NORTH ADAMS — In response to a reported increase in hateful and bigoted acts throughout the country, city councilors are looking to label North Adams as a "safe and inclusive community."
In a resolution introduced Tuesday by Councilor Nancy Bullett and Council President Benjamin Lamb, the council would affirm it "believes in the rights of all people to lead lives of peace and dignity, free of fear, harassment, violence, and undue process."
"Our efforts are to be as welcoming as we can be and to avoid the pitfalls of the bigotry and the hatred and the discriminatory behaviors that have been demonstrated and are increasing," Bullett said.
The symbolic measure, which met opposition from Councilors Robert Moulton, Jr., and Ronald Boucher, will be revised and brought back to the to the council on Dec. 27. From there, the resolution will be referred to a subcommittee so it may hold a public meeting and receive input from the community.
"The North Adams City Council is adamantly committed to protecting the residents of and visitors to the City of North Adams from racist, Islamaphobic, anti-semitic, misogonystic, homophobic, transphobic, and anti-refugee sentiments and acts," reads the resolution, which also directs the North Adams Police Department to hold those who commit hate crimes accountable to the fullest extent of the law.
Moulton expressed concern about a passage of the resolution he believes could a "sanctuary city" for undocumented immigrants and attempts to override existing federal and state laws.
After proclaiming solidarity for the human rights of all people regardless of "race, ethnicity, religion, sexual and gender identity, national origin, or immigration status," the resolution stated (several paragraphs later) that North Adams "is a hate-free zone in which hate crimes and discriminatory actions will not be tolerated regardless of policies and rulings by neighboring communities, the commonwealth of Massachusetts, or the Federal Government."
Though he said he agreed with almost all of the resolution, Moulton said he took issue its stance on immigration status. He said there are illegal immigrants in the country and about which "nothing is being done."
While definitions of a sanctuary city vary, the term generally applies to cities that make it a policy to not have their local police departments enforce federal immigration laws or inquire about immigration status.
"That's where getting people who are immigrants who are felons...I take it from this that you're kind of protecting them, we're going to accept them," Moulton said. "I think we're a country built on laws."
Other councilors assured Moulton, who at one point referred to the resolution as a "kumbaya" moment, that the intent of the resolution was not to create a "sanctuary city," to protect illegal immigrants .
"I don't believe this resolution promotes any acceptance of criminal behavior...I don't think this is encouraging or even hinting at any kind of amnesty," said Councilor Eric Buddington.
Bullett said that the council is not offering amnesty to anybody.
"We are not offering anything except to be a community that is welcoming and supportive and to avoid the hate crimes that are so prevalent in this country right now," Bullett said. "If our country on the smallest levels, on the community levels, can't stand up to say enough is enough it will proliferate and it will fester and it will continue."
Boucher, who noted that he is a registered Democrat, attributed the effort to the party's inability to accept the recent presidential election.
"Accept what is in front of you and move forward together as a country, and as a city, and as a town," Boucher said. "I don't think we need a resolution, I was brought up to respect people and honor people."
But Councilor Kate Merrigan said that "the reality is that there are a lot of people who feel uncomfortable or unsafe in ways that are real for them."
"To me that this is an affirmation of the value of the humanity of groups that often feel marginalized, and not necessarily anything more than that I would value this at any time," Merrigan said.
Councilor Lisa Blackmer also addressed the concern that such a resolution was unnecessary.
"I think the concern of the people that are pushing this kind of resolution is that we're a little concerned about what laws might be taken away from us and what rights might be taken away from us," Blackmer said.
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Moulton said he didn't see these problems in North Adams and said the rest of the country can learn from the city's ability to come together.
"I think the community is very inclusive," Moulton said.
Though most residents who spoke at the meeting opposed the resolution on similar grounds to Moulton, Richard Dassatti stood in support of it and advocated for a public meeting.
"You might think that things are great here in North Adams, and that there aren't people who are afraid, but maybe if you have a public hearing...people will come forward and tell you exactly how they feel,"
As a white male, Dassatti argued, "you might feel pretty comfortable in North Adams," but argued people from other groups should "have their say."
"You might not agree with the fear, but I think people need a place to come and they need to feel that people will support them," he said.
Several councilors agreed that a passage referencing New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was irrelevant to North Adams and could also be removed from the resolution.