Back the blue rally held in Shrewsbury Town Common

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People gather at the intersection of Main and Grafton streets in Shrewsbury. (Photo/Laura Hayes)

SHREWSBURY – People gathered in the Shrewsbury Town Common this past Sunday for a rally to support police.

Jeffrey Sossa-Paquette — a Shrewsbury resident running for Congress in the 2nd Massachusetts district — was one of the organizers, following a poem read at Shrewsbury High School during a Black history event.

“The purpose for today is to come out and support the police, but what I really wanted was for parents to come out and demonstrate to their children who their heroes are,” Sossa-Paquette told the Community Advocate.

Sossa-Paquette spoke at a Feb. 16 School Committee meeting, saying that the aforementioned poem portrayed police officers as “predators and murderers of Black children and parents.”

“Do we think it’s appropriate that her 16-year-old daughter would be taught that her mother is a predator or murderer? What are we teaching in our schools?” said Sossa-Paquette, who was accompanied by a retired State Police sergeant.

Black history should be celebrated, he said.

“But when we cross the line and indoctrinate our children and teach our children that police are murderers — what is going on here? I cannot believe this is happening in Shrewsbury,” Sossa-Paquette continued.

Superintendent Joseph Sawyer, who attended the event at SHS where the poem was read, clarified that there was a Black history committee that created a “student-led” presentation at the high school. The presentation is an annual assembly, which marked its 21st year this
year.

The students, Sawyer said, did a “wonderful job” performing musical performances and dances and presenting awards for a student writing contest regarding Black history and art.

“It’s something obviously that is concerning any time if someone perceives that the school has created something they find troubling,” Sawyer said. “As always, we are open to a dialogue with our parent community in order to make sure that we understand what peoples’ perceptions are and that we can respond regarding what is happening.”

The poem, which was written and performed by a SHS student, discussed the murder
of George Floyd. Sawyer said he understood the poem as being focused on Derek Chauvin, who has since been convicted for Floyd’s murder.

Sawyer said there had been “some complaints” lodged with the school from parents who were concerned that their children, particularly those connected with law enforcement, “felt that the poem unfairly, with a broad brush, painted police officers in a bad light.”

“In retrospect, in thinking about and listening to it, I could see how some might come to that conclusion, and that’s something obviously I doubt that was the intent of the student,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer said district policy gives students the “right” to study controversial issues in the district.

School Committee member Jason Palitsch thanked Sawyer and the district staff, noting that they heard things that were “specious” and “not true.”

“What we just saw was a rare, ugly, public outburst,” Palitsch said. “Unfortunately, I know that a lot of our staff have been subject to that sort of verbal abuse in recent times. It is a very charged time in our culture and society.”

He continued, “While it doesn’t always happen on camera and doesn’t always get attention, we have a lot of people working for us, who are on the receiving end of disrespectful garbage like that.”

Palitsch thanked everyone “who tries to do the right thing and sometimes has to deal with things like that in the course of their day-to-day business.”

In a statement before the Back the Blue rally, Shrewsbury Police Department Chief Kevin Anderson said he was aware of the poem and its content.

“Our officers work hard every day to connect with our community, and strengthen relationships between law enforcement and our citizens, and encourage mutual respect and understanding amongst us all,” Anderson wrote, in part.

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