Racial incident in Groveland

A still image taken from a video shows the white driver who confronted a Black woman motorist driving through his neighborhood in Groveland, Massachusetts.

GROVELAND, Mass. – This unpretentious Massachusetts town joined the national concern over racism this week when a white man resident told a young Black woman resident she made him feel unsafe driving through his neighborhood.

Police Chief Jeffrey Gillen said he was “deeply disturbed” by the Monday incident, which he described as unrepresentative of the 98 percent white community of 6,800 people 35 miles north of Boston.

Following a two-day investigation, Gillen said Thursday he will summon the white resident to a court clerk-magistrate show cause hearing to determine if criminal complaints for disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace should be issued.

The police action results from a video posted by Julia Santos, 21, on her Facebook page of the confrontation with resident Paul Birkhauser after she drove though his Juniper Terrace neighborhood to pick up a bag of free dog food for her pet Pomeranian-Beagle mix from a resident who posted the offer online.

Santos, a lifelong resident of Groveland, said Birkhauser followed her in his BMW convertible as she was driving home with the dog food and her dog, Anthena, causing her to pull over and park on a side street.

The video shows Birkhauser pulling up and stopping beside her car, asking what she was doing in the neighborhood. Santos explains the dog food errand, and that she pulled over because “quite frankly, I don’t feel safe right now.”

Birkhauser responds, “I don’t feel safe with you driving around my neighborhood.”

Santos then asks if that’s because she’s Black, and Birkhauser said no, adding he didn’t know “what color” she was. “What color are you?” he asked.

After telling him she is Black, Birkhauser replies: “That’s good, you’re Black. Congratulations. Yeah, I have nothing wrong with that.”

Santos asks, “Then why are you following me?”

Birkhauser replies, “I told you, because you were up our street, that’s why. And I don’t believe you.”

Moments later, a nearby resident approaches the scene and tells Birkhauser to stop bothering Santos. He promptly departs.

The Santos video went internet viral, leading to the police investigation. It determined Birkhauser had “disturbed neighbors during the incident” and also caused a motorist to drive off a roadway to avoid his car parked in a driving lane “while he was allegedly engaged in a verbal altercation with the woman he followed.”

The chairman of the Groveland Board of Selectmen, the town’s governing body, joined the town finance director in a statement expressing outrage at Birkhauser’s conduct.

The statement said: “Anyone should be able to drive or walk on any street without being made to feel like a criminal … the true story of what Groveland represents will not be the actions of one person but of the many who came together to support the victim in this case.

Details for this story were provided by the Newburyport, Mass., Daily News.

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