Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Sad Day for Milton

No one who cares for our community could have felt anything other than sadness upon opening the Boston Globe this morning and reading Matt Carroll’s story. For those of you who missed it, it can be read here:

The beginning of the story is not new. Last September, at the end of a report by the Co-Chairs of Milton’s “No Place For Hate” committee, Chair of the Board of Selectmen James Mullen attacked one of the Co-Chairs for a letter to the Globe she had written-- two years prior-- disagreeing with Mr. Mullen on an issue of voter registration. Mr. Mullen claimed this political disagreement was an example of “hate”. He equated it with the type of hate being combated by the “No Place for Hate Committee” For more information:

A few weeks later, two members of the Milton clergy requested a private meeting with the Selectmen, obviously concerned about the impact of the actions by Mr. Mullen and Mr. Shields. A private meeting for this purpose violates Massachusetts law. Therefore, Mr. Mullen announced to the public that a private, “Executive Session” would be held at the end of a regular meeting to discuss “"the deployment of security personnel and devices." This was not the purpose of the session. Mr. Mullen knew this was not the purpose of the session. How does Mr. Mullen square this with his statement before the League of Women Voters last night that he has never lied to the residents of Milton?

What transpired at the meeting, held after Selectman Marion McEttrick reminded the other two Selectmen that it was an illegal meeting and then left, is reported by the Globe. The only disputed point is whether John Shields said the attack on the No Place for Hate member would actually help Mullen and Shields politically in some parts of town. He claims that was not what he said. David Colton, in a memo recap of the meeting written afterward, and Rev. Parisa Parsa both agree that those were the words used.

As bad as all of this is, it gets worse. Also at the private meeting a hate letter sent to the leader of the No Place for Hate committee was shown to Selectmen Mullen and Shields. Part of the letter read: "Your committee is nothing but reverse discrimination against the white people in this town. We totally support Jimmy Mullen and John Shields 100%. Why don't you get out of the kitchen and take the blacks in Milton with you??? "

During the Globe investigation Mullen was asked about the hate mail and responded that people have been known to perpetrate hate crime hoaxes. "People themselves did these things to get sympathy." Mr. Mullen went on to say that he wasn’t accusing the recipient of the hate mail of writing it herself. Of course that raises the question of why he said it.

Mr. Mullen’s response should have been an unqualified condemnation of the letter’s contents and whoever sent it. Instead, he raised the specter of a hate crime hoax. Certain extremist groups in this country have long exaggerated the phenomenon of such hoaxes. They often use it in their ideological wars to support their, er, antiquated views on race in America. For Mr. Mullen to resort to it in an attempt to distance himself from his role in the whole affair is at the very least an example of a deaf ear with respect to real hate in society.

Jokes about Jews and Blacks are no longer tolerated in decent society. But the true bigots are still among us, as the writer of the hate letter proves. They’ve been driven underground, often spewing their venom in anonymity. They must do so because society for some decades now has used one of its most powerful tools against intolerance and prejudice –social ostracism. Society now considers these views to be so dangerous that people of all political stripes treat those expressing them as social outcasts.

Occasionally they surface. Some event triggers a response. Someone in a position of authority says or does something which rightly or wrongly convinces them that they’ve found a kindred spirit. Emboldened, they act from the perceived safety of anonymity. I think this is what Rev. Arthur Wright meant when he urged Mullen and Shields, according to David Colton’s memo, "to take some responsibility for a response to the hate letter since the author had mentioned their names in it and since it followed the exchange they had initiated". And yet sadly, both men seem more concerned about carrying on their petty political antipathies.

Hatred and intolerance of people who are different from us is a devastating menace which, in its public and most dangerous form, we have been able to restrain like the proverbial Genie in a bottle. It is the responsibility of leaders to act decisively and unambiguously whenever they see a revival of this scourge. And when they do not, it is up to the rest of us to do so. Mr. Mullen and Mr. Shields should want to let the writer of the hate letter know that they do not support him 100%.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Phillip, hi!

This is my first time in your blog, and like you I'm totally dismayed by today's Globe article. Sadly, this is not the only issue that we face in town. Injustice and inequality are also present in our schools. Right now, the School Administration has proposed eliminating FLES in grades 1 & 2. More than four decades of research shows the multiple advantages of learning a foreign language early in life.

This town has made a commitment to foreign language learning through French Immersion and FLES. However, every year when faced with cuts, FLES is threatened affecting 60% of the children in MPS. It certainly feels discriminatory when only one program is always on the verge of elimination. I regret that the MPS administration, once again, divide our town between the FLES and French families.

I'll come to visit your blog often, thanks for your hard work!

Vanessa Calderon-Rosado
66 Rustlewood Road

11:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From Jeff Stone
Co-Chair of the Milton No Place for Hate Committee

Phil –
Thank you for writing about this matter. I’d like to say a few things to the community of Milton people who read your blog. Also, at the end of this post, I will copy a letter to the editor of the Milton Times, correcting inaccurate statements about the No Place for Hate program, which they refused to print. It is about James Mullen’s statements at the televised March 26 candidates’ forum. And I will also copy below it transcripts of the reporter’s question (ironically it was Nate Lescovic of the Milton Times) and of Mullen’s response which prompted my letter. I do not write this post with great relish but many things have been said that need replying to.

Contrary to what Mullen has been asserting since the September 2006 Board of Selectmen meeting, the Milton No Place for Hate program had - and has - no “conflict” with anyone in town, including James Mullen. The only “conflicts” may be those that others choose to inflict upon our group, or our members, for whatever their reasons (if anyone has theories on their reasons, by the way, please do post them here because we cannot figure out what beef they have with No Place for Hate).

Besides attacking Deborah Felton for a two-and-a-half year-old letter to the editor that was unrelated to the No Place for Hate program, Mullen seems to now be characterizing our mere act of correcting his accusations and inaccurate statements as unkind statements about him.

For the record, copied below is the actual letter that Deborah wrote in 2004 that seems to be the source of Mullen’s stream of negative comments about Milton No Place for Hate. This is what he had on his mind when we gave an update to the BOS in September and invited their participation in the Civic Engagement in Our Changing Milton project. It is what he immediately started to grill me and Deborah on afterwards.

I trust it will crystal-clear to readers that
1) Deborah wrote the letter from herself, not from No Place for Hate,
2) that she was criticizing a statement by an elected official about the public’s business, and
3) that she was clear and specific about her complaint, i.e. that the letter was supported with logical reasons, whether one agrees with them or not.

Basically this is a good letter, well within the range of suitable tone and reasoning for a citizen who strongly disagrees with a statement by a public official and is hardly a “hateful” statement as Mullen has suggested and hardly comparable to the real hate which No Place for Hate is a bulwark against, which includes racism, religious bigotry, homophobia, discrimination based on age, gender and ability.

As Theodore Roosevelt said, "Patriotism means to stand by your country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official." People may agree or disagree with James Mullen, but one thing is sure: he must be willing to accept criticism as an elected official for his official statements and performance. It goes with the job.

Mullen is extremely proud of his forthrightness. One has to wonder why he is so intolerant of the forthrightness of a town resident who thought he was wrong on a public issue and said so in a well-written letter to the editor.

Here’s her letter, which I retrieved from the Globe online archives:

Date: November 18, 2004 Page: 4 Section: Globe South
I was dismayed to read Milton Town Clerk and Selectman James G. Mullen Jr.'s quote ("Ballot woes spur call for education," Globe South, Nov. 11) regarding his implied lack of respect for the voter registration process. Mr. Mullen's response to an article on ballot confusion brought the following statement from him: "If you and I go to the football game, we register voters and then after (the game) we decide to get smashed, we leave those voter registration files at the bar, or throw them in the trash." I would expect that any event that Mr. Mullen would attend on official town business, whether as town clerk or selectman, would be undertaken and completed with the utmost respect and professionalism that we, as citizens, deserve.
It certainly seems that Mr. Mullen does not understand how seriously people take their right to vote. When a person registers to vote they expect that their voter registration will not be left at some bar. As an election-protection attorney for the Boston Bar Association's Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights in this past election, I witnessed the lengths that voters went to in order to exercise their right to vote. I would hope that Mr. Mullen affords everyone in the Town of Milton that opportunity to register to vote and shows a respect for the process no matter where that voter registration drive takes place. Finally, as adults we need to be role models for our children. His quote implies that getting smashed at a bar is the expected behavior after a football game. The quote certainly reflects poorly on the office of town clerk.
Town Meeting Member, Precinct 2

Mr. Mullen has also said recently in reference to No Place for Hate that, “You should be open and welcoming to all people of all persuasions and all political affiliations.” We absolutely are. We do not know why he implies we are not. Anyone got ideas about that? Please post them. All we would ask for a No Place for Hate Committee member, quite naturally, is that they support the mission of the group (summarized later in this post).

Below is a letter to the Milton Times that I sent after seeing Mullen’s reply to Nate Lescovic’s question, both of which are copied at the end of this post. My letter was rejected for publication. This is part of the reason I was given for the rejection: “Calling a person or organization "political" is not an insult. In fact one definition refers to political as the process of making decisions by groups.” I happen to think that Mullen, in this instance, was calling No Place for Hate “political” so as to discredit our group and invalidate anything we might say about anything. See what you think when you read the transcripts at the end.

The last thing I want to mention is the thing that most justifies the name Phil gave to this post: “A Sad Day for Milton.” This is an excerpt near the end of the April 6 Globe South article:

“Asked about the hate mail, he [Mullen] noted that sometimes people in the past who said they had been harassed had actually done it to themselves. ‘People themselves did these things to get sympathy,’ he said, adding that he is not accusing Felton of writing the letter herself.”

So, James Mullen, our incumbent Milton selectman, actually chose to bring up the idea to a reporter that Deborah might herself have written the vile, racist hate letter she received. Claiming or implying that someone lied and wrote herself a hate letter is called blaming the victim. This is also done sometimes, as we know, to rape victims. If anyone would like to posit a guess as to why James Mullen brought up this idea to the Globe reporter, please do post it.

I think I will stop here. As I said at the top, I do not write this with relish. It's 12:25am and I'd rather be sleeping. I'd rather not write about such unpleasant things. But some things need to be responded to and not ignored or tolerated.

Here is my letter that was rejected to the Milton Times. The exchange it refers to is beneath the letter.

To the Editor -

Selectman James Mullen called the Milton No Place for Hate program a "political organization" during a recent candidates’ debate and said that No Place for Hate has "taken some political stands." That is simply an inaccurate statement that misrepresents the all-volunteer No Place for Hate program. It is also a surprising statement because Mr. Mullen has had ample opportunities to learn exactly what the Milton No Place for Hate Committee cares about and is working on. He attended a major No Place for Hate event last October and we went to Selectmen's meetings twice last fall to inform them about our current activities and invite them to participate.

No Place for Hate has always been non-political and does not endorse candidates or take sides politically. We have an easy-to-understand mission of promoting respect and inclusion for all residents and helping the town react in a healthy way to hate incidents or overt prejudice that may occur from time to time. To accomplish this, we organize three or more activities a year that promote these values and we’ve collaborated successfully on multiple occasions with the schools, the police and other groups.

Milton has become much more racially and ethnically diverse in recent decades and we are proud that the town has met the requirements for five years in a row to be called a “No Place for Hate Community.” We believe this enhances the town’s image and helps make it a great community for everyone to reside in.

Currently we are in the midst of the Civic Engagement in Our Changing Milton project, begun last fall, which has stimulated the formation of several new task forces composed of diverse Milton residents. They include developing a new Enhanced Milton Website, a Welcome to Milton Program, Neighborhood Activities to Promote Interaction and a Youth Program. Additional residents are warmly invited to get involved and those who are interested can e-mail for information.

Jeff Stone
Co-Chair, Milton No Place for Hate

March 26 Milton candidate debate

Question to Jim Mullen by Milton Times reporter Nate Lescovic:
“Last fall, there was a little bit of conflict between members of the No Place for Hate Committee and the members of the Board of Selectmen and caused somewhat of a rift between different people in town and it developed into a little bit of an issue – I mean, how detrimental you felt that it had been to the town and if you feel that there needs to be more reconciliation between that, to patch up some of these issues?

Mullen’s response:
"I really don't. You know, I'm a lover and everyone loves a lover. And it was just a little difference of opinion. It's a political organization and they've taken some political stands and some of those stands were hurtful to some people and I think if you're portraying yourself as a non-hate group then you shouldn't be unkind to people. You should be open and welcoming to all people of all persuasions and all political affiliations. So, that's what we've always done here in the Town of Milton in my years of involvement."

12:29 AM  
Blogger Herbert said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:33 PM  
Blogger Herbert said...

Thank-you Phil for updating us on this very sad situation that will not resolve easily it seems. As Jeff has pointed out -it is very difficult to understand the source of the problem. I am upset that the selectmen have chosen to respond to the letter to Deborah with anything but outrage. Certainly what was written in the letter is outrageous and has no place in Milton or anywhere. Mullen said of No Place for Hate: "...they've taken some political stands and some of those stands were hurtful to some people and I think if you're portraying yourself as a non-hate group then you shouldn't be unkind to people."
I wish he would be more specific. What stands were taken and who was hurt?

Herb Voigt

5:36 PM  
Blogger Herbert said...

So you all know, the comment I removed at 5:33 PM today was removed because my identity was not properly revealed.
-Herb Voigt

1:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for stating this problem in a clear way. It is sad and discouraging to see elected officials behave this way. The abuse of power and way they have both handled themselves - in not just this situation - but others as well, is hard to understand.

As far as Jimmy Mullen - even suggesting or putting it out there that a victim of a hate crime would have sent it to themselves is borderline criminal. I think he is forgetting he is an elected official and his job is to make decisions for Milton and make Milton a community that is safe, respectful, and financially responsible. He has done none of those things.
It is sad, it's sad that he might be making decisions that affect all of us again.

9:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Fellow Milton Residents,

Like Bill Murray in the 1993 comedy film "Groundhog Day", I awaken during local election season and I am caught in the same story - being challenged in my campaign for Moderator by Diane Agostino. I can almost hear many of you uttering a collective "oh no, not again"!

But, yes it is true - just no Punxsutawney Phil in this cast.

Certainly it is Diane's right to run over and over again, but it doesn't make it easy for me or many of you. Campaign's take time, money and energy. It is not easy to keep asking for help. However this year there is a one BIG CHANGE - this term will be for THREE YEARS - not one! Hooray! You are guaranteed no one will be asking for your help in a Moderator's campaign during the next two election seasons. Who knows, maybe we can break Milton's own "Groundhog day" experience? Well a t least we'll have a two year break.

This year I still need and would much appreciate just a little help!

I know this year there are many contested races in Milton (nine) and many of you are stretched thin helping other efforts. I would humbly ask you to consider helping with one or more of the following. Please Consider:

1) Voting for my re-election on April 24th,
2) Forwarding this note via email to those Milton residents you can,
3) Holding a sign at the polls on Election Day for 30-90 minutes. (Signs will be at all the polling places),
4) Sending a modest donation to "Brian M Walsh for Moderator" 56 Pleasant Street.

If you would like a note with information about why I believe I have earned your support, just respond to this email and ask.

Thank You for your consideration for my campaign.

Warm Regards,

Brian M. Walsh, Moderator

Is this respectful of fellow candidate or insulting?


12:54 AM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

I don't see anything disrespectful in Brian Walsh's email.

In fact, it seems a stretch to suggest it is.

9:39 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home