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The town's DIRE Committee addressed a hate letter left at the home of a Williams College employee.

Williamstown's DIRE Committee: Hate Letter Adds Fuel to Our Fire

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Mohammed Memfis conducts Monday's meeting of Williamstown's Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The chair of the town's Diversity Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee Monday had a simple message to the person who sent an anonymous, threatening letter to a member of the Williams College community.
"You're adding fuel to our fire," Mohammed Memfis said.
Memfis, a Williams student, took a few minutes at the start of DIRE's twice-monthly meeting to react to last month's announcement by college President Maud Mandel that an unnamed member of the college community received a letter at their home threatening them based on their race and sexual orientation.
Select Board Chair Jane Patton, who also serves on DIRE, last week condemned the letter, which is being investigated by college security and the Williamstown Police Department.
On Monday, Memfis said the letter shows that racism and hatred are not problems that happen "in other places" but real issues that impact the lives of Williamstown residents.
"We know that there is significant disagreement in Williamstown about who we are, about who we want to be," Memfis said. "No amount of disagreement warrants a threat to someone's life. And threats that reference skin color as a justification for harm are undeniably horrific.
"So whoever sent that letter, your actions are the reasons our committee exists. And you give us nothing but a desire to work harder, to work with more passion and to work toward a town that is inclusive, welcoming and hopeful for all.
"For those who thought that our town was different, that we are somehow an enclave from the prejudice woven into our nation's fabric, ask yourself now, 'Are we as immune to hate and tolerance as you were once so privileged to believe?' "
Memfis' colleagues on the committee joined him in expressing their disgust.
"One of the reasons that hateful voices are allowed to express themselves is because there is space in the community to do that," Andrew Art said. "I think, in this case, we need to close ranks to say as a community that this type of hate is not welcome here in Williamstown.
"It's more than just the job of the DIRE Committee to center the people who may be the most likely to be targeted in this way. It's really the job of the entire town to speak up against this type of hatred, especially the people who have the privilege to not be in the group that might be targeted in this way. Use your voice to say, 'This is not acceptable.'"
The DIRE Committee was formed by the Select Board in July after a series of meetings after the killing of George Floyd when residents called on the town to take action against institutional racism. In August, the town was rocked by a federal lawsuit that included allegations of racism and sexual misconduct in the Williamstown Police Department.
On Monday, the DIRE Committee took more concrete steps to help the town work through its efforts to repair the harm that has been done and strive for justice going forward.
Art and Aruna D'Souza volunteered to form a working group of the DIRE Committee to coordinate with the Select Board on creating a reporting mechanism town representatives can use to document incidents of "hate, exclusion, or intolerance," as mandated by the Not in Our County Pledge passed by acclamation at August's annual town meeting.
Kerri Nicoll and Drea Finley agreed to be the go-betweens for DIRE with the Select Board in its effort to find an outside facilitator to gather community input on the future of policing in town.
Jeffrey Johnson and Bilal Ansari will work with the Select Board members looking for a consultant to review the WPD policies and procedures for compliance with state and federal laws.
"I've already received outreach from [Select Board member Hugh Daley] about several of the options they're looking at," Ansari said. "Hugh has asked me to review them and give my feedback and comments. I want to give a shoutout to Hugh and thank him for thinking of us and being inclusive.
"Part of the challenge that Hugh and Anne O'Connor are having is most of the consultants out there are retired police officers and don't really get this kind of dialogical, community-based, grassroots, inclusive process. They're good used to coming in with all the answers and saying, 'This is what it's going to be.' That is a legitimate challenge."
Johnson noted that the DIRE Committee acknowledged at its outset that it would welcome input from members of the community as it conducted its business. He said the three working groups were examples of time when the panel might want to pull in outside experts from around town.
D'Souza agreed, noting that anyone who wants to help the three working groups organized on Monday should email

Tags: DIRE,   racism,   threats,   

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Williamstown Holiday Walk Weekend Returns Friday

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff

The Holiday Walk features a variety of activities, sales and raffles. 
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The 40th annual Holiday Walk is bigger than ever, with even more opportunities to ring in the season — in and out of Williamstown.
The three-day celebration gets underway on Friday and includes a jam–packed schedule Saturday that begins in the neighboring town of Hancock and ends in the city of North Adams.
"There's a ton going on in the region the next couple of weeks," Williamstown Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Susan Briggs said this week. "I was just on a call talking about that. Berkshire County likes to celebrate our holidays, and there are only a couple of weekends to do it.
"It's a busy time."
Falling each year just after Thanksgiving and before Williams College turns its attention to final exams, Holiday Walk is one of the signature events of the Williamstown Chamber.
And this year, organizers made a slight tweak to one of Holiday Walk's longest standing traditions: the Reindog Parade.
"The parade is an hour earlier," Briggs said. "Judging is at 1:30, and the parade will be at 2."
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