Op-ed by Howard Eagle
The one-year anniversary of Mr. George Floyd’s murder (May 25, 2021) has produced literally tons of analytical newsprint.
Of course, local mainstream media could not pass up temptation regarding the sensationalized, national question of the day—what has changed? So, recently, daily print media put the question to eight, local “leaders [and] activists” (2 black males, 2 white males, 2 black females, 1 Hispanic female, and one Palestinian female—all middle-to-upper class).
Needless to say, the group is not nearly representative (socially, economically. politically, nor culturally) regarding beliefs, needs, aspirations of those who compose the masses of Rochester’s overall population, especially, those who are, and who have been suffering the most relative to the underlying, critical issue of individual, institutional, and structural racism. Namely, the Black masses. Yet, some among the eight, talked as if they know exactly what the masses think, need, want, desire, aspire to, etc… .
One outstanding example is an unsubstantiated assertion that “people are more understanding of some of the issues that the city faces, especially regarding poverty, police brutality and understanding the clear steps to take.” Even if this is true, and I’m not sure that it is (at least not on a large-scale basis), we would still need to ask, which “people” (specifically)?
The participants’ critiques are fraught with elements of imaginations-gone-wild, some of which seems downright naïve at best, disingenuous at worst, and even potentially dangerous (in some cases). I probably should qualify the latter point by stating that some of the thoughts, ideas, and assertions contained in their responses, are quite positive. However, in numerous cases, the gross lack of clarity regarding super-complex issues and problems, and even more importantly, suggested potential solutions lends itself to the possibility and likelihood of political mess-making, and reinforcing the entrenched, racist, status-quo.
A prime example of the latter point is all of the careless, general talk about discontinuing “investing in institutions that continue to oppress” while at the very same time (for example), calling for massive infusion of additional resources into one of the most oppressive institutions in all of Monroe County, namely the thoroughly racist, white-supremacist-based Rochester City School District.
Their critiques do NOT include specific ideas, nor specific plans for transforming the RCSD into an anti-racist institution, but instead they just call for pumping more resources into racist, status-quo arrangements and realities. Yet they TALK about “addressing the systematic problems we’ve had for decades,” which amounts to nothing more than a bunch of generalized, abstract, rhetoric.
In some ways it’s shameful that of those interviewed, it takes a white man who is not even from this community, and who certainly is not among those who have been, and still are suffering the most, to point out that “this crisis may feel unique, but it’s not. We’ve been here before. Tragic deaths involving the police spark community uprisings. The government responds with a crackdown, while the police promise to reform themselves. City government rolls out some new police trainings and policies or maybe a new mental health program. It gets cold, protests die out, the new leaders get coopted or shut out, and people are forced to move on, until the cycle starts all over again. So much of what we could point to as ‘changes’ are, in fact, just variations on the themes of the past.”
It was also stated that “we have spent over a billion dollars on RPD in the last decade.” If that’s so, can we imagine how many billions we’ve spent on the RCSD in the last decade? And if it’s true that we need an independent body “working with the community to ensure that we have a government that actually keeps its people safe … and that orders its budget & public safety departments in ways that line up with both (1) the evidence re: what keeps people safe and (2) the beliefs of Rochesterians about how they want to be kept safe” then we certainly also need an independent body (as opposed to an individual) to work with the community to ensure that we have a public school district that actually effectively educates people … and that orders its budget & schools in ways that line up with both (1) the evidence re: what is effective relative to educating people and (2) the beliefs of Rochesterians about how they want to be educated.
If pundits and analyzers were clear-headed and honest, they could have answered the national question in just a couple of words, e.g., “not much has changed,” especially for those who are, and who have been, suffering the most.
Don’t take my word for it, ask them. Just about everyone, EXCEPT them, have been asked thus far.
The collective-critiques are filled with ideas that people “hope” will become reality, or things that have “almost” changed, not to mention things that are talked about as if they are brand new, but are actually far from it.
For example, one “activist” reportedly declared that: “The last year has been unprecedented, and the movement against police brutality and fighting against systemic racism has been more impactful than ever before.” REALLY??? Only an “activist” who either has not lived long enough, or who has not at least understood the importance of studying what happened in Rochester in July of 1964, would make such a glaringly erroneous statement. To suggest that people are just now “able to bring attention to cases of police abuse in our city” suggests that one has never heard of Rufus Fairwell, Denise Hawkins, and/or the Crime Commission, Calvin Green, and so many others.
The point I’m making is that the critique is inaccurate, and it erroneously posits some things that have occurred over the past year are unprecedented, when they clearly are not.
The greatest flaw regarding the local critique is that it is nearly single-issue-focused, as if bringing police murders and brutality under control solves everything, which of course is a ludicrous idea.
One signal, which makes it clear that some “activists” are not really paying close attention, and probably do not have the keen analytical skills that they may believe they possess, and that “leaders” are not really serious regarding potential, broad-based, far-reaching, measurable, permanent, anti-racist change, is the fact that the largest, unprecedented, $200,000 dollar joint-effort launched by the City and County (in response to George Floyd’s murder), the Commission on Racial And Structural Equity—which was supposedly designed to produce potential solutions for racism in every major area of life—is not mentioned, not even by one of the “leaders” who commissioned it, and who is also among the eight respondents. Go figure.
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.)