Greg Christiana, cochair of the Envision Arlington Standing Committee and Precinct 15 Town Meeting member, writes the first in a series calling for dialogue around police reform and racial justice in Arlington. Contact those involved in this series at arlingtonma.voices at

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In October 2018, social-media posts began circulating about hate-filled, violence-inciting articles written by a member of the Arlington Police Department in a Massachusetts Police Association newsletter. The author, Lt. Rick Pedrini, ignited a firestorm of controversy, distrust and raw emotions that remain with us to this day.

The response from most Arlingtonians has been unequivocal condemnation. Yet, this near-consensus reaction has failed to translate into solidarity among the broad range of Arlingtonians outraged by the writings. We all bear some responsibility for that failure. Similarly, we share in the responsibility of building solidarity in the pursuit of sustainable progress and justice.

As if to prove that people naturally subdivide into factions, Arlington's progressive population subdivides roughly into a moderate pragmatic camp and a woke activist camp. (Moderate is a term relative to time and place, as few places in the U.S. today would consider these "moderates" in any way moderate.)


I'm squarely in the moderate Arlington crowd, both in temperament and ideology. We often see ourselves as a fulcrum amid extremes, keeping all things in balance, keeping the peace. So when the town manager announced the decision to apply restorative justice to Lt. Pedrini, however unconventional in the case of an active-duty police officer who hadn't committed a crime, employing a process that excluded the broadly affected community from direct participation, I went along.

When the town manager invited me to participate in that circle, I dutifully went along. When the town manager announced that Lt. Pedrini would keep his job, I was disappointed but still went along.

And that tendency to go along is a double-edged sword of the moderate temperament -- by prioritizing paths that avert risks, controversies and division, we can lose traction on the things most worth fighting for. Martin Luther King Jr. put it best when writing his letter from a Birmingham jail -- a reference that an activist acquaintance shared with me as a pointed nudge. King writes: "I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice ...."


In September 2019, the group Arlington Fights Racism (AFR) went public with a petition focused on demands stemming from the Pedrini debacle. This is the activist camp.

Many residents I speak to (not a representative sample) insist that the group is divisive and their efforts counterproductive. When I speak to members of the group, some of whom I've known through joint activism since before AFR existed, they say they've bent over backward to work within the system and persuade town leadership, and in return they've been dismissed and vilified.

Members of the group have done painstaking investigative work, which has brought to light relevant records that town leadership still needs to explain, but those efforts have been largely underappreciated. Regardless of the reasons for the perceived divisiveness or whether the charge is justified, the disconnect between those in the group and those critical of it is palpable -- and threatens to marginalize the group's considerable efforts.

Ibram X. Kendi, author of the best-selling antiracist primer How to Be an Antiracist, reflects on this point in his chapter about failure: "When people fail to consume our convoluted antiracist ideas, we blame their stupidity rather than our stupid lack of clarity. ... When we fail to gain support for a protest, we blame the fearful rather than our alienating presentation. When the protest fails, we blame racist power rather than our flawed protest. ... The failure doctrine avoids the mirror of self-blame. The failure doctrine begets failure. The failure doctrine begets racism."

These are glimpses into just two parties engaged in this debate, working against each other through competing action and inaction despite sharing a common goal: a community whose safety is ensured by its police department rather than feeling threatened by it.

If we're not uncomfortable in our outreach to those who can and should be allies in the pursuit of justice and progress, then we're not doing enough.

"Getting uncomfortable" and "showing courage" often conjure imagery of charging headlong into battle. But sometimes discomfort and courage need to take the form of humility -- a recognition that none of us has all the answers. A solidarity built from a diversity of views is stronger than a narrow solidarity. Our differences do not block the path -- our differences are the path.

This viewpoint was published Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020.

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