juneteenth Association, and Prevent the Cycle — had been meeting since July on a monthly basis before talks were canceled.

Discussions began after representatives from those community groups lobbied for the reallocation of Lynn Police Department funds during a City Council budget hearing in July. Community activists had asked for those funds to be used for the creation of an unarmed crisis response team, which would consist of trained mental health professionals and others that would be assigned to emergency calls that don’t require a police response, the statement said. 

Rather than reallocate police department funds, the City Council voted to approve a budget request from Mayor Thomas M. McGee, which allocated $25,000 in this year’s city budget for the establishment of an Equity and Inclusion Assessment Account. 

The account’s funds would be used to explore the possible development of an unarmed crisis response team, along with studying other potential solutions that would reduce racial injustices and inequities in areas such as policing, housing, and hiring practices, the statement said.  

However, those monthly discussions fell apart following a “misunderstanding” that occurred during a Swampscott protest that was held to support Lynn women who alleged they were subjected to racial insults in Swampscott on July 28 (a woman was later arrested and charged in connection with the incident). 

At the protest, Council Vice President Buzzy Barton and Nicole McClain, a Black woman who serves as president of the North Shore Juneteenth Association, had a sharp exchange of words. 

Barton told The Item that he felt a question directed at him from McClain reflected poorly on his family’s commitment to racial justice, particularly his mother, Virginia Barton’s, work in the civil rights movement. McClain said at the time that she was trying to unpack her personal view and was not trying to hurt Barton’s public persona. 

“After the cessation of the meetings, many individuals, including Council President Darren P. Cyr, Darrell Murkison, former President of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Reverend Bernadette Hickman-Maynard of the Essex County Community Organization and Pastor of Bethel AME Church of Lynn, met privately with the hope of resuming regular meetings,” the statement said, noting that everyone involved agreed that the importance of the meetings outweighed any internal disagreements. 

Barton said on Friday that it was time to move forward. He declined comment on the initial disagreement, saying, “I don’t want to get into he said, she said.  

“I think they need to have these conversations,” said Barton. “I think it’s important that the city moves forward with these thoughts. As the Council president said in his statement, I think it’s bigger than all of us and they need to just keep moving forward with it.” 

Moving forward, the racial-justice meetings will be co-chaired by Rev. Hickman-Maynard and Murkison, and will continue to include members of the City Council and other city officials. Over the next several months, the discussions will be focused on policing, the statement said. 

As a result of a citizen petition organized by members of Prevent the Cycle, a public hearing will be held on Oct. 24, which “will address the creation of a civilian review board to address complaints of police misconduct, the use of body cameras by law enforcement personnel, the creation of an unarmed crisis response team, and possible amendments to the Lynn Human Rights Commission Ordinance, among matters pertaining to racism in policing,” the statement said. 

“All participants in the past meetings agree that progress has been made and are optimistic that continued meetings will strengthen our community’s ability to address issues of systemic racism that have for far too long been left ignored.  

“While Lynn has long been an extremely diverse city, racially, ethnically and economically, we the undersigned do not believe the city has ever before held regular, productive community meetings allowing for each voice to be heard.  At this time in our nation’s history, such meetings that aim to propose solutions to the complex problem of racism are needed more than ever before,” the statement said. 

Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

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