The Natick Select Board, which some on social media criticized this past week for not being more vocal in its condemnation of a veteran unfurling a Confederate flag at the town’s Memorial Day observation, made clear in no uncertain terms its feelings about that disrespectful act during its June 9 meeting.
The Board did indeed open its meeting last week with words from Natick Veterans Service Director Paul Carew, who was distraught over the incident and vowed not to let something like that happen again. Board Chair Karen Adelman-Foster preceded and followed that with comments about the “inappropriate and hurtful incident,” which she said showed that despite efforts of so many in town to make Natick a welcoming community, there remains work to be done.
Other Board members didn’t speak to the incident at the time, as there was not a chance to post an item on the issue to the Select Board’s formal agenda and discuss it as a group. They took the opportunity on Wednesday, June 9, after interviews with a couple of Town Administrator candidates, to issue a formal statement about the Memorial Day incident, and share their feelings about it. Bringing the topic back to the Select Board meeting was designed to ensure that “no one is feeling that there is any ambiguity.”
The statement approved by the Board reads:
“The Natick Select Board unequivocally condemns the unfurling of a Confederate flag by a member of the audience at the town’s 2021 Memorial Day ceremonies on the Natick Common. The Board joins the many individuals and organizations in Natick striving for a community free from threats of discrimination, fear, and hatred, all of which are evoked by symbols, actions, and words associated with systemic and institutional racism. The Natick Select Board is committed to building and sustaining a community that is equitable, inclusive, and welcoming of all people.”
Paul Joseph kicked off subsequent discussion, raising challenges public officials face in addressing issues—and accusations—via social media. Some of the reaction angered and disappointed him, he said.
“I don’t want to go too deeply into my opinions of forums such as Facebook, other than to say it is not subject to open meeting law, it is not a place where official bodies can take official actions or provide official responses,” Joseph said, acknowledging the public’s hunger for “realtime reaction.” Having said that, he apologized if his silence on the issue at last week’s Select Board meeting was perceived as in any way being complicit or endorsing the harmful action taken at the Memorial Day event, and pointed to the Select Board’s formal statement this week as being something he and the whole board support.
Addressing the challenges of speaking out against every act of hate vs. putting resources into fighting systemic racism, Joseph said: “I don’t expect every time some idiot with a symbol of hate stands up that we have to make a declaration about it. I hope, based on the fact there are signatures on a Natick is United statement, there have been declarations in the past, we participate in training on these subjects, and we are engaged in the community with equal access to every citizen in this community to send us an email and reach out to us as a unified body or as individuals. Please take the time to do so.”
You can listen to what the rest of the Board had to say in the recording below starting at about the 1-hour, 50-minute mark.