Wellesley Freedom Team launched to address racism, bias incidents

Just because the Wellesley Police Department doesn’t get many calls regarding racial or bias incidents doesn’t of course mean such experiences aren’t happening in town. Wellesley’s new Freedom Team has been launched to address incidents of hate and bias in a way that people might be more comfortable reporting them. The program is open to residents, visitors, employees, and employers in town.

The group encourages those who experience threats, harassment, or violence related to race, color, sex, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, national origin, religion, disability, or class to call its hotline at (339) 216-0124 or send email to WellesleyFreedomTeam@gmail.com (9-1-1 should be called for emergencies). When a message is left on the hotline or via email, individuals should expect a response within 12 hours. Phone, online, or in-person meetings will be offered to assist the reporting party.

Wellesley’s Freedom Team is modeled after those from other communities, including Natick, and will partner with those more established groups. Natick’s was formed in 2016.

According to an announcement issued by the town, the Freedom Team “was established in response to reports from residents who experienced incidents of racism and bias that are not defined as hate crimes, and therefore, cannot be addressed under the law. The Freedom Team aims to provide a confidential and respectful space to air concerns and to help develop actionable next steps to resolve situations for victims.”

Those getting the program off the ground, including Police Chief Jack Pilecki, Town Executive Director Meghan Jop, and Assistant Executive Director Amy Frigulietti, reached out to a cross-section of the community to get suggestions for who might be willing to join the Freedom Team (members listed below). Pilecki acknowledges that those reporting incidents might be more comfortable speaking to someone they feel they can relate more to than say, himself.

“We’ve got to address these issues, and if we don’t find out about them, we can’t fix them,” he said.

While Wellesley’s team is only starting, Pilecki was able to cite a recent situation in Natick that that town’s Freedom Team was able to address. A supermarket customer in Natick allegedly made derogatory racial statements to a Black woman’s kids while they were in another aisle, and the kids told her about this after they got in their car. She got out of the car and spoke to the store manager, who was caught off-guard. Rumors circulated in town that a store employee was the one making the derogatory remarks, which wasn’t the case, and word of the incident made its way to the police department, which identified the man who reportedly made the remarks. The Freedom Team reached out to the woman, listened to her concerns (including possibly encountering this man again), and wound up following up with the store, which was cooperative and agreed to offer related training to employees while also securing a no trespass order against the instigator. “As much of a happy ending as you can have after what happened,” Pilecki said.

Coincidentally, a violent incident took place last week at a Wellesley supermarket, where a Black store employee was struck by a white customer, who also threatened the employee with an extendable baton and racial remarks. The police wound up taking the alleged attacker into custody, and among other things, charged him with assault and battery to intimidate through race. The store employee said he was fine and turned down assistance, but the Freedom Team might reach out to a witness and the supermarket, to see how its staff is doing, and offer any help.

Pilecki sees people becoming more aware of their biases, but says he also believes there is a long way to go.

Wellesley has undertaken numerous diversity, equity & inclusion-related initiatives in recent years, including a new civil discourse program, to make the community welcoming to all. The Freedom Team is still working through how it will make the community aware of its resources, but expect to see everything from a website to posters to sponsored events in the weeks and months to come.

Freedom Team members:

Julie Blazar, Director of Communications and Outreach for OUTMetroWest; Amy Frigulietti, Wellesley Assistant Executive Director; Ally Jin, Resident and Treasurer/Director of Wellesley Chinese American Language School;Meghan Jop, Wellesley Executive Director; Elaine Mittell, Resident, Social Work Consultant, and Member of World of Wellesley (WOW) Anti-racism Activism Committee; Tendai Musikavanhu, Resident; Lise Olney, Resident and Select Board Vice Chair; Chief Jack Pilecki, Wellesley Police; Haihong Li, Resident, Principal of Wellesley Chinese American Language School, and Founder of Garden of Harmony; Shengili Li, Resident, Founder of Wellesley Chinese American Network (WECAN), and member of the New England Chinese American Alliance; Rabbi Rachel Saphire -Temple Beth Elohim; Dr. Donna Stoddard, Resident, Interim Associate Dean of Faculty, and Associate Professor and Chair of the Operations and Information Management Division at Babson College; Dr. Allan Wyatt, Psy.D., Chief Psychologist at Human Relations Service (HRS).