Op-ed by Howard Eagle
Rochester, NY is back in national news again, and the central issue is not merely a matter of one, single, out-of-control, white, Rochester Police Department (RPD) officer man-handling a Black, EMT ambulance worker (while she was in the process of attending to a patient at Rochester’s most prestigious hospital and the number one employer in town, Strong Memorial Hospital / University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry).
It’s much deeper than that. More than likely, the real, central issue and problem is longstanding, ongoing, individual and institutional racism. How do we know this? We know by virtue of the historical record, which (to paraphrase the Late, great, grassroots scholar, Malik El Shabazz), “is best qualified to reward our research.”
No doubt, some will argue, there’s no proof that the attack of the Black female EMT worker by a white male cop has anything to do with race or racism. Some will even attempt to label the mention of it as representing the silly notion of so-called “playing the race card,” and will have the audacity to demand proof (to which I will respond, as I have in the past) __’riddle me this, when is the last time you witnessed a white, male RPD member attack a white woman (ambulance worker or otherwise)?’
Now, ask yourself the same question regarding Black females. With regard to the latter, at least several outstanding situations should come to mind immediately. We remember Brenda Hardaway, right? If not, check the references below, relative to each situation mentioned here. How can we forget the punch squarely to the side of her head, and being slammed to the ground (during pregnancy)? How about the Black woman that an RPD officer pepper-sprayed and tackled to the ground in front of her 3-year old child last year? We remember the 10 year old Black girl that RPD handcuffed during a routine traffic stop in 2020, right? And how could we ever forget the 9-year-old girl that RPD handcuffed and pepper sprayed last year, and told her, “you did it to yourself”? Surely there have been others. I’ll wait for the white list.
Of course some have attempted to portray the most recent attack as an isolated incident. Even the ambulance company for which the attacked Black woman works, attempted to portray it as such. They issued a half-hearted, milk-toast statement of “support” for the Black employee, but still maintained that: We would, however, appreciate resisting derogatory comments against RPD as an organization. This incident was perpetrated by a single individual and subject to investigation by his employer, everyone is entitled to due process regardless of opinion.
We trust that the matter will be disposed of appropriately and responsibly. Furthermore, we do not believe the behavior of the officer aligns with the values of RPD leadership and should in no way condemn the rest of the brave brothers and sisters in blue. What the ….?
The unadulterated truth of the matter is that (obviously), this is not an isolated incident at all. These types of actions on the part of RPD have happened to Black folks, over and over again, literally for decades (don’t take my word for it __ see the conclusive research at the end of the article).
The fact that media pundits, governmental and business officials, and other powerful, “important” people keep dancing around the fundamental truth (as opposed to facing it head-on), that RPD, like all other major institutions in this thoroughly racist, white-supremacist-based society, especially and particularly those involved with so-called criminal “justice” and law enforcement, is racist to the core __ probably represents the most outstanding obstacle relative to viable solutions. That is, it’s not possible to solve problems, while at the same time, denying their existence.
Additionally, I am always baffled by the deafening silence of most so-called anti-racist activists, educators, and “allies” when these kinds of situations arise, e.g., the crew that’s forever spewing super-liberal-rhetoric about so-called “implicit bias, microaggressions, systemic-equity, inclusion, diversity, restorative justice, systemic racialization, socio-political consciousness,” and a whole bunch of other pretty-sounding words). I just wonder if they THINK about the possibility, or really the facts that when we see longstanding patterns such as the one outlined above and below, we’re actually witnessing the manifestations of the pretty-sounding concepts that they claim to hold so dear. I mean, where do they think these things happen (only in our minds and books), as opposed to real, clear, measurable, long-standing, entrenched, human behavioral patterns?
Lastly, the recent case is very, very important. It represents the perfect test case regarding the (finally operative) Rochester Police Accountability Board’s seriousness, and/or capability to hold the Rochester Police Department accountable for potentially illegal, and definitely inappropriate misbehavior. Time will tell, as it always does.
~ 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 taught as an adjunct professor in the Department of African American Studies at SUNY Brockport for 20 years, before retiring in 2020.
Fifty years of Rochester police reform yielded few returns
September 03, 2020
“Outrage over Hawkins’ death and what was regarded by many to be a sham of an investigation into Leach moved City Council to appoint a blue-ribbon panel to examine how policing in Rochester could improve. The Citizens Committee on Police Affairs, dubbed the Crimi Committee after its chairman and local lawyer Charles Crimi, would recommend sweeping changes to the Rochester Police Department.”