Brookline Residents Express Support Of Black Officers Alleging Racism

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Brookline Officer Prentice Pilot, speaking at  Tuesday night's meeting, claims a commanding officer directed a racial epithet toward him. (Simon Rios/WBUR)
Brookline Officer Prentice Pilot, speaking at Tuesday night's meeting, claims a commanding officer directed a racial epithet toward him. (Simon Rios/WBUR)

Many Brookline residents are publicly expressing anger about allegations of racism in the town's police department.

Residents packed a Board of Selectmen meeting Tuesday night to address complaints from two black officers.

The two police officers refuse to work right now, because they say the police force environment is unsafe for them.

Officer Estifanos Zerai-Misgun says it's unfair that he's being considered AWOL and is not receiving pay. He says there’s a double standard.

"Two white firefighters were arrested and they were put on paid administrative leave until it was fully investigated,” he said, referring to a recent case in Brookline. “Two black officers who did nothing wrong are demanded to come back to work. It is not a safe environment there, and you can't assure us it is until [our claims are] fully investigated."

According to a letter by the two officers submitted to the Board of Selectmen, Zerai-Misgun went up the chain of command after a superior officer said to him: “Who would put a black man" in an unmarked police cruiser?

Zerai-Misgun says his confidentiality was breached after reporting his complaints and that he’s since been ostracized.

The other policeman, Prentice Pilot, a 17-year veteran of the force, claims a commanding officer directed a racial epithet toward him. According to the letter, he was told: Pull up to the curb and "do some n----- jumping jacks and I’ll put in a good word for you.”

The letter says the commanding officer who said that "has six relatives and dozens of friends on the Brookline Police Department, as well as other repeated incidents of racism, [thus] Officer Pilot and Officer Zerai-Misgun are concerned for their safety."

Like Zerai-Misgun, Pilot is not appearing for duty. He says he asked to be put on sick leave but is unsure of his current work status.

Pilot told those gathered for the meeting at Town Hall the issue should concern all of Brookline.

"This is not a problem about Officer Zerai and I,” he said. “This is a problem for us. So I don't have faith in the investigatory processes of the police department."

A spokesman for the Brookline Police Department did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday night. But Board of Selectmen Chairman Neil Wishinsky says the officers' allegations are under investigation.

"Chief [Daniel] O'Leary has provided me with assurances of their safety and both officers have been informed by him that should they encounter any future discriminatory or retaliatory conduct at work, prompt action will be taken," Wishinsky said. “I am confident in Chief O'Leary's commitment. I've known him for a long time."

Wishinsky told the two black officers he's grateful for their work, and that he hopes they will soon be back on the job.

On Dec. 23, O’Leary issued a statement on the department’s blog saying the town’s discrimination rules triggered an independent investigation of the officers’ claims.

“These allegations, though disturbing, will be dealt with and should not take away from the outstanding work the Department and our Members do on a daily basis,” the statement said.

The claims of racism have taken some Brookline residents by surprise.

Bob Miller is a middle school teacher in town.

"For years I've heard talk about racism in Brookline, and perhaps it's my unsought white privilege, perhaps it's my desire not to believe that was true, for whatever reason, though, this has not been an issue that is front and center for me," Miller said at the meeting.

He says he worries Brookline’s failure to confront its racism could destroy the town he loves.

Other residents say discrimination is commonplace in Brookline.

"I don't know what type of liberal town you profess to have," said flower shop owner Leslie Epps, who claims she's the only African-American business owner in town.

"My 19 years of being here in Brookline, I've experienced such racism — refined racism — that I equate to being civilly raped," she said. "I've had police target me, my son, I have filed complaints. Sent them certified, return receipt, electronic receipts and these complaints have disappeared," she said.

Despite her bleak view of Brookline's issues with race, Epps vows to stay and fight for justice “by any means necessary.”

This segment aired on January 6, 2016.

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Simón Rios Reporter
Simón Rios is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.



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