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Sunday’s “Change for Miguel” rally to renew calls for police reform, investment in mental health after March police killing of Pittsfielder

Estrella’s Shooting Into The Depths Of A Mental Health Crisis On March 25e devastated Pittsfield’s tight-knit West Side community and has inspired calls on the city to change its approach to the police in the months that follow.

In April, the Estrella family, supported by supporters, led a “Justice for Miguel” demonstration that meandered around downtown Pittsfield before ending with remarks in Park Square. His mother Marisol, played by Anaelisa Jacobsen of the Manos Unidas Multicultural Educational Cooperative, made a plea for city leaders.

“The question is, what happened to Miguel on March 25th?” she asked. “I want an answer. He asked for help and got no help. I want an answer. He was a youth like, so many of our youth, who just asked for help. He was in crisis and instead he was confronted with violence. I’m one of many moms who went through this, and we’re not going to do this again. Justice for Miguel!”

Estrella’s sister Elina called on the city council to respond at the April 26 meeting.

“When will there be money for more reliable resources without the involvement of the police?” asked Estrella. “Residents should not be afraid to contact the police for help. So what will you as city councilors do to reassure us that a death sentence will not be the result of a 911 call?”

At the end of the month, An internal finding from the Pittsfield Police Department has acquitted the department’s nine-year veteran, Officer Nicholas Sondrini, of any wrongdoing when he shot and killed Estrella.

In August, District Attorney Andrea Harrington has released her office’s long-awaited report on the state police’s investigation into the murder.

“The third-party eyewitness accounts show that the officers issued numerous verbal warnings, created distance and called additional resources to resolve the incident in an effort to de-escalate,” the prosecutor said. “The Taser evidence shows that they tried to use less lethal force. . The video shows Mr Estrella’s movement towards the officers and the knife found at the scene poses a proportionate threat to the officers’ safety. “These elements are well established in law and the Berkshire District Attorney’s office will not pursue criminal charges against the officer. These are sad and tragic circumstances, but they are not criminal in nature.”

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With no legal means and little faith in the criminal justice system, organizers say Sunday’s rally will refocus the efforts of those calling for change.

“The coalition of organizations, ‘Change for Miguel’, is continuing after the initial conversations we had about ‘Justice for Miguel’ and trying to get our community into conversation about the six-month anniversary of his murder the day before what would have been 23rd anniversary has been to start a conversation about what our city needs,” said Meg Bossong of Invest in Pittsfield, one of the activists involved in Sunday’s event. “One of the things we’re advocating is that Pittsfield is adopting one of many successful peer support models for mental health crises that are completely separate from the police. So not a co-responder model. We understand that the city continues to have an interest in investing in co-responder models. But there are many successful models, both in the Commonwealth in places like Amherst or Northampton or Cambridge, as well as in Durham, North Carolina, Eugene, Oregon, urban models of peer mental health supp ort that are led by people who have experienced mental health problems themselves. that are completely unrelated to any response from law enforcement and better tapped into creating ongoing communities of care for people and better tapped into preventative means so that we can reach residents, we can reach our neighbors before they have a serious mental health crisis that puts them in danger to themselves or to other people.”

Following on from other activists and community members since March, Bossong says there has been a frustrating lack of dialogue between city leaders and community members most affected by the police.

“The dialogue seems to be emerging between aldermen and the college of mayor and aldermen and service providers and the police, not those in the community who have been talking about this for a long time, who are familiar with all models, who continue to present all successful models to the town of Pittsfield, and when we say, listen, there are many models for us to look at, even as close as our neighbors in the valley just over the mountain,” Bossong told WAMC. “So we need those officials to attend community-led, community-facilitated meetings, and to make real concrete, ongoing investments of the city’s money for mental health support, for youth jobs, for mentorship programs, for community-based prevention programs, for affordable housing. The city cannot continue to outsource this to contract or subsidized work by one organization.”

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Bossong credited Ward 1 City Councilor Kenny Warren for petitioning to create an alternative emergency services model for civic leaders — a concept that Pittsfield mayor Linda Tyer said in a WAMC interview in August that she theoretically supports.

“I think there is some value in what he is asking, and I would encourage the City Council to put together a proposal with more specificity so that we can provide funding to achieve the goal they are trying to achieve,” said Tyer. “So I’m open to the idea of ​​what they’re trying to do, but I need more specificity, and I’m open to funding if they can give me more details.”

In that same conversation, Tyer told WAMC that she recognizes the city’s role in responding to Estrella’s death.

“I still feel it was an extremely tragic moment in the lives of many people in this community, and Miguel’s friends and family are still heartbroken,” the mayor said. “And we as a community – Miguel represents people in our community who are struggling with a mental health crisis, with mental health issues. And it’s a complicated, it’s a complicated issue. We as a city, as a board, have a duty to be part of the solution. And that’s what we’re going for.”

The city’s treatment of Estrella’s death has been uneven at best. In the first city council meeting after the murder, the body never mentioned the incident, what council chairman Peter Marchetti told WAMC he regretted?.

“Yeah, we probably should have done something,” he said. “Again, you know, hindsight is 20/20. So yes, it could have been – I could have said it easily, and let’s keep the family in our thoughts and prayers.”

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In September, members of the city vilified police advisory and review board held a massive layoff about frustration that she could not see the internal police report on Estrella’s death. Former chairman Ellen Maxon acknowledged to WAMC that long-standing frustrations over the board’s lack of power contributed to the move.

“It’s something some of us have been thinking about for a while, and this last event was just the last straw,” she said.

Bossong says the message from Sunday’s rally is that the Pittsfield community cannot rely on official channels to make change.

“What we hope people take away is that right now we don’t have the structures we need, that Miguel’s death was completely preventable,” she told WAMC. “It was completely preventable in the moments before it happened, but it was really completely preventable in the hours and days and weeks and months and years before it happened. The better we understand that we need to make shifts in how we think about, say, mental health support, from managing people from crisis to crisis, to actually something that we can promote mental wellbeing and mental health rather than prevent mental health crises . That’s something we have to commit to. We must connect with the fact that the police steal our imagination about what is possible in our city. If we assume a place where only the police can respond to things, we forget that really all of us, our neighbors, ourselves, our families, we’re all busy taking care of each other and trying to keep each other healthy and safe and good and connected, and actually have a lot more expertise and a lot more practice to do that than law enforcement, and that we can draw on that wisdom to create structures that we need, and then resource those structures.”

The “Change for Miguel” rally kicks off at Noon on Sunday at Persip Park in downtown Pittsfield and continues through North Street to Park Square.

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