An advocacy group is calling for accountability for officials in Andover, Massachusetts, after an independent investigation found that an off-duty Andover fire lieutenant “was not racially motivated” when he confronted a Black woman for taking mail from her own house.
The advocacy group, Merrimack Valley Black and Brown Voices, released a statement Friday addressing the June 3 confrontation, which the 19-year-old woman recorded and which initially resulted in the fire official being placed on leave.
“We will not stand by and allow the Town of Andover to cover up this incident and the person who perpetuated this act of racial violence,” the group’s statement read.
Andover announced the results of the independent investigation earlier this week, adding that the incident was nevertheless eye-opening and that the Andover Fire Department would receive implicit bias training. The city will also work on a push for increased awareness of how racism manifests in the community.
The woman has told NBC10 Boston she wouldn’t have been followed if she had been white. The incident came amid a national reckoning over race sparked by the death of George Floyd in police custody and other cases.
The confrontation ended when the woman’s family emerged from the home, at which point the man said, “I was just trying to be a good citizen, I don’t know if you live here, I’m just making sure nobody’s stealing anything,” she recalled.
Town officials in Andover said at the time the fire lieutenant was on paid leave pending the investigation, while family members told NBC10 Boston it was an “unfortunate misunderstanding.” The town didn’t say Monday whether the fire official was being allowed to return to work or not.
But Andover did say the investigation was handled by an outside firm with a specialty in harassment and discrimination. That firm, unnamed by the city, interviewed people involved and concluded that there was no racial motivation for what happened, Town Manager Andrew Flanagan’s office said in a statement.
Flanagan acknowledged that some people may be concerned by the resolution of the investigation, but he said that he is “committed to improving the lives” of people who have gone through these kinds of situations in Andover, where he acknowledged “the reality that” residents “are the target of racism and are not afforded the most basic securities shared by their neighbors and fellow residents in living in Andover.”
Members of Andover Fire Rescue will take implicit bias training, which teaches people how they subconsciously react to race, and cultural sensitivity starting in October, following a recommendation from the investigators. Fire Chief Michael Mansfield said in a statement acknowledged his department “is not immune to implicit bias and I look forward to training in this area as it will be beneficial to our members.”
Flanagan’s office also said that Andover will work on a “community assessment on racism, equity, diversity and inclusion this fall,” following work with representatives for the woman who reported the incident in the first place.
The statement didn’t say whether the woman’s representatives had endorsed the town’s work.
The Merrimack Valley Black and Brown Voices statement, released Friday, noted the fire department’s implicit bias and sensitivity training but said the group was still “highly displeased with the outcome of this investigation” and aims to hold “local elected officials accountable to ensure justice is served.”
The group asked for support in that fight to prevent similar incidents from happening again in the Merrimack Valley.
“MVBBV will work to ensure the Black and Brown community that resides in Merrimack Valley do not have to feel unsafe and fearful of town officials whose job it is to create a safe, welcoming, and inclusive community,” the statement said.
Merrimack Valley Black and Brown Voices is an organization that aims to provide a safe space for Black, indigenous and people of color to work together and end systemic “prejudice and discrimination” in the area. It has organized a Black Lives Matter vigil, a Juneteenth event and an outdoor market for businesses owned by Black and Brown people.