A question for our community

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Photos of the Black Lives Matter protest were taken by Erica Jae, a Rochester photographer.

On Saturday, a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest involving thousands in downtown Rochester was followed by violence and looting by a much smaller group of individuals. What happened here mirrored events in dozens of communities nationwide since the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis.

A half-century ago, often-violent unrest divided many U.S. communities beset with racial inequality, Rochester among them. Now as before, our community—and each of us as individuals—must decide how to respond.

We asked Rochester Beacon readers to share their thoughts on this question.

Leonard Brock, who recently completed five years as executive director of the Rochester Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative, responded: “We should declare and demand immediate action.” Among his suggested demands: reversal of convictions for every person sentenced to life in prison for drug-related, non-violent, offenses; reparations for years of slavery and oppression; and the right “to protect yourselves and your families, without fear of prosecution or retaliation.”

Jaime Saunders, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Rochester, believes “we have to capitalize on this moment, and together we must take action. One person or organization cannot do this alone.”  

She also wrote: “Dismantling racism won’t happen easily. It will take a commitment from our entire community to become anti-racist—identifying, calling out and breaking down the very foundations of racism.”

Ajamu Kitwana, vice president/director of community impact at ESL Federal Credit Union and a member of RMAPI’s executive committee, thinks this is the time to make change happen.

“The compounding negative effects of racism over the past centuries have resulted in inequities for Black communities that are deeply ingrained in our systems and institutions, nationally and throughout Greater Rochester,” he wrote. “If we want to bring about visible, positive change that builds equity for all in our community, then the time is now.”

Jean Ott, who lives in Webster and attends church in the city, believes police need to be held accountable for their actions.

“We need to de-fund the police or at least have them give up the military gear and pledge to not purchase any more,” she wrote. “Showing up in riot gear just inflames people. If you are there to serve and protect your citizens then stop acting like we are the enemy when we are having peaceful protests.”

Don Pryor, principal, human services analysis, with CGR, wrote: “We have long been aware, even if we sought to avoid coming to grips with the reality, of the glaring disparities on so many levels between racial and ethnic groups, and between economic and geographic subsets of our community. The pandemic and events of the past few days have made it impossible to avoid addressing these disparities and their implications any longer.”

The following are all signed written responses of survey participants. Many additional unsigned responses were submitted. As a matter of policy, the Beacon usually does not post unsigned survey responses or comments. We are including them below to provide the widest range of viewpoints on this topic:

The events of the last week once again bring horrific and recurring injustices to every screen in every household. This time, more people are talking about and reacting to these realities. They are listening and understanding others’ important and heartbreaking perspectives. We have to capitalize on this moment, and together we must take action. One person or organization cannot do this alone. I am acutely aware of my white privilege and feel we all must take responsibility for our role, either passive or active, in structural and systemic racism. Dismantling racism won’t happen easily. It will take a commitment from our entire community to become anti-racist—identifying, calling out and breaking down the very foundations of racism. This is the only way our community can truly thrive. We can and must do better. 

—Jaime Saunders, President & CEO of United Way of Greater Rochester 

We should declare and demand immediate action. Here are a few suggestions for consideration: DEMAND better equipped schools with appropriate (cultural, social and “economical”) curricula. DEMAND the immediate reversal of every person behind bars with a life sentence for drug-related, non-violent, offenses. DEMAND every police officer who killed a person without “just cause” a trial for similar related offenses, since they can’t be retried for the same CRIME. There’s precedence of this, as evidenced by R-Kelly. DEMAND and call for amendments to the Constitution—or the addition of articles to protect the rights of all citizens. The 13th Amendment does not protect black and brown people. DEMAND the creation of a “nation” —so causes of black people can be brought before the United Nations; and then demand a seat at the United Nations. DEMAND the equitable hiring of black and brown people by corporations that receive public tax dollars, tax credits or tax incentives. DEMAND mental health services for all poor communities in America. DEMAND reparations for years of slavery and oppression. DEMAND the right to own your narrative in the media; sue every media source that produces a false narrative that’s not mired with accurate data and facts. DEMAND the right to protect yourselves and your families, without fear of prosecution or retaliation.

—Dr. Leonard M. Brock 

How we respond in the face of tragedy is telling for who we are as a community. Let this be the moment where we all make change a reality. The fact is that racism and the inequities it creates kill. Be it violently such as with the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and David McAtee, or deviously such as the COVID-19 coronavirus disproportionately killing thousands in the Black community. The compounding negative effects of racism over the past centuries have resulted in inequities for Black communities that are deeply ingrained in our systems and institutions, nationally and throughout Greater Rochester. If we want to bring about visible, positive change that builds equity for all in our community, then the time is now. As a community, our institutions must take a stand and make a pledge to enact change, and following the words must be action. Collective, community-wide, visible action to put an end to these inequities is required if we are to bring about the change that is so sorely needed. The peaceful Black Lives Matter protests in Rochester have been the wake-up call. We at ESL support the mission of Black Lives Matter and are ready to put in the necessary work to bring about positive change in our community. We must, and we will, hold ourselves accountable to be an agent of change as an active member of our community. We will work as an ally and advocate to those people and organizations fighting to realize equity and equality. We commit to embed equity into all our work—from providing equitable access throughout the community to vital financial products and services that contribute to building wealth, to our internal culture, to our investments in community impact initiatives—it must be done in a way that builds equity for every resident in our community. Individually—we cannot force one another what or how to feel. It is normal to feel a spectrum of emotions in reaction to such injustice and tragedy. The key is not to bury those emotions but to channel them into inspiration and motivation. To speak up, speak out, and drive action in a way that weeds out racism and builds up equity. As a black man, I am appreciating recent individual and public gestures of support and acknowledgment. While racism and anti-black violence feel somewhat like old and persistent news to me, I typically expect to suffer in silence. Silence that resonates like a roar of complacency, even complicity. Take the time to see and hear and be there for the black people in our community and all others that are willing to struggle with the reality laid bare by recent events – rather than escape to the comfort of avoidance. Becoming an equitable community will be a long, challenging road and it must take a community-wide effort if it is to be realized. As we venture on this mission, we must be sure to celebrate our successes along the way and not be demoralized by setbacks. Together, this must be our collective mission, and now must be the time to put in the work. 

—Ajamu Kitwana

I grew up in Rochester. When I moved back here 3 years ago, after 20 years away, I spent some time researching the cause of the segregation and racial injustice here. Indeed we carry a badge of shame—masked institutional and bureaucratic segregation—which is still hiding and working behind the scenes. Things like property deed rules, and the Inner Loop construction, were borne wholly out of this insidious practice. Reversing this through attempted change has been slow, costly, and ineffective. Were I to pick one single area to change, it is obvious that a forced merger to a single Monroe County school district is the most promising solution, but even after implementation, it will take at least a generation to undo most of the harm that has been done to the people of our city. Why forced? It has been shown time and again that the Greater Rochester suburbs cannot possibly elect such a resolution in place voluntarily, due to their existing bias and fear. Suburban voting is not an option in this case, and such a resolution must be made by our already elected leaders. The structure of this school district would look very different than it does in the 21 separate districts that we have today. It would roll up accountability to one Monroe County superintendent, and board of education. It would involve a rework of the city/village/county tax codes and allocations. It would have a single budget, pooled from the taxes of all Monroe County citizens. It would involve busing programs for planned racial and economic reintegration of students beginning from kindergarten. Teachers would be assigned to different schools to increase diversity in the learning programs. Transportation, meals, daycare, sports, and other extracurricular activities would be fair and open to an equal student population. It would require significant effort and struggle to enact this desperately needed solution, but in 20 years, we would see miracles.

—Max Irwin 

We need to de-fund the police or at least have them give up the military gear and pledge to not purchase any more. Showing up in riot gear just inflames people. If you are there to serve and protect your citizens then stop acting like we are the enemy when we are having peaceful protests. We need to give the Police Accountability Board a way to actually hold police accountable for their actions. I believe that right now that ability has been removed from the new board. If we reduce the funding for the police then that funding should go to Black-led organizations in the city working with our youth, working for better housing, working for better employment opportunities, etc.

—Jean Ott; live in Webster, attend church in the city 

We need to reduce police brutality in all its forms and act in numerous ways to improve police-community relationships, in both directions. This will not be easy, but it must and can happen if we are willing as a community to tone down the rhetoric, communicate honestly, listen carefully to all parties, and find areas of common ground to build on. But this is only one important part of the conversation we must begin to have with ourselves and each other. We have long been aware, even if we sought to avoid coming to grips with the reality, of the glaring disparities on so many levels between racial and ethnic groups, and between economic and geographic subsets of our community. The pandemic and events of the past few days have made it impossible to avoid addressing these disparities and their implications any longer. We need to break down the silos that have for too long divided us into sectors with little contact with each other: By race, city and suburban, low-income and people with higher income levels and assets, employed and unemployed, those who can work from home and those who cannot, those with and without adequate health insurance coverage and access to a good education and adequate health care and food. The list goes on. I, and other white people of privilege like me, must be willing to confront racism and to listen to others whose experiences I can only begin to comprehend. And then seek advice from those as to how I can be an ally in correcting these long-standing problems and taking appropriate actions. We must, together, as individuals and as the institutions that we represent, create from the current crisis opportunities to break down barriers and racist systems, and reimagine our community. 

—Don Pryor 

We must all take responsibility for making a change. First, we need to become politically active and VOTE in our elections and let our legislators now that we will not stand for this continued pattern of institutional racism. Second, we need to find anti-racist organizations that we can support and join. Third, we need to DO SOMETHING. If you aren’t comfortable yet going into the community start at home by having discussions with your family members on social justice, equality, and institutional racism. Like anything else our family members look to us and our actions to make their decisions. We all need to show up and be the very best version of ourselves. Our society needs us to stand up and fight for what is right.

—Dr. Donna Marie Cozine, chief educational officer, Renaissance Academy Charter School of the Arts

We need to respond in multiple ways. It has been extremely valuable for me to get to know individuals of color personally, as friends, and sometimes by serving as a source of assistance—that may eventually become a friendship. I have learned much and become aware of significant ways to lend a hand through time spent with diverse people of color: neighbors, co-workers, people from my religious organization who have needed a hand, and a man whom friends connected my husband and me with to help with garden work who has become a very close friend. From these relationships I have learned tons about our legal, prison and law enforcement systems and their unequal treatment of people of color. I have also become (aware) of challenges I never experienced with employment, establishing a sound financial record, raising a child as a single parent with an abusive ex-husband, and more. From these experiences and our resulting activities I recommend any of these actions to make a difference in people’s lives: • Show up at their events—holiday caroling in their neighborhood, their parties and celebrations, etc. • Invite them to your gatherings – small and large. • Provide transportation to medical appointments, for food shopping, and more. • Serve as an advocate if needed—go to their appointments with medical providers, social services, etc. if they would like that assistance. • Serve as a lending source and/or use your credit card for a major expense if they have not been able to access traditional banking resources, and have shown through small loans initially that they are reliable. • Support young people of color who show promise: assist with their education expenses, help with their campaigns if they run for office, and in other ways help them mature into strong leaders. On the community level, we are fortunate to have numerous local organizations working on racial justice, providing outstanding opportunities for training and more. Groups like United Christian Leadership Ministries, the Gandhi Institute, SURJ, National Coalition Building Institute, Action for a Better Community, St. Josephs’ Neighborhood Center, RocACTS, Enough is Enough, Black Lives Matter, IBERO American Action League, Urban League and others welcome training program participants, volunteers, and funders. Finally, read relevant material regularly to keep racial justice in the forefront, and share your thoughts and action ideas related to racial justice with elected officials, others in positions of power, and friends.

—Jane Ellen Bleeg 

It is too easy for me, a white, suburban retiree, to sit in my comfortable chair and pass judgment on the various “players” involved in the activities surrounding the May 25 death of George Floyd. But, judgment is neither useful nor advised. We live in an essentially good, wholesome community. Our citizens—regardless of color, sexual preference, culture or religion—want a decent living, justice and freedom from fear. Two thoughts come to mind. Rochester has literally hundreds of community not-for-profit human service organizations and several neighborhood associations that pour their hearts and souls into assisting those in need, many of them running under the radar. Leaders should tap into these organizations. Find the ideas, the social programs, the interconnections that occupy their time and energy. Out of these we may find new ways and new energy to keep our community healthy. A word about our law enforcement officers. These men and women are, on the whole, sincere, hard-working and dedicated officers. Every day they face an ever-increasing challenge to their authority. And, let’s face it, they are human and subject to moods and attitudes that can interfere with good policing. Leaders need to (in a positive way) re-enforce the policies and practices that establish community trust while carrying out their duties. I remember former Sheriff Patrick O’Flynn saying that he told every police graduating class to find friends who were not in law enforcement; that it would give them a wider perspective of the community and serve them well. I believe the calm, sane voices of passionate leaders like Sheriff Todd Baxter, County Executive Adam Bello and Chamber of Commerce President Bob Duffy can be effective in our response to the violence we might experience this summer. 

—Frederick J. Iekel, former airport manager and resident of town of Greece 

We need to address the structural racism in all of our institutions and organizations with action, not just words. Stop focusing on racism as a problem of individuals, but rather a construct of how our community has historically been organized. We need to bring many more people into the conversations; we tend to hear from the “usual suspects” too often and do not bring the lived experience of regular citizens into the problem-solving discussions. They are the “experts” who can tell us in real terms how structural and institutional racism has adversely impacted our community. This can’t be about charitable good works, this has to be about community culture changes. 

—Ann Howard 

Well-meaning white people keep asking: What can I do? First, get educated. Read about the history of racism in this country (see Ibram X. Kendi) and find out about redlining, restrictive covenants and the deliberate creation of ghettos. Second, join with other white people who are showing us how to grapple with our own and systemic racism. Stand Up for Racial Justice is a national organization with a local chapter which is active in doing trainings and taking actions. Join us. Third, there needs to be a Police Accountability Board, and a revision of policy training and tactics throughout the country. Ninety-nine percent of police who kill black people get away with it because they supposedly acted properly. Let’s look at all policies on any level that oppress people and change them. Finally, vote the demagogue in the White House out of office.

—Anais Salibian 

Given Susan B. Anthony & Frederick Douglass, our city has an obligation to acknowledge inequity, be brave enough to get the statistics visible, create a new dashboard and get to work. I have seen positive momentum on some Facebook groups that are incredibly generous in their outreach, (and) there are artists in our city responding with images of hope and renewal. We need to do a better job getting positive stories into the media pipeline as we make progress on the dashboard we hold ourselves accountable to. In the rigor, 

—Jennifer Sertl 

Rochester is one of the most segregated cities in NY. I don’t know how we undo years of entrenched racism. Education seems to be the answer, but it’s a facile answer. And it seems to contain the idea that if only “those people” were “better,” then all would be well. The larger question is how to get white people who hold the power, actual or perceived, to make changes. I think that’s happening slowly with the younger generation. As for last week’s events—more public discussions about racism, a citizens review board of police, stricter gun laws for everyone, which might help shift policing from its current militaristic approach back to “protect and serve.” 

—Stacey Freed 

Create and prioritize a list of structural change (that) is required to break down systemic racism. To be on the list recommendations must require legislative or communitywide action to be accomplished. Example: Eliminate all restrictive zoning, preventing diversity of housing choice in suburban communities 

—Recommended by Stuart J. Mitchell 

As a South African woman I advocate for a similar platform to the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” that was set up and implemented at the conclusion of Apartheid in South Africa in 1994. The commission brought perpetrators and victims of racial violence together to listen to each other and to own their behavior choices. Only once both sides were heard and validated could the country move forward with the healing process. I think this mirrors what we attempt with our own children when we teach them to own their mistakes, to learn from them, and then to move on. 

—Jacqui Lipschitz 

The burden of the work that comes next rests with the White community. At its heart, this is fundamentally an issue of power and control. We live in a very segregated community – we see it in our neighborhoods, and in the divide between the city, suburbs, and rural areas throughout our region. We see it in our schools, in the way we socialize, and how we manage our work environments. But at its heart, this is not about equality – it’s about equity. For 400 years, institutions and systems in this country have had an imbedded white supremacy bias, and Whites need to begin seeing and understanding this. The COVID crisis and the flagrant killing of George Floyd have exposed a very real structural racism in new and powerful ways, that have been shocking to many Whites but long known by Blacks and other people of color. So where do we start? Endorsing the Greater Rochester Black Agenda Group’s “Racism is a Public Health Crisis” declaration is a powerful first step, but to do that and nothing else would be an empty and gratuitous act. What we need now is business, community, and government leaders to come together publicly and visibly to jointly express real commitment, collaborative intent, and a strong resolve to move together as a unified community. Then we must find the first few ways we can make meaningful local change, and then activate that work – together.
—Heidi N. Zimmer-Meyer, president, Rochester Downtown Development Corp.

The following comments, each submitted by a different individual, were unsigned:

When anyone appoints himself judge, jury and executioner of a citizen of the United States, we see the epitome of injustice in the disregard for the rule of law. And when a black man in police custody is killed by a white police officer while other officers in complicity stand by, we see the epitome of injustice and racism. The people have the right to stand up, speak out and lawfully protest against these evils. And the people must organize and support those political leaders who will work vigilantly against these evils. 

I recognize my male white privilege. Every day I wake up and work on understanding how I promote inequities. I am a man of action and try to make the world a better place. I have demonstrated that by having difficult conversations with people, particularly white people. A consciousness around racial justice informs all my community organizing. I will always be a racist. I will always be a misogynist. That is how I was socialized from the moment I came out of my mother’s womb. Each day I hope to get better. 

The challenge is that there is no single root cause to focus on. Even if there wasn’t the challenge of racial inequality, education, unemployment, housing, and health care have been intractable challenges for more than 50 years. In a nutshell, we have two overarching challenges. The first is that there are just too many silos with self-interest causing a fractured problem-solving approach. Second, there seems to be a real lack of continuity of leadership in the Black community. I had hoped that Dr. Brock and his initiative would have provided a focal point for the community to coalesce around but that never materialized. We need more focus and commitment to a set of attainable objectives. Ideally, that would be education. A sound education is the path out of poverty, and we can’t even figure out how to get that done without self-sabotage. 

As an individual: Think carefully about what is written, said, and shown on various media. Don’t rush to judgment. As a community: Insist on accountability from all sources.

We should respond, in unity, but re-examine the structural racism that pervades our community, including the suburbs: education, health care, jobs, and, most particularly, the insipid redlining that still continues today after more than a century of dividing us all. Words must encourage authentic action, not just bandaids. We should all learn how to be anti-racists!

You tell us, black people are tired of consoling and telling white people what to do. All the research, data, and reading is there for everyone to know in 2020 what they need to do. Rochester Beacon editors are informed and intelligent enough to compile this data and tell the community what it needs to begin doing. Stop the charade. 

Protest peacefully. Support the protesters. Influence our elected officials to change laws. 

The city and the county must come together in an open discussion about racism within our community and identify real actions that can be taken to confront it and remove it from our community. We must also hold police accountable for actions such as those in Minneapolis.

The city responded appropriately with discerning police presence, respecting the right to peaceful protest. 

Ensure the PAB goes into effect (invest in legal resources so that it is victorious at the court level). Defund the RPD, Sheriff, local police forces and state police and invest in other priorities. Elected officials have been silent! Where is the leadership? If you work in the city (schools, cops) you should live in the city – this should be a policy. Find funding for young BIPOC-led movement building so that these groups are in positions of leadership, consulted, and have a voice. The most immediate is that RPD should let protesters protest peacefully as they were trying to do, instead of instigating. 

As individuals, we need to express our concerns, share our stories, and then listen as others do the same. Through it all, we need to deepen our sense of empathy and commit to creating a better future for our community. As a community we need to bring together diverse individuals and groups to define what an equitable community (society) looks like and feels like. Define the vision. From there, we need to begin to articulate the specific inequities we need to address to be able to realize that future. Next, we need to articulate some of the ways we can address the specific inequities identified. Then, these potential solutions need to be prioritized (as some may be dependent on others or best come before others). Finally, from the grassroots up, we need to enact the changes through our direct actions and the actions we require from the public servants (e.g. elected officials) who serve the community. 

Continue to focus on improving public educational outcomes in the City of Rochester Public Schools and through efforts to include people of color in as many public and private organizations as possible. 

Educate and train those who aren’t minorities to understand the unequal, systemic treatment of black and brown people. Mandate the police go through repeated sensitivity training regarding the treatment of minorities similar to what has been happening with sexual harassment training and education. Every board, seat of power, and organization in our community needs to include minority representatives. Overhaul the healthcare system in this country and make sure everyone has access to basic healthcare no matter their financial status. If the majority in power does not truly understand the daily reality of the oppressed people, meaningful change will not happen.

We should take a lesson from Governor Cuomo, involve him if we can, have a large presence, make this top priority, Don’t give up, get out the vote, have a campaign with slogans, make it as big as the pandemic, involve the whole community, name it for George Floyd, raise private money to begin to put our money where our mouths are, begin to make structural changes, advantage the disadvantage, have citizens monitor protests to keep out the looters and agitators who coopt protests. Have a task force of proven local leaders. Make it at least county wide. And don’t give up ever, for once. Pair up police with black and brown kids and young people, get the grandmothers involved. Set up neighborhood improvement projects with tools and incentives. Have contests for ads, songs, art, ideas, etc. 

We should respond by witnessing events when possible, adding our voices when possible. Stand up against injustice. 

Poverty is a big racial inequity that necessarily squashes children into underperforming schools and families into neighborhoods with fewer privileges. Some things to bust up the poverty are: more low-income housing in Monroe County towns, community-wide schools, and anti-gentrification efforts in up-and-coming city neighborhoods such as Beechwood. Successful area-wide retail businesses could have smaller satellites in city neighborhoods. Why couldn’t successful grocers, for examples, work with some of the corner stores to source perishable groceries at a reasonable rate, lessening the food deserts in some neighborhoods and possibly creating some jobs?

1. We should give a damn. 2. We should be available allies to the black community, supporting better schools, better access to jobs, job training and child care. 3. Health care for all. 

Racial inequity will continue until poor urban children — of all races — are afforded the same K-12 educational opportunities as middle and upper income suburban children. Unless and until we fix urban education, nothing else we do will matter. 

Maybe don’t kill black people for the crime of being a black person, good start. 

The community had a response, the Police Accountability Board. I think respecting the voices of the community regarding how they want their police to protect and serve their community is the first step, but Rochester seems to keep tripping on it. 

The solution to the root problem of racial inequity goes back to before our country even existed. We need to accurately address history. White people need to own their role in upholding systemic inequities and benefiting from them. We desperately need an evidence based psychological assessment for police officers to address their implicit biases. No one should wield power and a gun who holds deep feelings of fear and hatred toward another group. All racist officers must be fired immediately. Racism needs to be discussed openly and daily, not only within the police force, but among medical professionals, educators, businesses, and EVERYONE. White people must educate themselves on these issues and become allies and supporters for POC. 

We must educate ourselves about racism. We need to understand how it differs from prejudice. We need to recognize our privilege if we are white and our internalized inferiority if we are not. We need to study history to truly understand. Education is the key. 

I believe the only power that individuals have to address systemic racism is to vote – the problem is just too large for one community to solve. From there, our elected officials must address real judicial reform, including policing, the court system and prison systems. There needs to be trauma-centered care intrinsic in all of these reforms. In no way is this going to “solve” racism and there’s much more work to be done in many other areas – housing, employment, education, to name a few. But I think addressing one of the worst and most incendiary areas of injustice would take us all a long way towards peace. 

The events of last week were in response to decades of racial oppression and discrimination. Making transformational change to these long existing inequities is a first step to avoiding this type of response. Black and brown people are treated differently regarding housing, education, employment, criminal justice, health care, etc. Those are the issues we need to deal with. 

This is a big question. A start would be ensuring that the Police Accountability Board has full access to police records, and authority to terminate officers who have a pattern of abuse or racism. The police department needs to acknowledge and address that there are problem officers and commit through action to anti-racist policing. Police working in the city should live in the city. More broadly, Rochester needs to put more effort and resources into poor communities rather than flashy boondoggle projects like performing arts centers for RBTL. 

Until the issue of poverty is addressed racial inequity will continue. Those that have been discriminated against are often also economically challenged. Those that are economically challenged are often looked upon as subservient to those that are not. We as a people (regardless of race) must work to overcome poverty. Career opportunity and targeted assistance as necessary will help create an environment of respect and worth for each other. 

By not allowing stories of violence and looting deflect focus on the real underlying issues brought out by protests in support of BLM, real, substantive change in the criminal justice system can be accomplished through community engagement and dialogue. The time is ripe for addressing the issues of systemic racism. 

First, Rochester and Rochesterians needs to decide if we are a community or a number of communities. If we agree that we’re one community, then we need to work together to stop the small number of people that want to destroy what we’ve built and abuse the members of our community, e.g. the shop owners and bystanders. Second, we need to step back from the assumption that this is all about race and have a hard look at police power and more specifically the police union. We need to ask ourselves why it is that the police lives seem to be more important than our lives, why the police treat blacks, whites, and everyone like an enemy combatant. We need to ask why the police have become so heavily armed that they seem more like a standing army than public servants. We need to insist that all police are held accountable from the top down. Third, we need to demand that our political leaders take a stand against any force, ideology, or behavior that destroys what we’ve built while at the same time they work hard to find and implement ways to make what we have better for all. We need to keep making incremental changes and movement forward, not a revolution. 

Re-evaluate, as a community, our personal and public behaviors. 

Gov’t MUST be very transparent with EVERYTHING they do! 

We white people must become antiracists, and we must listen to people of color, really listen. 

Do non-violent offenders need to be in jail and not able to provide for family? 

Listen to black people. Invite every white church, synagogue and mosque to partner with a black church, agency, sorority, fraternity, business or club for Sacred Conversations on Race whose curriculum was prepared by interfaith clergy of Ferguson. Sacred Conversations on Race are with equal numbers of blacks and whites meeting together for an 8 hour workshop. And hold study groups on James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching tree. Every business hold study groups on Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and Kendi’s How to be an Anti Racist. Mandate NO tax breaks be given a housing builder who does not provide safe affordable housing (for @ least 20% of the builder’s buyers) in park like settings that are beautifully maintained and serviced in perpetuity. Pay living wages to all 40 hour a wk workers. Fine employers that have a policy of not hiring full time workers; fine them if they do not pay living wages. Fine any employer that takes home more than 100 % more than employees in that business take home. Insure home health aides and nursing home aids are paid living wages NOW. Demilitarize police. Give Police Accountability Board power to investigate and hold accountable each grievance made over the last 5 years and into the future in perpetuity. No one can police themselves! Feature good schools such as #20 on Oakman St for excellence in nightly news and social & print media. All industries partner with city schools for mentoring, interning, skill development and career coaching, relationship bldg. and continuing education. Stop mass incarceration. Only imprison violent offenders. Build up a volunteer cohort of people who believe in supporting youth and young adults by investing in them with whatever is needed including rehab individually diagnosed, prescribed & remediated with follow through. 

Prioritize initiatives that eliminate racism and inequities for Rochester citizens focusing on it’s Black and Brown citizens first We must acknowledge and remove barriers to education, jobs, and health care. We must ensure that justice is metered out fairly. The media must report stories without bias. Companies and non-profit organizations should increase the numbers of Black and Brown high-level executives who are in decision making positions. Companies and organizations with governing Boards must increase the number of Black and Brown trustees. Representation and participation is critical. Level the playing field! 

Individually commit to understanding systemic racism and to taking action to reduce the effects.

Communicate: “Rochester Summit” — neighborhoods, real converstions etc. -and have on livestream (FB live) with combination of information, education, arts and action to help the community come together to process and mobilize to take action. This would have to be a true community effort and one where peple leave their egos and agendas at the door. We collectively need a snapshot summary of the issues, progress, challenges and levers of systemic racism work going on today in the major realms (eg. police, financial, education, transportation, voting, prison reform, education etc) here in Roc–identifying where the gaps are between where we are now and where we must be for thriving, what’s being done, what still needs work and create more aggressive plans to close the gaps and tell us how to get involved; simultaneously- leverage resources like REJI, Gandhi Center, Ibero, ABC, 540 WMain and others to convene more conversations around racism and white privilege. I have no answers but we must start stepping in to the work. 

Peaceful Protesting. 

Listen and give a voice to BIPOC. 

We need to have a better relationship with folks in law enforcement to be more sensitive to the needs of the community. 

Immediately support the call for the other 3 officers to be charged as accessories to murder. In addition to scheduling public protests, set up forums for a dialogue on the multiple issues of racism across the entire city/suburban/rural community, including virtual forums as needed. 

Root out the racist police & fire them. 

I don’t know. I don’t think there is solution. I believe there are cultural issues on both sides that are significant challenges that may be too much to overcome. 

Continue with the nonviolent protest demand law accountability and make sure the police are following accreditation standards. 

Demand police reform. Disciplinary records need to be public. Firing needs to be easier. 

Focus on education and services. Social and medical and mental health services should be available at every Rochester city school, as well as through the public library system. The RCSD needs a complete overhaul – dismiss the current school board and nullify current teacher contracts. Start from scratch. Partner with more businesses in the region. As individuals? Support, money or volunteer, organizations like Foodlink, Habitat for Humanity. Law enforcement disciplinary procedures need an overhaul. I don’t often agree with our governor but I do on this one – let the process be conducted by AG. And get rid of the knee on the neck and chest as a tool to subdue. 

i am a 58 year old white male. my immediate family’s makeup is my sister (white) my brother in law (african-american) and their 2 daughters. i am probably one of the few white guys that’s experienced what so many young african american men talk about getting pulled over for no reason. i hear stories from my nieces about racism that they experience that makes you go what the? i try to explain these experiences to my white friends to show them it’s real stuff not exaggeration. also 2 books that if white people read would explain a lot. the autobiography of malcolm x and parting the waters. thanks for listening.

End police unions and thin blue line mentality; invest more money into urban schools–matching tax rates in the city to those in outlying areas to help support education in an equitable way across districts. 

With compassion and love, but equally stand for justice as we stand for injustice 

Listen to what black/POC say they want. 

defund police, reallocate funds to community development, reintegrate schools, educate ourselves 

support the protesters right to protest. Try to understand the fear and anger that we and others have. Embrace the idea 99% of us are trying to be the best people we can. 

Integrate economically 

A cross-sectional Community Summit should be held to FULLY discuss , assess, plan with a specific 6-month timeline to change Police practices including recruitment, hiring, training, annual psychological & mental health assessments, assessment of the degree of militarization in police protocols that presently exist and whether necessary, and full acceptance and implementation of the PAB. Any Summit plans should have a community report card every three months the first year than at least annually ongoing. Also discuss why the 1975 Federal Consent Decree re: Police Hiring Practices is still in effect and steps that can be taken to lift it after almost 50 years!! 

A first step should be a county wide school system, or a series of pie shaped districts. Affluent white people will need to step up and accept this commitment. 


As individuals, we all need to act responsibly throughout our lives. Things like finishing high school, getting married and playing an active role in raising your kids. Absent fathers is a rudimentary issue which manifests into other problems. It’s important that we NEVER deny someone the dignity of personal responsibility but often I seen individuals pointing the finger outward. As a community, we need to support the educational system especially in the inner city. Charter schools could be a solution worthy of consideration in light of poorly managed public schools. 

1. Education reform – get rid of school board 2. Black leaders need to lead 3. Job programs and training for inner city teens & young adults 4. Find and celebrate hope. 

We should work for justice. 

Certainly, legislation should be passed to reform the criminal justice system, however the basis of racial inequity comes from the prejudices taught at home and inadvertently reinforced by complacency in school and the workplace. 

1) ALL law enforcement officers in the field and their vehicles (including NYS troopers who currently do not have any) must be required to wear body cameras at all times. They must never be turned off or impeded from recording. 2) police accountability must be codified to include ALL officers at the scene, not just the arresting officer. 3) independent oversight must be granted at all levels, it must NOT include former police officers, and it must have power to punish, terminate and charge officers with crimes 4) any officer with disciplinary actions against him/her must be taken from the field and have pay/retirement benefits decreased for at least one year, and must successfully complete retraining pertinent to the misbehavior 5) any candidates for police positions internally or externally hired must NOT have any history of disciplinary actions. We should not be hiring “problem” officers from other areas 

People of all stripes should no longer be silent (silence is, essentially, violence). Make attempts to better understand African-American culture. Watch more books, read more stores, pertaining to the culture. 

There is racism throughout our society, both overt and subjective, and is not limited to our criminal justice system and police. The nature of police jobs can make it a life and death issue, as we have seen many times. Criminal investigations of police must be taken away from local District Attorneys and federalized or at least go to the State Attorney General. Local District attorneys must have good working relationships with police to protect the community, I understand that. Anything that may jeopardize that relationship makes the job very difficult and could mean losing the job in the next election. Bail reform, open discovery to see all the evidence against you, and adequate legal representation, even if subsidized, would help get us to equal justice. I have seen even middle class workers, whites included, plead guilty to charges they felt were unfair, because they could not see the evidence against them until just before trial, and because they could not afford a five to ten thousand dollar retainer and two hundred dollars plus a billable hour to get their day in court. Bail that keeps someone in jail without a conviction should be solely based on whether one is a threat to ones self or others, and not how rich one is. Lastly when it comes to criminal justice reform its decades past due to end the War on Drugs that began under Nixon 50 years ago. It’s a total failure and given us the world’s largest per capita incarceration rate, worse than dictatorships, at a huge cost to taxpayers. It’s also racist, affecting people of color in much greater numbers, even though whites use drugs at the same rates. It has now been well documented as the “New Jim Crow”, replacing are old system of apartheid that was supposed to end with the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960’s. Legalize marijuana and decriminalize everything else as others have done and have much lower drug use than us. This is a medical, not criminal problem. The War on Drugs was Nixon’s program to eliminate opposition from young Blacks and Whites, standing up for civil rights and against a war based on lies, Vietnam. A few years after Nixon aide and Watergate conspirator John Ehrlichman got out of jail he told a reporter, “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and Black peopl . You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” My friends and I lived through this. After criminal justice reform, we must address health care as a right, and equal opportunity in education and housing if we really want to do address racial inequality. Privatized health care at twice the cost of other countries with worse outcomes, lower life expectancy, and millions with no health care should be a no brainer. Tying it to employment with about 40 million plus losing their jobs thru no fault of their own, and about to lose their health care, is just stupid. I refuse to believe other countries are smart enough to do this and we are not. It’s not just the difference in death rates from the coronavirus, but we have communities of color in our country as well as white poor rural areas who live about ten years less than the average American due to our health care system. This is an issue of racial inequality. I believe no group has the right to use zoning laws to keep out affordable housing for middle and low income, or the elderly or disabled. One owns their property and no more. The rest belongs to our whole community. Likewis , I do not believe because of a groups political power to get money from the state you get to have your own school system spending thirty thousand per student while poorer districts get half as much. That is not a good faith attempt to start the race at the same place or equal opportunity. I was three years old when Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka happened and today we have 18 separate and unequal school districts, more segregated than the 1950’s. In a county about 36 miles across (Los Angeles is about 400 miles) you want 18 school boards, 18 school superintendents, 18 Governments, plus a City government and County government, all with multiple legislators and staffs, well then don’t complain to me about your taxes. The workers should be about the same as there are the same miles of roads, people to police, same number of students and so on. Seriously addressing racial inequality will take resources and we should have a better idea now who the workers are that are “essential”. More resources will need to come from the wealthy because it’s necessary to succeed on this problem. Franklin Roosevelt had a 90% tax on income over $25,000 (about equal to $350,000 now) and the rich screamed. He ridiculed them, saying they still had their big homes and servants, yet were crying while our boys were protecting them from Hitler for $600 a year. Forty years of tax cuts for the rich, supply side trickle down that exploded deficits before the pandemic. With over 40% of workers making a median wage of less than $12 an hour, according to the Brookings Institute, and the average wage increasing less than $12 a week, adjusted for inflation, since Reagan, workers cannot pay much more. The rich and rich banks and corporations, as Willie Sutton said about robbing banks, that’s where the money is and where the wealth to tax is. If we are serious about racial inequality, it requires more than good intentions and it can be done. I believe that because I’m a patriot, not a nationalist, per Charles De Gaulle, who said when I was a kid a patriot loves his country and ALL of it’s peopl , while a nationalist hates other countries and their people. Now that I can hear heads exploding I will leave it there. Will we get serious about inequality or wring our hands and apply a few band aids? As I’ve heard the Boss say in concert, “Nobody wins unless everybody wins.” Who knows maybe if we try we as a people might even hear from the main stream media on Martin Luther King’s birthday or Black History Month, that MLK was a Democratic Socialist. Please, I do not want to hear from anyone on the subject of racial inequality about white grievance, reverse discrimination, or All Lives Matter. I said it at a Labor Day speech after Ferguson to African Americans that they messed up, a lot of white people would not get it unless they called it Black Lives Matter TOO! In Solidarity. 

Listen and form groups to make constructive changes. 

Learn learn Learn Change change change. 

Examine the things you own (your beliefs and behavior, the way you raise your children, the way you run your company) and make appropriate changes. Examine the institutions you support (through donations, taxes or spirit) and demand changes there. Repeat. 

Love one another. 


At the least, begin to speak and write about structural racism, white privilege and the crushing inequality in our community.

With patience and understanding. As citizens, we are responsible to know our history. There are many forms of civic participation.

We need to radically change our community’s housing and educational practices.

I am confused – it is an opportunity for extortion of people that feel comcerned bit lost about today’s world in America. I was asked today for money for a black family that had trouble that had no place to live and no money to pay for a location to live. It could be true. But they are asking me in a public parking lot under pandemic concerns. Are they real or are they taking advantage of whites that feel upset about the latest abuse to blacks? I don’t know? Are they smart enough to realize that there are whites that feel bad about the current situation? The man said we aren’t all bad although some think they are. Why would he even bring that up? I didn’t. I don’t know what to think. Did I help someone? Or did he take advantage of my concern to help himself an no one else? If it was himself and his grandchildren, God bless them all.

Paul Ericson is Rochester Beacon executive editor.

2 thoughts on “A question for our community

  1. Racism and all the other problems of this world are certainly not going away overnight, as this issue is as old as the world.
    If you want real change begin by overcoming yourself , but you can’ t because we are all related to Adam and his sin.
    Therefore surrender / commit yourself to Jesus, because through the Grace, Mercy, and Faith of God Almighty, all things are possible.
    Let he who has ears hear. Shalom

  2. For the most part? Same songs repeated. Quiet the noise and execute deeds, not just words. In addition, what most so-called black leaders in Rochester, NY fail to acknowledge is what the esteemed ancestor James “Mamba”McCuller taught many of us for decades; and that is, “We (black people) are not going to be able to get along with other people, until we first learn how to get along with ourselves.” Thus, Who’s Zoomin Who?

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