As the nation continues to fight racial inequality, so too does Haverhill, which has created a group to focus on diversity issues in the city.
Two months after the murder of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd by police officers in that city, Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini has acknowledged that closer to home, racism is indeed a crisis.
"It's apparent to me that there are racial outcomes in public health," Fiorentini said at a recent City Council meeting. "When you look at the disparate outcomes between Blacks and whites (and) Latinos and whites, in public health, it really is astounding.
"Blacks have a four-year lower life expectancy than whites,'' he said. "Where you're born has a tremendous outcome on how long you're going to live. The chances of dying in childbirth are so much greater if it's a Black woman (giving birth) than a white woman. Imagine, in America you can still die during childbirth in 2020."
Toward that end, Fiorentini has appointed a committee to delve into issues of diversity and inclusion in Haverhill.
The committee is headed by the Rev. Kenneth Young, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church. Joining him are Haverhill residents Nomsa Ncube, Lynda Brown, the Rev. Mark Rivera, Noemi Custodia-Lora, Roxana Patroni, Gina Faustin, Kalister Green-Byrd and police Chief Alan DeNaro. Jesus Ruiz from Leaving the Streets Ministries and Katrina Everett from the POSE (Power of Self Education) organization are also participating, along with Kathy Rurak and Ismael Matias from the Latino Coalition of Haverhill, Fiorentini said.
The group's first major task is to review the Police Department's use-of-force policy and deliver a report to Fiorentini and the City Council no later than Labor Day.
According to police spokesman Capt. Stephen Doherty, Haverhill's use-of-force policy includes strategies that come from police reform research that is embraced nationally. That research shows a much lower number of police-related killings in communities where police use the strategies, compared to communities that do not.
Haverhill officers cannot use choke holds or strangleholds or shoot at moving vehicles, Doherty said. Officers must issue a verbal warning before firing their guns, he said. Each use-of-force incident must be documented and the report reviewed at multiple levels to ensure the "proper and just amount of force was utilized," Doherty said.
"I think it's a great (police use-of-force) policy but I want their input," Fiorentini said of members of his committee on diversity and inclusion.
As people in Haverhill had their own protests last month, echoing calls nationally for an end to racism and police brutality, the mayor met with leaders of the local Black community and began taking steps toward change in the city.
Fiorentini has promised to annually review the Police Department's use-of-force policy and audit other department procedures. The full use-of-force policy is available for public review at haverhillpolice.com.
The mayor has also pledged to diversify city government and local boards and groups. He made an effort to do so at the July 14 City Council meeting when naming Dan Speers and Ron Peacetree to the Haverhill Historical Commission in an effort to get more Native American representation on the board.
"Whether people are at City Hall or dealing with the police force, we need to make sure the city looks like them," the mayor said of ensuring racial diversity is created not only in the Police Department but on city boards and groups.