Black Lives Matter event in Williamstown to give participants positive outlet for feelings


WILLIAMSTOWN — This past week's deadly national shootings left the nation and the Berkshires under another storm cloud infused with fear, frustration and fatigue.

But Williamstown resident Jane Berger, a mental health expert, is hoping to help people find some clarity and a healthy outlet for their feelings by hosting a "Black Lives Matter" gathering and walk at 10 a.m. Sunday.

"The idea mostly just came from a feeling of hopelessness," she said. "It's easy and common to take to venting on social media but I think it's good to get outside and get together to talk about it."

She did take to social media to share the invitation to the event, which will meet outside of the Williams College Paresky Center, rain or shine. She said the informal gathering will give participants a forum to talk about their thoughts, share art or poetry, signs or other information about national violence, civil rights and equal protection for all citizens.

"We may be a very small group, but it is still important to show that we will not tolerate things as they are," Berger wrote in the Facebook event post.

The event comes in the wake of back-to-back shootings of black men by white police officers this week, followed by Thursday's sniper shootings in Dallas that left five officers dead and several others wounded.

In a Friday evening phone conversation with The Eagle, Berger said, "This has been a terrible week, but it's been terrible for a while," alluding to the past several years of high-profile shootings, often involving the deaths of black men by police gunfire.

She said she is concerned with people involved in shootings by law enforcement not getting fair treatment, investigations and trials.

Berger, who is a licensed clinical social worker, also said that Sunday's gathering is meant to peaceful and not perpetuate any hatred.

"The idea that "Black Lives Matter" means to hate cops is a horrible misconception, and is not how I see [the campaign] at all," she said. "I also don't speak for the whole movement."

After the initial gathering at the Paresky Center, Berger said she'd like the group to walk to Route 2 and stand for a while to "show our solidarity."

Originally from the San Francisco Bay area, she said that she's used to people taking to the streets to express their support for causes they're passionate.

"Being visible about them is important," Berger said.

In their own words ...

Eagle readers were asked on Friday via a Facebook post about their reactions to Thursday night's police and civilian shootings in Dallas, during which perpetrators were allegedly targeting white police officers because of national police shootings of black men.

Here are their responses:

"I awoke this morning to here of another tragic event in our country! The senseless, cowardice act against law enforcement in Dallas Texas. I refuse to accept the notion that this act was in retaliation for the two black men killed earlier this week. This was clearly a well-planned act of violence against the Dallas Police Department by a cowardice group; who took the lives of five police officers!!!

I ask that all members join with me in prayer this morning for the slain officers, their families, the community of Dallas, and our country; as we continue to pray for the senseless killings of Alton Sterling & Philando Castile's families, friends and their communities!"

— Dennis Powell, president of the Berkshire County chapter of the NAACP

"Why is the focus only on the shootings of the police officers instead of discussing how ALL of the violence affects our community?"

— Pittsfield Pastor Akilah Edgerton

"I'd love to see a detailed report on the policies our local police and sheriff forces use regarding things like body cameras, de-escalation tactics, and investigations of/disciplinary procedures around officer-involved shootings. Do these policies optimize the potential safety for all members of our community?"

— Erin Grady Milne

"I would love to hear how some of our local law enforcement feel about what has happened and if/how that affects the way they do their jobs here. Would also like to hear if they feel we view our community differently (i.e. with dividing lines as it appears some officers do) and if they feel any tactics we use for community togetherness could be used as "best practices" for other police departments."

— Ellen Lattizzori

"It is long past the time for white people to stand up to and call out white supremacy. We have tolerated an intolerable level of racism in our communities for far too long."

— Jeanne Johnson

"There really isn't much valid information about these three incidents YET. It's not wise to make judgements without knowing the whole story. That being said it's terrible when anyone dies a violent death."

—Dave Bubriski

"The majority of police shootings (more than 50 percent) are on those not in the African-American community. All of those shootings are wrong and horrible and tarnish the image of honorable men and women who put their lives on the line every day. There are some bad police officers, there are some sick individuals with a badge and a gun. But most of our officers who choose to serve and protect/are PEACE officers and deserve our thanks and support. They should not have the added stress of looking over their shoulder for hate-filled individuals who use any excuse to harm them."

— Lisa Koscielniak Stankiewicz

"Political and religious leaders of all sides need to begin a concerted effort to disavow violence and extremism in all forms."

— Jeff Hunt

"Love and respect for every child of God. That's all."

— Bev VanAlstyne Krol

"I think it's tragic. I trust people here will work through the system to make sure our police departments responsibly serve and protect all members of their respective communities."

— Jeffrey Turner

"America is at war with itself and no one is winning."

— Jamuna Yvette Sirker

"How are we using these "flash symptoms" to interrogate a larger system of pervasive injustice in the US, Massachusetts, Berkshire Country, Williamstown and Pittsfield? African-Americans are systemically oppressed, as indicated in nearly every aspect of civil life (i.e. - median household income, life expectancy, educational attainment, employment, etc). Police violence toward the African-American community is a symptom of our inability as collective Americans to reconcile the contemporary vestiges a horrendously racist past. Two steps to reconciliation; Step 1: Educate Black and Brown students as well as whites, 2) Implement anti-racism campaigns throughout our K-12 continuum."

— Tracey Benson

"It is a fine art that involves the proper escalation and de-escalation of force with a balancing act with a use-of-force continuum. You have about a fraction of a second to process it all."

— Larry Higgins


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