Human Rights Commission Meeting Once Again Is Disrupted

The Revere Human Rights Commission (HRC) held its regular monthly meeting last Thursday evening, April 7, in the City Council Chamber.

Chairperson Janine Grillo Marra and fellow commissioners Lynn Alexis, Fire Chief Chris Bright, Police Chief David Callahan, Rachid Moukhabir, Kourou Pich, vice-chair Chai Hossani, Rev. Timothy Bogertman, Kathi-Anne Reinstein, and Dr. Lourenco Garcia were in attendance, as well as the HRC’s Executive Director, Dr. Maritsa Barros, EdD, who is the city’s recently-appointed Chief Officer of Talent and Culture.

Marra began the meeting by displaying the commission’s guidelines for participation by members of the public, which is limited to the open discussion section at the end of the meeting. She warned that interruptions during the meeting would not be tolerated. Marra also focused on the section of the Open Meeting Law that requires anyone videotaping the proceedings to obtain permission beforehand.

A female member of the audience was seen to be walking throughout the meeting in the front of the audience gallery and recording the proceedings, but it was unclear whether she had complied with the section of the statute cited by Marra.

Others in attendance, who were off-camera (the Journal’s reporter was not in attendance at the meeting), could be heard in an apparent attempt to heckle Marra by means of loud and derisive laughter during her initial comments. After a few minutes they quieted down and the meeting went forward, but similar interruptions continued throughout the meeting despite numerous admonitions from Marra.

At another point in the meeting, an audience member held up a home-made sign that read, “Abolish Human Rights Commission,” in such a way as to block from the TV camera the face of a commission member who was speaking. That action required Marra to admonish the sign-holder to lower her sign.

Midway through the meeting, some of the audience members who did not quiet down appeared to have been escorted out of the chamber by a police officer. Finally, at the end of the meeting, the disruptions from some audience members became so obtrusive that the commission members voted to adjourn the meeting without having reached all of the items on its agenda.

This marked the third successive meeting of the HRC in which vocal audience members have disrupted the commission’s proceedings, forcing the commission to adjourn abruptly. It should be noted that there also were audience members who held signs supporting the commission.

The meeting began with the regular “Land Acknowledgment,” in which Marra presented a map of the southern New England area indicating the various Indigenous peoples who occupied the land prior to the arrival of European settlers. The Pawtucket tribe lived on the land of present-day Revere.

Marra then guided the room through the “Arrive & Settle” portion of the meeting, which essentially is a group meditative session. Marra mentioned the war in Ukraine as she led the commission through the session.

The commissioners then read in unison the HRC’s Mission Statement, which is as follows:

“The Mission of the Revere Human Rights Commission is to promote human and civil rights and empower all people of Revere by ensuring that everyone, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized, have equitable opportunities, equal access, and are treated with dignity, respect, fairness, and justice.”

For the first piece of business for the evening, Marra noted that the previous meeting in March had not officially been adjourned because it had been terminated after being disrupted by audience members. The commission then voted to formally adjourn the March meeting.

Barron, who was on hand to present the Director’s Report and Updates, began her presentation by inviting those present to “get to a place where we feel relatable — and how we can get Revere to be an inclusive city and to become a leading city and a model of what we can do together.”

Barros’s report was as follows:

Barron stated that the city has undertaken the “21-day Racial Equity Challenge.”  She informed the commission that 45 people within the community had registered, as well as another 55 persons within the public schools. She said the challenge will be divided into three parts: foundational concepts, revelations and reckoning, and inspiration and motivation. Garcia, Reinstein, Pich, and Chief Bright were among the commission members who expressed their support for the 21 Day Challenge.

Barros informed the commissioners that the city’s Racial Equity Municipal Action Plan (REMAP) will take place in the month of June.

Revere resident Asmara Abou-Fouda made a presentation to the commission about the upcoming Muslim holiday of Ramadan.

“This is a time for us to get closer to God,” she said, noting that the celebration also includes periods of fasting.

Abou-Fouda invited members of the Revere community to partake of a Ramadan festival on April 29 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Senior Center. Interested residents can make a reservation by calling  617-545-4458.

Moukhabir expressed his thanks to Mayor Brian Arigo and the city for their support of the Muslim community with the display of a banner acknowledging the observance of Ramadan at City Hall.

Barros then wished a happy Easter to those in the Revere community who observe that holiday. Rev. Bogertman and Alexis then offered their views about the meaning of Easter. Hossain noted that Passover is being observed in the coming weeks.

After Barros concluded her report, the commission took up the other items on its agenda.

The first topic for discussion was, “Solidarity with the Cambodian Community.”

Marra said that there still is a “lot of harm and the need for healing” within the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in the city.

Commissioner Pich discussed the discrimination that still exists in the city that is directed at the AAPI community and to which she herself has been subjected.

Pics noted that the Cambodian New Year will take place on April 14-16 and she invited all Revere residents to the celebration that will held at the local Cambodian Buddhist Temple on Thornton St.

“There will be lots of food,” Pich mentioned.

“This always is a wonderful event,” noted Chief Bright.

The commission also took up the matter of Pride Month, which will be observed in June. Marra noted that the month-long celebration honors the LGBTQ+ community and there will be a flag-raising at City Hall. Marra asked for suggestions from her fellow commissioners about how further to observe the month.

Reinstein spoke in support of the LGBTQ+ community and offered her support for any events that might be forthcoming.

Barros suggested that the Progress Pride flag should be the particular flag to be raised. She also expressed the need for education about LGBTQ+ issues among the community at-large.

Some commissioners also expressed their gratitude to City Councillor Steve Morabito for his efforts on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community.

Marra announced that Juneteenth will be observed in the city and that City Hall will be closed for the holiday. Garcia spoke about the significance of the holiday, which occurs this year on Sunday, June 19, and will be observed on Monday, June 20, to mark the freeing of slaves in Texas, the last state where that occurred in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War on June 19, 1865.

“It is an important holiday. We need to acknowledge that the issues in the aftermath of slavery still exist in our society today,” he said.

At that point, members of the audience continued to disrupt the proceedings loudly, forcing a Revere police officer to step forward to attempt to bring order.

The committee still had a remaining agenda item, “HRC structure and ongoing work,” but the commission hastily voted to table the item until the next meeting.

The commission then voted to adjourn amidst a cacophony from members of the audience who were shouting at the commission members.

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