A few weeks ago, Councilor Melinda Vega Maldonado and School Committee Chair Kelly Garcia organized a rally in appreciation for the Chelsea Police.
This week, they find themselves – as women of color coming from a Puerto Rican background – standing in solidarity and marching with the Black Lives Matter Movement condemning police brutality and violence against black communities.
Add that their significant others are both Chelsea Police officers, and it might seem a little awkward.
But both said the situations aren’t exclusive of each other, and while it’s walking a fine line, they find the journey is possible.
“One thing we want to highlight is the great qualities of Chelsea and the Chelsea Police Department, but not take away from the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Vega Maldonado. “This goes beyond Chelsea and is a systemic issue and racism is real and exists. As community leaders and elected officials, we walk that fine line because I am married to a police officer and Kelly is engaged to a police officer. Our partners are also in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. My husband has his own experiences growing up as a teen-ager in Camden, NJ with law enforcement and discrimination. One reason he became a police officer was to change the perception of police officers and change the system from within.”
Garcia said she wants to see reforms in Police Departments around the country, and things can always be better.
“We as four people – elected officials and police officers – we do stand in solidarity with our black and brown communities,” she said. “It’s the higher-ups that hold our bad officers accountable. When there is evidence and video and court evidence of ill treatment and they get away with it, that is what angers the community.”
Both said, as women of color, they see that the Chelsea Police has come a long way in being representative of the community, and building relationships with the community. In the discussion of police reform, they said that shouldn’t be lost as well. Chelsea ranks in the top three regularly as the most diverse police force in the state, and that has improved year over year with new hires – many of whom are from Chelsea. Community relations, they said, have been bolstered by the walking beats in the downtown meant to build relationships with business owners, young people and community members.
“It is about building relationships with community members,” said Garcia. “It is about having regular conversations and meeting people on the street. That’s a very important thing to highlight about our police department and why it can be a model for others – as it has been in the past around the country.”
Vega Maldonado, the daughter of Chelsea Collaborative director Gladys Vega, recalls watching her mother fight for better policing years ago, and also telling her about how Chelsea Police were not always friendly to the people. Vega Maldonado said she watched as the department improved.
“I’ve grown up and been able to see the growth in the police department,” she said.
In the next steps, as the City begins to consider changes to its policing strategies at the Council and in the School Department, both Garcia and Vega Maldonado said they feel a unique responsibility in seeing the world of the police, and also having the perspective of living as women of color.
“It’s our job as elected officials and people of color to make sure our voices are heard and residents of color have a seat at the table,” said Vega Maldonado.