A search for solutions to spread of hate, gun violence

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Interfaith panelists, including Rashid Muhammad, director of community partnerships at Just Cause, addresses the audience on hate groups. (Photo: Jacob Schermerhorn)

The uptick in gun violence, bail reform, the Great Replacement Theory, and the growth of hate groups sparked debate and conversation at a recent community event

Organized by the United Christian Leadership Ministry at the First Church of God in the Corn Hill neighborhood, the June 7 conference was an attempt to find solutions to these problems.

Rashid Muhammad, director of community partnerships at legal aid organization Just Cause, began the event with a speech titled “Great Replacement Theory.” 

The conspiracy theory, which holds there is a covert effort in white majority countries to replace the population with non-white people, was present in a document thought to be written by the Buffalo shooter and was recently denounced by a resolution in the House of Representatives. It has been echoed by many, including political commentators such as Tucker Carlson (who has since said he is unfamiliar with the document) and government officials such as Elise Stefanik, a GOP congresswoman from Albany.

Muhammad noted that the Great Replacement Theory has historical roots in racist ideologies of Adolf Hitler and anti-immigrant France and warned that its prior fringeness has now gone mainstream.

“When national figures are parroting seditious, racist, antisemitic garbage, that Americans, hundreds of thousands, have given their lives to defeat, all of us should be incensed. It should be an affront to our senses,” said Muhammad, an Air Force veteran. “The Great Replacement Theory isn’t about replacing me or replacing you. It’s about replacing everyone by replacing our values as Americans.”

Rabbi Peter Stein, who leads Temple B’rith Kodesh in Brighton, echoed Muhammad’s sentiments. Stein cited rising antisemetic actions from his own experiences with vandalism and bomb threats.

“This is not what I want to be normal,” said Stein, who noted that Brighton Chief of Police David Catholdi was one of his frequently called numbers. “David, I hope you understand what I mean when I say, I don’t really want your number to be at the top in my phone.”

According to the latest data from the FBI, from 2020, there were 10 hate crimes reported by Monroe County and Rochester law enforcement, all of which fell into the category of racially/ethnically motivated. According to that dataset, after reaching a high of 25 reported hate crimes in 2001, the area saw a decline, dropping to only 1 incident in 2015. Since then, the total number has been rising.

The panelists agreed on the solution to rising hatred: love.

“You have to love your enemies in order to transform them,” Muhammad said, referencing a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. “Hate tears down, love builds up. So love all, even your enemies.”

Moses Robinson, community liaison officer for the Rochester Police Department, said he sees increased hatred as well, following the death of Daniel Prude. While acknowledging that the department is not perfect, he asked for generosity and forgiveness from the community. He also mentioned working alongside Black Lives Matter and other social justice activists. (None in the audience identified themselves as members of the movement.)

David Smith, Rochester interim police chief, also mentioned that the department is working to improve its internal training and that officers recently completed a course on understanding trauma.

Smith, and other law enforcement officers, said they were sympathetic to community issues such as illegal guns and long emergency response times, but the rise in crime, expectations for services beyond law enforcement (such as handling mental health crises), and shortage of officers are too difficult to overcome with dedication alone.

In total, Smith said, the department has 22 officers in training but it is currently short by 68, making it challenging to deploy cars efficiently.

There are 773 full- and part-time employees at the RPD, according to the latest data. Of those, 658 are sworn personnel and 115 are civilians. Of the employees hired in 2021, 32 still remain with the department. Only six employees have been hired so far this year.

Smith and District Attorney Sandra Doorley, who was also in attendance, blamed the rise in crime in part on the Bail Elimination Act of 2019. That policy eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanor and non-violent felonies, including possession of an illegal gun.

“Those are just one step away from being a homicide, an aggravated assault, or a robbery,” said Doorley, who added that the 238 arrests for illegal possession of a firearm so far this year were the most she had ever seen in her 30-year career in Rochester.

A February investigation into bail reform by City/WXXI News found that, of the people affected by bail reform, roughly 12 percent were rearrested, with 1.6 percent for a violent crime.

State Sen. Jeremy Cooney called bail reform a “lightning rod for controversy” and that policy makers can get too defensive when discussing it and should be flexible and responsive instead. He also praised the progress made in New York with the recently passed Red Flag Gun Protection Law, which prevents individuals who show signs of being a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or possessing any kind of firearm.

Other topics brought up during the event included hardening schools in the case of shooters, a perceived need for school resource officers to return to city schools, and the debate surrounding the intentions of the Reawaken America tour slated for the fall at the Main Street Armory.

Clay Clark, a podcast host and the event organizer for the Reawaken America tour, is an advocate of a conspiracy theory that claims a global elite is using COVID-19 to dismantle capitalism and enforce radical social change. That theory is called the “Great Reset.”

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer. The Beacon welcomes comments from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name.

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