Dear Borough Residents and Businesses,
I write to you today not on behalf of the Borough of Chambersburg or Borough Council, but as a citizen and representative of the First Ward.
Whether in writing or in a radio interview, every elected official maintains the right to express their viewpoint.
Our community is in transition. Some of our challenges are new, while others have a long history. I feel it is important to speak frankly and directly to the concerns of our present moment, voiced so passionately by the past week’s demonstrations on Chambersburg’s Memorial Square.
The last few months of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, only recently loosened by our move into the Governor’s Yellow Phase, have been trying for all of us.
Yet, our struggles have not been identical. The pandemic has highlighted differences between us in terms of job security, wealth, health care, and educational access.
Statistics around the United States and within the Borough show, too, that the coronavirus has disproportionately impacted people and communities of color.
Local rallies, demonstrations
Rallies and social media campaigns to reopen Franklin County, as well as counter-demonstrations and social media pushback, signal our disagreements about the proper balance of freedom, respect for others, personal wellness, and public health.
Our varied responses to the pandemic showcase the difficult work of living together in a democracy: How do we negotiate our differences and make decisions fairly to promote our common good?
The work is not only difficult; it is incomplete, and too often exclusionary. Around the world and here in Chambersburg, the killings of Ms. Breonna Taylor, Mr. Ahmaud Arbery, Mr. George Floyd, and others, have prompted days of protest.
As their lives are mourned and commemorated, we are confronted, once more, by the epic nature of our struggle to achieve racial justice.
Racism does not exist merely in individuals and their intentions, but in structures and institutions: policies and practices, demographics, unwritten norms, and technologies.
To be proactive, local and state governments, police departments, religious communities and non-profits, and diverse private citizens will need to come together for dialogue and action: to talk, but also to listen; to reflect, but also to implement change.
Each community across our nation must now ask itself tough questions about justice and race, about legitimate uses and techniques of power, and about equal protections for all citizens.
What others are saying:
I want you to know that as a municipal employer, the Borough has made some recent progress toward diverse hiring. These measures include moves to hire fluent Spanish language speakers in multiple offices; and the creation of a Diversity, Outreach, and Employment Coordinator to help train staff internally and advertise Borough job postings to broader external audiences.
These efforts are still in their early stages; change does not always happen fast. I believe our goal should be a Borough workforce that more closely resembles the demographics of our community; though I am only one of many voices on Borough Council, I will continue to do my part to achieve that goal.
A proactive police department
With respect to our police department, I want you to know that Police Chief Ron Camacho has already taken a number of concrete steps to ensure best practices in policing.
All staff and officers of the department have taken part in diversity and de-escalation training. A Chief’s Advisory Committee, made up of Borough residents, has been in the works for months; though it was derailed by the pandemic, it should convene before the end of this year.
The department’s five-year strategic plan also includes the implementation of body cameras for police officers.
These measures demonstrate positive community-centered policing.
However, our police department’s staff does not yet reflect the diversity of the community it polices, despite some recent, diverse hires and a commitment to improve in this area.
We must continue hiring bilingual officers and officers of color. I support adding body cameras to the police technology budget. But cameras are no replacement for our ongoing efforts to ensure that our officers are well-trained, well-informed community liaisons as much as law enforcement officers.
Community support, involvement
I hope that you support these efforts, too. Maybe you have other suggestions to add. You might disagree with me. No matter your view, I encourage you to share your experiences and vision by contacting your Borough Council representatives, or by communicating with me.
You can attend Borough Council meetings, which are open to everyone.
The Borough has multiple advisory committees for citizen participation in decision-making as well. You might consider volunteering for one of them.
Or, you can seek an elected position. Every two years, for instance, one council position from each of our Borough wards is open for election; the next council elections will take place beginning in the primaries of 2021.
Encouragement to speak up and get involved can sometimes ring hollow.
You might worry that doing so puts you at risk, or wonder if you can really make a difference. If so, you can contribute in other ways. Find one of the many local organizations promoting conversation and community action; and you can engage in dialogue with friends, family members, and neighbors.
We can negotiate an inclusive and just Chambersburg community only with your help. I encourage you to join the dialogue.
Chambersburg Borough Council President and First Ward Council Member [email protected]