Select Board member Amy Ritterbusch said she is concerned about “the false rumor mill going around town,” especially how it relates to Saturday’s India Day controversy.
Ritterbusch was on hand for Saturday morning’s event at the Town Common, which was disrupted by a Hopkinton resident repeatedly driving his motorcycle around the common to create a disturbance — something for which the individual later apologized.
“The Hopkinton charter clearly states that we welcome all races, ethnicities, religions, abilities, gender identifications and sexual orientations,” Ritterbusch said during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s Select Board meeting. “I don’t think that’s how it felt at first on Saturday, and as a town we need to recognize that we can do better going forward.”
In a follow-up interview Wednesday morning, Ritterbusch said the excuse for the motorcyclist’s actions — that he thought “the American flag was to be lowered and replaced by the flag of another country” — raised a new set of concerns.
“Multiple people indicated that they ‘heard’ that the American flag would be removed on Saturday, but that was never in the plan,” Ritterbusch said, noting that submitted documents and correspondence from the event’s organizer indicated precisely the opposite, that the India Association of Greater Boston eagerly agreed to adhere to all rules and regulations. “And last week there was a false rumor going around town that Hopkinton was getting rid of our School Resource Officer, Phil Powers. The School Committee addressed this publicly at [its] meeting last week that there was no plan for this, and I also confirmed the same with [Town Manager] Norman Khumalo. It really bothers me that false rumors are being spread, and I don’t know if it is on purpose or accidental.”
Some people in town have come to the defense of the motorcyclist, saying the flag explanation is proof that the incident was not rooted in racism and chastising those who suggested otherwise.
Ritterbusch said she’s been avoiding using the term racism “because I think that’s a really charged word and it makes people shut down and not want to speak about it.”
“I’ve been trying to call it a biased-based incident, because I think that’s a little more neutral,” she said. “I think any reasonable person there at the event would have felt that it was somebody who was biased against Indian-Americans. And of course we can’t really know what someone’s thinking in their head, but that’s certainly how it felt.”
Select Board vice chair Irfan Nasrullah also brought up the incident during Tuesday’s meeting. While he commended the Hopkinton Police Department for de-escalating the situation and credited the motorcyclist for his apology, he expressed concern that “one of the issues was flying a foreign flag.”
“There is a difference between being proud of being an American and being proud of your own cultural heritage,” he said. “I am very proud of my Pakistani heritage, and I’m very proud of my American citizenship and my nationality. Every one of us in this community has foreign roots. We all came here, we’re proud of our foreign roots, we’re proud of who we are and we’re proud of our country. That’s what makes America great.”