GREENFIELD – Activist Queen-Cheyenne Wade on Monday shared her ideas for replacing traditional police and prison systems with non-violent responses with the community of Greenfield as part of a virtual program hosted by Racial Justice Rising and the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice.
Wade is one of the founders of the Cambridge-based Holistic Alternative Emergency Response Team. HEART was created as a result of Cambridge City Council’s efforts to create an alternative to traditional policing. This system, and what city officials decided was an alternative response team, Wade explained, not only lacked accountability, but was different from what the community wanted for an alternative response.
Enter The Black Response – a group of young Cambridge residents who wanted to create a program that “would work to build systems away from punitive or punishment-based practices and systems, and in fact be grounded in transformative practices and policies” , explained Wade. .
The group first met last summer and began by writing an open letter to the community about their concerns about representation in municipal government. Soon after, with over 900 signatures on a worrying petition, HEART was in the works. The creation of the organization involved not only making the voices heard that had been excluded, but also ensuring collective ownership of the program.
“We wanted to make sure that we weren’t just getting service providers and community organizations, but community members who actually lived in over-policed communities, homeless people who were interacting with police and who saw the way they connected to other prison inmates or punishment-based systems, ”Wade said.
The group, led by a management team, began meeting with interested people every week, working on a collaborative process without a hierarchy of community education, collective design and funding / allocation.
When HEART is finally sufficiently implemented, Wade said, organizers hope it will provide proof that this type of model works better than traditional policing.
“There is a great community of people across the country and around the world who are not served or supported by our system and reforming it just won’t work,” she said. “HEART will not have any interaction with the police, which means the police will not be called if HEART is there and HEART will not call the police.”
Examining the root causes of harm and conflict in communities is inherent in the consensual care HEART wishes to provide to its Cambridge community.
Research conducted by the HEART team included interviews and surveys of supervised people within the Cambridge community, particularly young people, revolving around their experiences and how a non-violent program would help them to cope. feel supported. As a result, HEART acts as a quasi-non-governmental organization, which means that it is funded in part by the city, but housed outside the city and collects other funding.
Part of HEART’s research included learning from other community and holistic safety programs across the country. While HEART (like any specific municipal program), Wade said, cannot be “cut and paste” in another city, it is important to understand how other programs before them have responded to the diverse needs of the community.
Questions from the audience were posed by Traprock Center for Peace and Justice member Pat Hynes of Montague, many of whom included questions about how to keep a process like HEART’s in small towns in western Massachusetts, and discussions about including the police in these conversations. Wade emphasized the importance of collective ownership and support, and why she thinks this process should focus on those most affected by the system rather than those who run it.
“We can’t continue to focus the police on thinking about alternatives because, frankly, they’re not motivated to think about an imaginary alternative,” Wade said. “They don’t live in fear of police violence. They don’t live on the fringes.
To learn more about HEART, visit linktr.ee/CambridgeHEARTProgram.