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Saturday 23 October 2021
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What Happened To The Viper Task Force?

Editorial by Howard Eagle

Howard Eagle

Well, we have yet another infamous ‘whatever happened to’?

Remember the Violence Prevention and Elimination Response Initiative, or the so-called VIPER Task Force, which includes just about every alphabet-soup, law enforcement organization we can name: United State Attorney’s Office; Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; Drug Enforcement Administration; Federal Bureau of Investigation; Homeland Security Investigations; United States Marshal Service; Rochester Police Department; Monroe County District Attorney, and Monroe County Sheriff’s Office?

It’s interesting (to say the least) that the New York State Police were not named as a Task Force participant, especially when considering that the main issue at hand is the trafficking of illegal guns.

According to a groundbreaking 2016, “first-of-its-kind-analysis“by the New York State Attorney General’s Office — “out-of-state guns are flooding into New York from the Iron Pipeline — states with lax guns laws along the I-95 corridor, namely Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. These findings offer significant policy implications and context for state and national leaders striving to reduce gun trafficking and violence.

I digress!

On July 7, 2021, representatives of the organizations listed above, stood on Clarissa Street in Rochester’s Cornhill neighborhood (directly across the street from the spot where a woman had been shot to death in her car, 19 days earlier, in broad open daylight, in front of her 3-year-old and 8-year-old children who were also in the car), and announced launch of the VIPER Task Force.They were led by US Attorney James P. Kennedy, who announced the beginning of a “60-day surge to target “the worst of the worst in terms of violent offenders in our community — to remove these violent offenders from our streets [,and he said the Task Force] will fish with a spear, and not with a net.” He also asserted that law enforcement officials “need the help of the public, and declared that, with regard to police/community relations —“it’s time to start healing the wounds and the division in our community.

They emphasized the idea and concept of so-called “enhanced community engagement” as part of their strategy to bring an end to rampant violence. The so-called 60-day surge period ended on 9/7/21, and there has been no public report relative to assessment regarding effectiveness, as Kennedy had promised.

Actually, we don’t really need a report to know (without any doubt whatsoever). Clearly they have not been effective, and only God knows what’s next. Are they committed to more of the same, pulling out, or trying something different?

Based on their declarations of wanting to work with the community, our coalition (https://www.facebook.com/tidpc ) invited Task Force members to a community meeting, which took place at F.I.G.H.T. Village on 8/19/21. Initially we were under the impression that all of the alphabet-soup organizations would have representatives at the meeting. It turned out that they pulled a bait and switch, and only FBI agents showed u, (led by Mr. Jeremy A. Bell, ” Assistant Special Agent in Charge FBI – Buffalo Field Office / Rochester Resident Agency,” and Ms. Sharon Mentkowski, “Community Outreach Specialist, Buffalo Field Office, accompanied by three other female agents, including one Black woman.

According to Mr. Bell and the other agents, they thought that our meeting was productive, and they assured us that they looked forward to continued efforts to build a relationship. Bell also informed us that the Task Force had established a so-called Community Engagement Council, which he said included Melvin Cross, Jason B. Willis, and representatives from Action for A Better Community, and Rochester Urban League.

Of course there has been no public information shared regarding the so-called Community Engagement Council, and certainly they have not engaged the community. And although we expressed a desire to join, we have not received any response from Bell, nor City Officials. In fact a series of subsequent, unanswered correspondences (see the first link below), made it crystal-clear that Mr. Bell and company were not really serious about relationship-building.

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(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.)