No excuse for former chief’s remarks


To The Editor: 

At last week’s Chilmark select board meeting, the subject of resuming in-person meetings was raised, as was the question about whether to request that all in-person attendees be vaccinated. As of July 6, these meetings will resume in a hybrid fashion, allowing all who want to attend to do so in a means most comfortable to them. During the conversation, former Chilmark Police Chief Tim Rich debated with select board member Jim Malkin about whether his request about vaccinations “was a decree or a requirement.” Mr. Malkin qualified his remark, and commented that the town cannot require people to be vaccinated. In fact, the state Senate has convened the Senate Committee on Reimagining Massachusetts Post-Pandemic Resiliency to include regional matters specific to southeastern Massachusetts, which may indeed consider mandates about government spaces, like town halls where select board meetings are held. If you have an opinion about this, you can contact committee member State Senator

However, more troubling than that vaccine debate was the rationale that Mr. Rich used in comparison: “So can you ask someone if they’re on birth control if they came in a meeting, or if they have AIDS?” Rich asked Mr. Malkin. I was left wondering by Rich’s retort; why did he pick these two examples? He could have picked SARS or H1N1 or Ebola, more recent epidemics that most of us are old enough to recall.

Or, if he had actually studied past epidemics that affected Martha’s Vineyard, like smallpox or yellow fever, or malaria, written about last year in The MV Times, he might have relied on a more intelligent argument. But why pick reproductive services essential to women, or a communicable disease that has disproportionally affected the LGBTQ community and people of color, especially women? It is likely former Chilmark Police Chief Rich did not know these facts, but that does not excuse their ignorance, nor the blatancy of the sexism, racism, and homophobia they convey.

Commentary in MV Times online about Rich’s remarks included this, from Andrew Engelman: “He is not comparing, but simply asking if medical inquiry of people is appropriate. It is not. We don’t ask people about birth control or AIDS, and we shouldn’t about vaccinations. It’s no one’s business unless one wants a totalitarian state,” and this, from former West Tisbury select board member Richard Knable: “I think many of us know the enemy pretty well. As for myself, listening to or watching the ravings of disturbed right-wingers is not something I want to subject myself to any longer. My reservoir of outrage is pretty well drained after four years of Trump.”

And in these three comments I am left with three questions: 

  • Are sexist, racist, and homophobic comments and false equivalencies ever appropriate? (I contest that they are not.); 
  • Is requesting that people be vaccinated in public spaces an example of totalitarianism?

(Defined as government that exercises an extremely high degree of control over public and private life; I would suggest that given the authoritarian regimes this is most often applied to, that Chilmark is not one of them.); and

  • Is exhaustion and outrage over the past presidency reason enough to not speak up and speak out when ignorance and injustice continue to rear their ugly heads? (If we allow that to happen, then ignorance wins.)

We can at least be thankful that Mr. Rich is a former police chief, and that his perspective is a personal one. My fear is that he is not alone in his opinions, even on our very progressive Island.


Michael Bellissimo
West Tisbury