Mayor James J. Fiorentini visits a Lafayette Square youth center this afternoon to discuss race relations and meet at-risk teens and young adults working to improve their lives.
The mayor’s visit to Leaving the Streets Ministries is among a series of meetings, conversations and policy reviews he is undertaking in the wake of recent Black Lives Matter protests in Haverhill and across the county amid a new emphasis on race relations and policing sparked by high-profile instances of police brutality against black people. Jesus Ruiz, president and founder of Leaving the Streets Ministries, said he invited the mayor to meet with the organization’s youth. Ruiz, a former gang member who spent time in prison, explained his ministry is dedicated to helping at-risk youth avoid gangs and drugs and instead stay in school and find better avenues that lead to a brighter future.
The mayor said he wants to meet with more young people, minorities and people “who are not normally heard in city government to hear their input, their ideas and most importantly, hear about their interaction with the police.”
On Friday, the mayor said he issued for the first time in city history a proclamation and raised the Pan African flag at City Hall. It recognizes June 19 as Juneteenth Day to commemorate the day in 1865 that Union troops arrived in Texas to inform enslaved people that slavery was over, fulfilling the promise of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation two and half years earlier.
Fiorentini also took President Obama’s pledge to review police use-of-force policies and to engage all communities in that review prior to making changes.
As WHAV previously reported, Fiorentini told city councilors last week he is forming a Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion to develop more effective ways of recruiting minorities for the police and fire departments and in city government. The city will also begin an internal and outside examination of police policies.
“So that our work force and our boards more accurately reflect the city. I’m also going to be asking this task force on diversity to work with the police chief and I to take a look at the police practices we have now,” he said.
The mayor said the Haverhill Police Department has previously adopted many of the policy reforms and priorities being advocated nationwide, but that he is planning the internal and outside review of those policies to determine if they meet best national practices.
Jesus Ruiz, president and founder of Leaving the Streets Ministries, said he invited the mayor to meet with the organization’s youth because he wants them to learn about the mayor’s history and strong commitment to civil rights. Ruiz, a former gang member who spent time in prison, said explained his ministry is dedicated to helping at-risk youth avoid gangs and drugs and instead stay in school and find better avenues that lead to a brighter future.