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Town Meeting in Worcester, MA

Neil Sherring

On St. Patrick’s Day, Sunday, March 17, 2002, at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Worcester, the Indian American Forum for Political Education (“IAFPE”) and the India Society of Worcester (“ISW”) presented a Town Meeting. Due to the September 11th tragedy and the resulting impact it has on our community, the Town Meeting focused on discrimination, racial profiling, hate crimes and the response of state and local government to these issues. Attorney Neil K. Sherring, IAFPE Executive Board member and former Massachusetts Assistant District Attorney and Assistant Attorney General, moderated the event. The event took place in the Crown Plaza auditorium and was well attended.

The Town Meeting began with a welcome by event coordinator and IAFPE President, Dr. Sahdev Passey. Dr. Passey called for a moment of silence in recognition of those who have suffered from the tragedies in Gujarat, India, and September 11th. In the St. Patrick’s Day spirit, Dr. Passey recognized the many contributions of Irish Americans including President Kennedy and how Irish Americans were at one time victims of racial prejudice.

The panel discussions were then divided into two segments. The first segment, entitled “Response of State and Local Government in Relation to Issues of Discrimination, Racial Profiling and Empowerment of Minorities” included the following distinguished panel members: State Representative Karyn E. Polito, District Director for Congressman James McGovern, Gladys Rodriguez Parker, Worcester City Manager, Paul LaCava, and Worcester City Councilman Juan Gomez. Representative Polito began by discussing the Governor's Task Force and the rights of all citizens. Representative Polito represents the towns of Shrewsbury and Westboro and she serves on the education, energy, housing and urban development and house science and technology committees. Next, Worcester City Manager Paul LaCava described the services that go to all of the Worcester neighborhoods that he oversees. Worcester City Councilman, Juan A. Gomez, who talked about his role as a member of the Standing Committees on Ethnic & Minority Affairs, Health, Housing & Neighborhood Revitalization, and Youth, Parks & Recreation, followed him. Councilor Gomez believes that opening up the government process to residents and working to improve neighborhoods, particularly those that are economically depressed, are issues of high priority. The final speaker of the first segment was District Director for Congressman James McGovern, Ms. Gladys Rodriguez Parker. Ms. Rodriguez Parker spoke about the diversity of Worcester and the importance of government recognizing this diversity. She discussed the interaction between the Massachusetts Commission on Discrimination (MCAD) the Office of the Attorney General and other relevant governmental agencies and bodies.

The first segment was concluded with a vibrant question and answer period moderated by Attorney Sherring. The second segment, entitled “Discrimination, Hate Crimes and Sexual Harassment,” began with a superb power point, multimedia presentation by Maria Hickey Jacobson, Chief of the Central Massachusetts Division of the Office of Attorney General Tom Reilly. Assistant Attorney General Hickey Jacobson discussed the difference between state and federal civil rights laws, the roles of law enforcement and governmental agencies and explained the difference between a criminal action and a civil action. In particular, Assistant Attorney General Hickey Jacobson talked about the Office of Attorney General's powers under the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act (MCRA). Next, Worcester Police Chief James Gallagher spoke about his commitment to working with all members of the Worcester community. Chief Gallagher emphasized the importance in ensuring properly trained officers that are sensitive to the South Asian community and pledged his commitment to the same. The Chief explained his department's role and interaction with other state agencies. The final speaker of the last segment was Fran Manocchio, Chair of the City Manger's Community Task Force on Bias and Hate Crimes. The City Manager's Community Task Force on Bias and hate Crimes, formed in 2000, is a partnership of concerned citizens, including representatives from the City of Worcester’s Office of Human Rights, Police Department, Public Schools, and representatives from many agencies, community and faith-based groups, committed to fostering a community of justice, where acts of prejudice and hate will not be tolerated. Ms. Manocchio urged member in attendance to volunteer to serve on the Task Force. The second segment concluded with additional questions and answers to the panel along with comments from those in attendance.

The event was closed with a vote of thanks administered by Mr. Pradeep Sharma, President of the India Society of Worcester.

(Attorney Neil K. Sherring is an IAFPE Executive Board member. He was the former Assistant Attorney General for Massachusetts. Currently he is a litigation partner at the law firm of Dakoyannis, Curtin & Sherring, LLC. )

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