Democrats call for drastic overhaul by Pelham governments to battle racism; PUFSD admits it needs to do more

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The Pelham Democratic Committee last week called on all levels of town government to “fight for drastic overhaul in Pelham’s policing and schools” and to “boost diversity in hiring on local boards and governing bodies” following reports from residents of racist treatment by officials of various bodies. A day after the letter was released to the press, the Pelham Union Free School District said it needed to do more about racism.

“We have begun to hear, some of us for the first time, stories of differential, racist treatment of persons of color in Pelham at the hands of Pelham police officers, teachers, school administrators and fellow Pelham residents,” said the Democrats’ letter, sent last Thursday to town, school district and village leaders and emailed to the Pelham Examiner on Tuesday. “Pelhamites have been sharing stories on social media, with neighbors and friends, at recent rallies and in a remarkable exhibit at the Pelham Art Center that should break all our hearts.”

On Tuesday, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Cheryl Champ wrote to residents the district recognized “the urgency of dealing with systemic racism and the need to more clearly define action steps and accelerate our work” beyond the current program, which is called “cultural competence.” She said the district was working to set up a partnership with an outside organization to speed those efforts.

The goals for the outside group, including teacher and staff training, policy reviews and updating curriculum, are listed in the superintendent’s letter here.

The two letters follow the news the Village of Pelham is forming a steering committee on racism and the police. The local steps come after the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis and protests and marches that followed. Floyd died when Police Officer Derek Chauvin held him down by his pressing knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, while three other officers at the scene face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder.

According to the Pelham Democrats, “We have learned that North Pelham is referred to as Parlem; that school children have suffered slights and taunts from their peers that were dismissed by teachers and administrators; that some Pelham youth think nothing of using the N word in casual conversation; that Pelham police officers have referred to Pelham youth as thugs; that black and other minority students are disproportionately subject to school residency checks by police; that black and brown Pelhamites suffer slights, or worse, on a daily basis; that our black and brown neighbors in Mount Vernon, New Rochelle and the Bronx, expect to be targeted by the police in Pelham and consider us a racist town. We are sure you agree it’s time to shine a light on racial injustice in Pelham and get to work.”

We have learned that North Pelham is referred to as Parlem.”

— Pelham Democratic Committee

Champ’s letter echoed the statement: “We have continued to hear from students and parents about instances of racism and discrimination that have occurred in our schools.”

“Sunlight is often the best antiseptic,” she wrote.

Her letter did not provide specifics on the incidents that have been reported to the school district.

As a first step, the Pelham Democrats called for a public meeting with town, village, school board and police officials “to address first-hand accounts of racial injustice in Pelham.”

The Democrats also said government organizations and the community should pursue a set of five social justice goals, including a transparent system for reporting and addressing racist incidents and a plan to build community support for low income and affordable housing. The school district was singled out in the Democrat’s demand for a broad review “to ensure that antiracism is actively taught, outdated materials replaced, diverse viewpoints represented, and course materials include the contributions of all ethnic groups and the often painful history of discrimination and injustice in the U.S.” The document lists six changes the Democrats plan to make within their own organization.

“We remind our community that a mechanism for systemic change already exists: voting,” said the Democrats. “To those without the time or temperament for activism, voting changes everything.”