Worcester Police officer Enmanuel Familia drowned June 4 while trying unsuccessfully to save a teenager from the same fate.
The city could have used the officer’s bravery and sacrifice to sing the praises of those who serve in law enforcement. Instead, it used his passing as a whip across the backs of the City Council’s three members of color–Khrystian King, Sarai Rivera and Sean Rose.
The trio was told not to attend Officer Familia’s funeral.
In a statement to the Telegram & Gazette, Jennifer Familia, wife of the fallen officer, took responsibility for that decision(For the record, I don’t believe she is the guilty party, but more on that later), hinting that the councilors criminal justice reform efforts were behind their ostracism.
She, for example, accused the three councilors of “spewing…disdain for men and women who protect our community day and night.”
“Unlike my husband,” she wrote, “you have shown that your selfishness exceeds the true values that this community holds.”
I’m reluctant to push back against a grieving widow, but I must.
The media should, as far as possible, respect the privacy of a mourning family. But when the story extends beyond the family, when it touches on fundamental issues within the community, the journalist has no choice but to report it.
Ms. Familia singled out the Telegram & Gazette and Reporter Stephen Foskett, who wrote about the councilors being asked not to attend the funeral as examples of the “failing” the newspaper industry.
But the T&G and Mr. Foskett were doing their jobs.
Asking the three city councilors not to attend the officer’s funeral was a broadside against criminal justice reform in a city that readily pays lip service to social justice but remains intractable to meaningful reform.
And it’s more than that.
There were white congressional, state and local officials at the funeral who are on record championing criminal justice reforms, so why were they allowed to attend and not the three councilors of color?
The answer is simple.
No matter how you slice the American experience, it will always contain the dehumanization reserved for people of color. The Social Justice slice is no exception.
Critics often give white social justice advocates a pass but give no quarters to advocates who are people of color.
“This is not shocking,” Councilor Rivera said of her and her colleagues’ exclusion from Officer Familia’s funeral.
“This goes to show what we been having to deal with for a very long time—The targeting and discrimination that we as councilors of color have had to endure forever.”
Before Ms. Familia’s statement, Ms. Rivera, who lost her son Zacarias Ortiz Hernandez in a motor vehicle accident in December, was skeptical that the decision to exclude her and her two colleagues from the funeral originated with the family.
“When you go through something like that, you don’t know if it’s night or day,” she said of mourning for her son.
“There is no way in the midst of grieving you are thinking about anything other than that. Your very essence is consumed with that grief. There’s no knowledge of a world outside this horrific pain.
“Do you really think that during such a grief, you would be thinking like that (baring the councilors from the funeral)?”
I tend to agree with Ms. Rivera. It is hard not to see the WPD imprint all over this decision.
Rick Cipro, president of the local police union and who is running against Mr. Rose in the upcoming municipal elections, told MassLive that while he was not aware of the family’s request, the three “councilors have gone after police in the last year.”
And that was before Ms. Familia’s statement.
But here is the broader view. I believe Ms. Familia is an unfortunate victim of the city’s long track record of abetting social injustices.
Worcester allows its police officials to use their social media pages to bully critics. It hides police misconduct from the public, and it refuses to entertain essential criminal justice reforms.
Why then wouldn’t a resident like Ms. Familia not conclude that those are the “true values that this community holds.”
Why would she not conclude that those who push the city to hire, promote and protect individuals of color are selfish agitators that are to be banned from polite society?