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Braley Road community seeks fairness through courts

    Residents of Braley Road in East Freetown recently filed suit against the town of Freetown in federal district court.  The suit seeks justice for a long succession of discriminatory actions against the Cape Verdean community on Braley Road -- the only community of color in Freetown -- each of which has seriously decreased property values and impinged upon the quality of life for people who have lived there for decades, and whose ancestors built the community a century ago.

     The citizens of Braley Road simply seek to stay in their neighborhood, to raise their children where they and their parents were raised, and to be afforded the same respect that is given to every other Freetown community.

     Unfortunately, the blatantly inequitable tactics of the town have forced the citizens of Braley Road to seek help from the forum of last result: federal court.

     The town of Freetown has long been under scrutiny by various federal and state agencies for its actions on Braley Road, including investigations by the Department of Justice, the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.  Despite reports that the "United States Government found no evidence of environmental racism" in the context of Braley Road, the Department of Justice has made no such finding.

     The letter sent to the town of Freetown from the Department of Justice stated only that it had chosen not to pursue its investigation into the discriminatory zoning practices on Braley Road, but made no determination concerning whether the town's zoning practices violated any laws.

     The DOJ's investigation and its letter were limited to the context of zoning -- numerous other issues are at the fore on Braley Road and the letter left the door wide open for the citizens to defend their community in court.

     The residents' complaint in federal court alleges that the town of Freetown has repeatedly singled out the Cape Verdean neighborhood for undesirable industrial projects, has failed to update a water system so deficient that some residents cannot flush their toilets or take showers and has retaliated against members of the community for their outspoken opposition to the town's policies.

     All the while, town officials engineered the zoning laws so that members of the town government and their relatives could profit from the industrialization of the neighborhood; the current zoning laws throw the doors wide open, without any municipal regulations, to industrial development.  The neighborhood is the only one in Freetown that has had these sorts of problems thrust upon it.

     Were it not for the attention of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, both of which have thwarted illegal industrial development approved by the town, conditions would be much worse.  The town continues today in its drive to reconfigure Braley Road.  The Planning Board recently heard and is poised to approve a proposal for an industrial park at 66 Braley Road.  Currently, a concrete plant operates there despite the fact that the landowner, a former member of the Freetown Conservation Commission, has yet to restore wetlands as ordered by the EPA nearly a year ago.

     Long-promised bylaws for the concrete plant are yet undrafted; instead, the town saw fit to enact regulations governing a tattoo parlor.  Furthermore, the few fixes proposed for the water pressure are only initiated when demanded by a business interest -- the rejected TJX warehouse and current Braley Woods Estates, for example -- and insofar as they've been installed, they have fallen far short of ameliorating the unacceptable situation.  The lawsuit filed by the residents of Braley Road is the direct result of the town's failure to treat all of its citizens equally.

     No one should have to sit by while the residential character of their neighborhood is destroyed.

     Most of us take for granted the basic benefits of which the Braley Road residents are deprived: an adequate water system and zoning laws that allow for growth while recognizing the neighborhood's actual nature.

     The folks on Braley Road, however, have learned the hard way that they cannot count on the town to treat them like it treats its other residents.  We should all stand behind these residents as they fight for what is, and should always be, theirs: their neighborhood.

Submitted by the Rev. Curtis Dias of Freetown on behalf of the Concerned Citizens of

Published in the July 8, 2003 edition of The Standard-Times.

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