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Open Letter to Mike Mazzeo: Has Locust Club Considered a Name Change?

Michael Nighan

Michael Nighan recently sent a letter to the Locust Club president. Nighan lived in Rochester for more than 20 years. He now lives in Irondequoit. He shared the letter with Minority Reporter.

Michael Nighan

Until recently, like 99% of the Rochester community, I was unaware that the inspiration for the Locust Club name was just that, a club made of locust wood. Given the current state of public-police relations, that discovery led to the obvious question, has the Locust Club considered a name change? If not, it would seem to be time to do so.

Obviously, it would be unfair to deny that the negative view of a club wielded by a phalanx of cops charging into crowds of rioters/protestors is far from an equitable appraisal of the club’s use given that, during most of their careers the average police officer probably has to draw it from his/her belt in anger only on rare occasions.

But it would be equally unfair to deny that there are a significant number of cases over the years in which innocent people throughout the country have been the victims of excessive force and even brutality perpetrated by officers using their clubs to apprehend a suspect.

The question of whether those clubs are used to oppress or protect is almost irrelevant. It’s public perception that counts. And rightly or wrongly there can be no doubt that to many in the Rochester community, that club is a symbol of violence. For the local police union to continue to name their organization after such a symbol is at best a ticking bomb of bad public relations, and at worst a case of glaring insensitivity.

Surely, the Locust Club can have no emotional or cultural investment in the name. It holds no local significance or honors an event or individual. In short, to me at least, there’s no apparent or overriding reason to retain the name except a century of inertia and dusty tradition.

Events in 2020 have put the relations between the Rochester Police Department and a large percentage of the city’s population, never particularly good at the best of times, at a very low ebb. Distrust, suspicion and even fear of the police, justified or not, is everywhere on our city streets.

Merely changing a name obviously won’t solve these deep-rooted problems. But as an acknowledgement that the imagery of a locust club is not the image that Rochester’s 21st century police officers should want to present to the community, and as a show of good will offered from out-of-the-blue, who knows what such a change might lead to?