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We can change for the better

  • Bill Taylor Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Published: 7/14/2020 10:43:45 AM

Let me preface this viewpoint by saying that I am writing here to express my own individual concerns and hopes as a lifelong resident of this town who happens to be a Selectman. I do not speak for the Board, the Town Administration, the Police Department, or for Black Lives Matter, even though I support all of them in this mission. Please take this viewpoint at face value and don’t take it upon yourself to interpret this in any other way than the words I write. There are no hidden meanings here, and please don’t judge these words for what isn’t included – there is only so much space. When we look for hidden meanings and twist things to suit our own agendas things get ugly, and they have. Take everyone at face value and respect that they have a right to feel the way they do.

We are in the most emotional and serious crisis this town has ever faced. We need to take a step back, take a breath, and remember what we actually are working for and decide on what the most effective path is to get us to where we want to be. We want social and racial justice, we want every single person to feel comfortable and welcome as they walk down our streets. We want people to come and visit, and we want people to come live in and love this wonderful place as we all do. We want to feel safe and secure, and protected. We want to feel heard and respected, but most of all we want to see change so that we are all included and not divided.

One thing Peterborough has always done is to be at the forefront of new initiatives. This town is truly a special place and it is incumbent on us all to keep it that way.

In recent weeks, the movement for racial justice and equality has leapt to the forefront, and with good reason. How can that be anything but good? The issue that has arisen is that the lines have become blurred between what we all want to see and how we get there. The Black Lives Matter movement in our area has been painted with a national brush. In some eyes, it has been associated with the looting and burning of cities, and that is just not fair. Here, the vast majority of what I have seen in terms of roadside rallies and marches have been some of the most moving and impactful movements I have ever witnessed. I didn’t know that I would ever be so affected in such positive way, nor did I understand that I might have some responsibility in where we are or how we got here. I personally know so many of the people that are active with the movement and honestly, it has been eye opening for me. I often wonder what I could do to help, and at the same time consider that I might be part of the problem. Some of the most wonderful people dedicated to loving this town are becoming discouraged with how things are progressing, and we all desperately need to figure out why, and fix it.

At the forefront of this movement are police. And just as the BLM movement has at times been painted unfairly with a national brush, so have our Peterborough police. I think if you ask around town, the vast majority of our citizens will tell you that they have the utmost respect for our own police force, myself included. In absolutely no way does that mean that anyone thinks that there isn’t room for growth, change, and advancement of initiatives to have them become an even more open and fair department.

Our own Chief Guinard has been incredibly open to change and growth. He has dedicated his entire life to this town. He has built a department that is comprised of officers that grew up here, many more of them live here and call Peterborough home. Some of them are raising their own families here and love this town as we all do. I’ll be the first to admit that because I know so many of them my view of the individual officers and Chief Guinard may be a little biased. But when I take a step back and look at how they handle themselves, it only justifies that bias.

If you look around at the surrounding towns and at their departments, you’ll find that many local chiefs got their start under Chief Guinard in Peterborough. That speaks volumes. They are not the enemy of this movement, they are part of the solution. They are humans who are affected by this, and it is important we remember that. We also need to remember that they have dedicated their lives for the safety of us all, putting our lives ahead of their own.

The only way forward is to come together. Put down our swords and really think about what it is that we want. We want everyone to be treated fairly and equally. We want people of color to feel safe, included, and welcome. Let’s call it like it is – we want them to feel what it’s like to walk down the street as a white person. We can start that here, and with any luck it can spread. Right now some of our most cherished residents of color are uncomfortable, dejected, unheard and dismissed. That is not what Peterborough is about, and I just hope that those people will remain engaged to help us understand why, so we can fix it. One thing that we all need to understand is that this is not a fight, this should not be an “us against them,” it is a movement for positive change and we are all responsible to make it happen. We all want the same thing, and Chief Guinard and the entire Peterborough Police Department are included in that. What has been getting lost in all of this is that if we don’t realize that we all want the same thing and start working together instead of against each other, nothing good will come of it.

Some of us are demanding a change in the way our community is policed, with increased training and a more open process, a more inclusive process, and a process in which everyone feels at home and safe and welcome. What’s getting lost is that without the help and support of our police, it can’t happen. We have to do it together as one team, we need them. Anti-police sentiment is real, and we should be cognizant of that. Nobody has any right to tell anyone how they feel as they walk down the street.

Humans are humans, all capable of stumbling, feeling rejected and demonized, but also capable of rising up and joining together. We don’t have any other choice.

Let’s just ask ourselves this: Are we just looking for a fight and for someone to blame for all the unrest? Or are we actually looking to make Our Town a better place for everyone? I think we can all agree that it’s the second question. Where we are having trouble is figuring out how to get there. It’s such an emotional time for all of us. It’s hard. Every last one of us needs to look inside of ourselves and find a way to be better. No one is the moral authority who can stand in judgment of anyone else. When someone feels attacked or demeaned they either fight or disengage. Neither are an option at this moment. I have been unfairly painted in both directions, by people who have no idea who I am and I will be totally honest, it cut me deep and I wanted to give up. I’m not giving up, I love this town so much that I will stay engaged until we are all in a better place, but I need everyone’s help. No one can decide how anyone else should feel. There are no experts in this, there are only people looking for a better way.

Everyone can move forward, listen and learn, and be better. Every last one of us is uncomfortable right now and nobody wants to feel that way. We don’t want that for this town and it is the responsibility of every single one of us to make it right.

Bill Taylor lives in Peterborough and is a member of the Select Board.


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