Op-ed by Howard Eagle
It seems that here in modern-day slave-town U.S.A. (Rochester, NY), hardly anyone remembers that just seven (7) short months ago police cars and construction trailers were burning in the streets; windows were being smashed, businesses were looted and set afire.
Responses on the part of City and County officials were swift, and some thought, promising. But, here we are, seven months later, and what has changed? Everyone knows the answer (without having to give it any serious thought).
Of course seven months is not much time regarding prospects of uprooting and overturning long-standing, deeply entrenched, systemic problems and issues that have been simmering (in some cases) literally, without exaggeration, for centuries, but then the operative term is “prospects.” So again, it is important to ask (seven months later), what are the prospects or likelihood of significant, concrete, measurable, socioeconomic, sociopolitical, and/or sociocultural change and improvement (anytime soon), and again, we know the likely answer, that is, unless and until a deadly-serious, mass movement is developed and sustained.
We might recall that, five days after the May 25, 2020 brutal murder of George Floyd by racist Minneapolis, Minnesota police — on 5/30/20 all hell broke loose here in slave-town, which forced immediate responses from local officials, including Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and Monroe County Executive Adam Bello. They held a joint press conference the same evening, at which the Mayor declared: “Tonight we must start by acknowledging an undeniable truth. We have to change, as a city, as a state, as a nation, as a society, as one community. The reality is [that] our history is built on a foundation of inequality, and yes, racism. These historic and systematic inequalities continue today, and it has to be addressed. I take responsibility for the change necessary to ensure that everyone, Black,brown, and white, can live in a more just community and society.”
In turn, the County Executive asserted: I want to acknowledge the incredible pain that so many people in our community and across the country have felt for the last week, in response to the shocking and horrific death of George Floyd. We must work together to end racism in communities across the nation, including right here in Monroe County.” That was mighty big talk, but again, what has changed?
On June 18, 2020 the Mayor and County Executive announced establishment of the so-called Commission on Racial and Structural Equity, which was billed as “a game-changer” in the effort to fight inequities and racism in our community.
“This is the first time in history, that I know of, that city and county government is looking at government specifically, how we govern, as it pertains to race relations and equity, said Mayor Warren. This commission will be empowered to examine and develop policies and legislation to overcome systematic and institutional inequities as well as racism in Rochester and Monroe County”.
Now that’s a tall order. It appears that the most logical place to begin is in the Democratic caucus of the Monroe County Legislature, in which (for months), 5 of the 14 members have been accusing the Democratic majority—along along with the County Executive and recently the new Democratic Commissioner of the Monroe County Board of Elections—with racism.
So how does the governmental entity that claims it is partnering with the City of Rochester to address racism in all of its forms, reconcile the fact that its leadership is seriously split along racial lines. Why would citizens believe that those officials are serious about, and/or capable of “overcoming systematic and institutional racism in Rochester and Monroe County?” How does that work?
On top of that subterfuge, between the time of the initial, local uprising on 5/30/20 and 9/2/20 (the date on which it became public that a Black man, Mr. Daniel Prude had died here in slave-town at the hands of the Rochester Police Department, a full two months earlier than Mr. George Floyd’s gruesome murder), local radio and television talk shows had featured just about every type of so-called intellectual and “expert” they could find to talk about police/community relations, and the need for reform and justice.
For the first time since probably July 1964, “racism” was being openly and boldly acknowledged by nearly everyone. The former, forbidden-fruit issue was sliding freely from the tongues of media pundits, politicians, and even businesspersons (like water flows from high Falls)—because they were scared to death. Once the news of Daniel Prude’s homicide spread, and the second wave of protesters took to the streets by the thousands, night after night, for weeks, very real prospects (based mainly on fear) finally developed regarding significant, anti-racist change and improvement (even in the face of a global pandemic). Those prospects are now fleeting, if not gone, and the pundit’s silence is deafening.
It’s absolutely amazing, and in some ways criminal that Black folks, and especially top black “leadership,” seem irresponsibly poised to allow chronic regression relative to an historic opportunity that held real promise in terms of actually impacting (in concrete, significant, measurable ways) rampant, historical, and ongoing individual, institutional, and structural racism, and accompanying abject, horrendous, pervasive, socioeconomic, sociopolitical, and sociocultural issues and problems that devastatingly affects every major aspect of life, concerning the Black masses.
The fact that slave-town seems to be slipping back into the entrenched oblivion of status quo, is indeed criminal. Many of us will likely not witness another such opportunity in our lifetimes. Considering this historically-tragic-void, and gross abdication of responsibility relative to proper, committed leadership, hopefully, many will be sent packing next November.
Howard Eagle is a longtime educator and local anti-racism advocate, known for his campaigns for the Rochester school board and prolific political and social commentary. Eagle taught social studies in the RCSD for 23 years, before retiring in 2010, and is now an adjunct professor in the Department of African American Studies at SUNY Brockport.
(The views expressed on our opinion pages are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or viewpoint of the Minority Reporter.)