Cuddy: Why SMOC sued in Framingham Sunday, October 28, 2007
James T. Cuddy Metrowest Daily News
In light of coverage in the Metrowest Daily News this past week about the federal civil rights lawsuit filed by SMOC against the Town of Framingham and others, you no doubt are asking yourself or your neighbors the question "Why did SMOC sue?"

The answer is very simple.  We concluded that we had no choice.  The cost of doing nothing to protect the rights of the vulnerable, disabled population we serve simply became too high.  We concluded that to do nothing, to continue to put up with what we believe has been outright discriminatory behavior and hostility towards those amongst us who are least able to protect themselves, would be to fail in our mission to help those in need and reintegrate them into the community.

Our repeated efforts to educate, to talk and even to warn had gone nowhere.  Pointed reminders from our legal counsel and the town's own legal counsel about the requirements of the law were ignored.  As a result, we concluded, very reluctantly, that we needed to do what others before us have done in order to protect the rights of other disadvantaged groups of people to vote, to be educated in equal schools and to have equal access to facilities - seek the intervention of our federal court.

To support our claims, we have set out, in a 99-page complaint with 92 exhibits attached, the actions and words of the people we have sued so that they can speak for themselves.  I urge you to read the document before you make any judgment about what SMOC's lawsuit is or is not about.  And let's be very clear about what SMOC's lawsuit is and is not about.  Despite what you may have read in these pages, the lawsuit is not an effort to intimidate anyone or stop them from expressing their opinion.  Indeed, such characterizations are worthy of George Orwell under the circumstances present here.

For the past two years our workers and those we serve have been on the receiving end of what SMOC's complaint alleges has been a campaign of intimidation designed to keep us and our clients from enjoying basic rights secured by law for all citizens in the community, both able-bodied and disabled.  It has been suggested that rather than enjoying those basic freedoms, SMOC personnel be tarred and feathered, that a brick should be thrown through our window, and that the "dregs of society" and "human waste" who we serve should not be housed, let alone welcomed, in the Framingham community.

Please be honest with yourselves.  Who is intimidating whom?  And while you are at it, please ask yourselves how it is intimidating for SMOC simply to exercise its right to ask a judge and a jury to make a decision about the legality of what has occurred and is occurring in Framingham as all aggrieved persons in our society have the right to do.

Given the well-organized resources which have been and remain arrayed against us, given what we are up against from the people who actually have the power of their offices to wield against us, and given the level of outright hatred which has been exhibited towards us, we fully recognize what we are up against.  But the difficulties with which we are faced are the precise reasons that Congress enacted the Fair Housing Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act, the federal Rehabilitation Act and the federal Civil Rights Act; the very laws which our lawsuit says have been broken.  There is a reason these laws exist.  And that reason, most unfortunately, can be found in what has occurred in Framingham in the past two years.

SMOC exists to combat poverty, to educate, to provide services and to help the vulnerable.  We have been working in communities in Greater Boston since the 1960s.  We are open to dialogue with anyone who respects our mission and desires to create an environment in Framingham where it can be fulfilled.  We prefer to be service providers, not litigants.  But we are prepared to see our lawsuit through to the end if necessary.  We have no choice.

James T. Cuddy is executive director of South Middlesex Opportunity Council.  

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