Controversial video has Northampton taking sides

Iconically progressive Northampton, Massachusetts is reeling after an incident early Sunday morning in which city police made a provocative arrest outside of Tully O’Reilly’s, a downtown sports bar. As area residents are quickly choosing a side in the controversy, I thought it best to take a moment to reflect.

A five-minute video of the arrest was posted to youtube by an onlooker, who very clearly identifies herself as an attorney. The video, which shows a black man being maced and arrested for no easily identifiable reason, has been viewed nearly 65,000 times since its posting on Monday and has spurred hundreds of comments.

The footage is shaky, dark and difficult to decipher, but one thing is clear: it has struck a nerve.

The police were reportedly called to the scene to assist with the removal of Modesto Melendez, 22, of Holyoke—not the subject featured in the video. The individual arrested in the video-gone-viral was identified by the Gazette as Jonas Correia, 26, of Amherst. As shown in the footage, Correia was recording the police with his smartphone when instructed to stop by a member of the Tully’s staff.  Chief Russell Sienkiewicz offered a brief statement in which he defends Correia’s arrest. He claims that in the moments before the anonymous onlooker began recording, Correia had taken a “fighting stance” toward the staff person, at which point the officers intervened.

I feel as though this is an appropriate time to provide you all with a personal disclaimer. Firstly, my boyfriend of three years is mixed-race and has been overtly mistreated by the Tully’s staff, who are notoriously hostile, for his African-American descent. Secondly, I spent last winter going through the Citizen Police Academy with the Northampton Police Department and completed the course with a sense of confidence in the department’s good intentions.

While these life experiences perhaps taint my objectivity in this matter, I find it important to bring public attention to the Tully’s staff and their role in escalating the situation. After reading the comments posted to the video, I get the growing sense that many viewers are confusing the actions of the police with the actions of the Tully’s staff. And the confusion is completely valid. They are at least as vocal as the officers at the scene, if not more. Let us, please, question their authority. Why does one Tully’s staff member appear to follow Correia as he is walking away from the bar? Since when are city sidewalks mentioned in a doorman’s job description? Would you not take a “fighting stance” with someone who was following and shouting at you?

It is difficult to know what truly happened in the early hours of Sunday morning, but police officers are trained to react quickly and stop violence, regardless of who the instigator is. That very training is what sets them apart from the men wearing ‘staff’ t-shirts—a distinction that appears to be lacking from the ‘uniformed’ rapport.