Officer Cara Paladino, l., with Select Board member Terri Ackerman and DEI co-chairman Josh Lee.
Officer Cara Paladino, l., with Select Board member Terri Ackerman and DEI co-chairman Josh Lee. Photo by Betsy Levinson

Community, police talk diversity, inclusion

By Betsy Levinson -
December 14, 2022

“This needs to keep happening,” said Josh Lee, co-chair of the town’s DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) Commission at a meeting with the Concord Police Department and dozens of residents working in the human rights arena.

The DEI Commission tackles discrimination in business, schools and housing, Lee said.

“That is our goal. We are putting it into a roadmap,” he said.

Police Chief Joe O’Connor, speaking out of uniform, said DEI concerns are at the forefront of policing in Concord.

Josh Lee, co-chair of the town’s DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion)

“It’s not just race,” O’Connor said, “it’s sexual orientation, gender and disability too.”

He said the department “embraces” body cameras and prides itself on being “approachable.”

In the crowd at the library were school Superintendent Laurie Hunter, Alexa Anderson from the CPS school committee, library Director Emily Smith, Human Rights Council co-chair Court Booth and members of the DEI Commission, and others.

“I found a home among you,” said Jimi Two Feathers, a long-time anti-racism activist. “I’m hopeful and excited for this work.”

Local DEI Commissions are part of a state-wide effort to address discrimination on many levels.

“You gotta start young,” said Sawyer Yang, plugging a DEI-inspired “diverse” curriculum.

Yang’s sentiments were echoed by Joe Palumbo, who said he was pleased “these urgent issues were on the table.” Palumbo is part of CORE, or communities organized around racism and equity

Officers Michael Bordence and Joe O’Connor meet with community members. Photo by Betsy Levinson

“I’ve never seen a conversation like this,” said Palumbo.

Donna MacIntosh is the town’s communications manager who works alongside Town Manager Kerry LaFleur.

“A big part of communicating is listening,” said McIntosh. “This is a nice community moment. I applaud the DEI Commission for their willingness to host it.”

DEI co-chair Rose Felix Cratsley noted the “urgency” to their work. “We have to build trust. We have to humanize interaction between police and citizens.

Lee and Cratsley issued a DEI survey some weeks ago to “establish a baseline for where the town is in 2023,” said Lee.

“It’s a scorecard,” he said. The survey will be open until January, and will tell the town where to invest resources around DEI matters. Lee said the group will distribute another survey in two years, “to see if we improved.” The survey is available through the town website.

Police perspective

Officer Cara Paladino said anytime she can get out of the station and be out in the community is a good day.

Her colleague Kevin Monahan called the gathering “the first step in an ongoing problem.”

“We want to work collectively together,” said Monahan.

Officers Michael Bordence and John O’Connor (no relation to the chief) said the turnover in the department recently has made meeting the community that much more important.

“We’ll stop by businesses and meet people at “park and watch” duties,” said Bordence. “We try to provide exceptional service.

“This is better than I expected,” said Cory Diamitrios, a West Concord resident. “People here don’t look like me but I was welcomed.” He is an “artist in residence” with a band called MotherFungus.

A history of human rights

Concord’s Human Rights Council emerged following a racial incident at the high school in the 1970s, according to its co-chairman Court Booth.

“We have our roots in racial justice working in connection with the police department,” he said. “It is community-based.”

McIntosh said the public is welcome to say their farewells to O’Connor on his last day, Dec. 22.