One week after the November 5 election, the lame duck Monroe Country Legislature passed a law: “Prohibited Harassment of a Police Officer, Peace Officer or First Responder in Monroe County.” The Republican sponsors declared it a matter of “urgency” in order to short-circuit process.
Now, who could possibly object to protecting these public servants from harm while on the job?
But the law has received immediate and passionate negative response from many sources. Some evidence (as of this writing):
- City Council issued a unanimous resounding objection to County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo and Legislature President Joe Carbone.
- A cadre of local attorneys issued a 14-page letter detailing the legal issues, primarily the vagueness of the language and its undercutting of First Amendment rights. They believe the law is virtually certain to be overturned in court, and that there were already sufficient laws on the books that could be brought to bear if people are obstructing justice.
- Frequent advocates for City residents are predictably outspoken, including a coalition led by United Christian Leadership Ministries, which works closely with County police chiefs on strengthening community/police relations.
- Many law enforcement officials have announced that they do not intend to enforce the law – at least until it survives a constitutionality test. Among those criticizing the law: Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter, Former Rochester Police Chief James Shepperd, former Deputy Chief Wayne Harris, and Mike Mazzeo, president of the Locust Club union, who said this is redundant and doesn’t necessarily reflect the wants or needs of officers. Webster, Greece and Fairport townships appear to be leaning toward enforcement.
- There were no dedicated public hearings held prior to passage of the law. At a hearing called by County Executive Dinolfo on December 2, (weeks after passage of the bill) all 136 speakers spoke in opposition. One person who identified himself as a Republican who voted for Trump said (paraphrased) that he could not in conscience defend Second Amendment rights (right to bear arms) while supporting this law which undermines First Amendment rights (free speech).
- Dinolfo did not attend this hearing which she had called. Nor did any Republican legislators. Within two hours of the end of the hearing, she signed the bill. By all appearances, the hearing was a sham.
However, this blog is not about the law itself. Instead I want to focus on this law and the clandestine process preceding it as symptomatic of a broader systemic issue: the intentional dissociation that exists between the City and the suburbs.
- 16 of the Republican County Legislators voted in favor of the law (two were absent).
- All 10 Democrats (and the one Libertarian) voted against.
- Until this recent election, a map of all districts reveals the sharpness of the divide: all blue (Dem) districts, with the exception of Brighton are in the City. All red (Rep) districts are in the suburbs.
- In this past election, three districts did flip to Democrat, so that the split is now 15 Republican, 14 Democrat, though still essentially divided City/Suburbs.
Newly elected County Executive Adam Bello is a Democrat, the first in 40 years to hold that office. He resides in Irondequoit (which is “blue”). It’s predictable that he will redistribute long-held patronage positions, but many are curious about how he will navigate the City/Suburb relationship?
Now, I have to confess here: I live in Penfield which is arguably “reddest” of the surrounding suburbs, and where just 2% of residents are African-American. And I did not know the name of my County Legislator. I just knew that person was a Republican, as is the newly elected Legislator who will replace her.
As his constituent, I’m seeking time with him to ask him some questions, e.g.:
- How do you see the relationship between the County and the City?
- How do you balance or align the interests of your constituents with those of City residents?
- How might Penfield residents benefit from a closer relationship with the City?
- What would be the barriers you see to creating a closer relationship?
- Where would you have stood on the Anti-harassment bill recently passed by the Legislature? And are you aware of the process that preceded that bill? Do you think the process was a just one?
I’ll be curious to hear his responses to these questions. I suspect these questions were not raised by anyone during his campaign throughout Penfield. I know I did not raise them, which is my passive complicity with this chasm that exists. I will not let that happen again. I want him to know that at least someone is paying attention. I also want to develop a relationship, to explore with him the disconnect that exists, and to imagine the synchronicity that is possible. And I intend to raise with him the severe racial imbalance that exists in this town.
To my Monroe County subscribers:
Do you know your County Legislator?
Will you bring this issue of disconnection to her/him/them? Will you develop a relationship with that legislator?
And if needed, help that Legislator reframe the responsibility of being a Monroe County Legislator to include the welfare of City residents?
For those of you living in Webster, Greece or Fairport, contact your local police department to encourage them not to enforce this.
To reference last post’s lessons from Ibram Kendi, this is what it looks like to be Antiracist.
A prior blog post: “The Two Rochesters” examining the city/suburban divide and its impact.
“Redlined: A Legacy of Housing Discrimination” 15 min. video; how the city/suburban divide was created.
“The Subtle Linguistics of Polite White Supremacy” by Yawo Brown in Medium
The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live, and Die by Keith Payne; how inequality divides us not just economically but across the spectrum of life.
“Who Gets to Live Where, and Why” by Dr. Tiffany Manuel; Making the case for systems change re gentrification and displacement.
Meet with your County Legislator to discuss the law above, and City/County relationship in general. See sample questions and contact info above.
Tuesday December 10, 6:00 – 8:00 General meeting of the Rochester City School District Racial Equity Advocacy Leadership Team at 131 W. Broad St.. If interested, call me at 585-734-2960.
Tuesday December 10, 6:00 – 9:00 Monroe County Legislature meeting, 39 W. Main St.. Will include speakers commenting on the anti-harassment legislation. If interested, call me at 585-34-2960.
Saturday December 14, 10:00 – 11:30: Monthly meeting of United Christian Leadership Ministry, Downtown United Presbyterian Church, 121 Fitzhugh St. N.. This organization is engaged in many of the most vital issues impacting our community, including opposition to the law described above. If interested, call me at 585-734-2960.
Tuesday, December 17, 5:30, Rochester City School District Board meeting; to include presentation of plan developed by the Racial Equity Advocacy Leadership (REAL) Team. This will be an important moment in a two-year process. If interested, call me at 585-734-2960.
Tuesday January 14, 6:00 – 8:00. Meeting of the RCSD Racial Equity Advocacy Leadership Team. If interested, call me at 585-734-2960.
Check out the array of events including workshops offered by 540westmain.org