According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Traffic Safety Facts Report from the same year, 2.5 million reported intersection accidents occurred in the United States during 2012. In total, the reported crashes resulted in over 680,000 injuries and 2,850 fatalities. Accidents caused by red light running accounted for 100,000 of those accidents and 1,000 of the fatalities (SRF Associates, 2014, p. 1). With 35% of fatalities coming from a mere 4% of all reported accidents, red light running poses a clear threat to all motorists and pedestrians crossing the street at busy intersections.
“Red light running” is defined as a vehicle that enters an intersection or crosses the stop line after the light has turned red. This could include not fully stopping before turning right, passing through a red light after it changes from yellow and going through a red light while other movements in the intersection (turn arrows, pedestrian crossings) are being served (SRF Associates, 2014, p. 1). Several studies have found that red light camera programs reduce the number and rate of red light violations. In the last decade, over 400 cities have utilized these programs to combat this public health concern. The theory is that putting Red Light Cameras at intersections with a noted history of red light violations and recording these violations for prosecution will alter motorist behavior; the threat of a ticket will prevent or reduce instances of red light running. In addition, the change in motorist behavior will ultimately reduce overall accidents and injuries thus promoting public safety (SRF Associates, 2014, p. 2). In April, 2009 New York State passed legislation clearing the way for Rochester to implement its Red Light Traffic Enforcement Program (Bortnick, 2009). Since the program went live in November 2010, 48 cameras have been installed at 32 intersections in the city of Rochester (SRF Associates, 2014, p. 1).
Description of Community
According to 2010 Census data, there are 1,054,000 million people in the Greater Rochester Area with 210,565 of them residing in the city. The Greater Rochester Area is the second largest economic center in New York State, trailing only New York City. Including Enter City which is primarily downtown, there are a total of 36 neighborhoods in the City of Rochester (Rochester, NY Neighborhoods, 2016); for a list and color coded map of neighborhoods refer to the Appendix. The yellow block in the middle is Center City, containing what is considered “downtown.” Areas in green are considered high desirability, high safety and low crime neighborhoods. Areas in red are considered to be low desirability, low safety and high crime neighborhoods.
The color coded map of Rochester reveals a few startling facts. First, the red neighborhoods on the map are all geographically connected to each other. They form “The Crescent;” an area of concentrated poverty representing the highest proportion of black, Latino and immigrant residents. As of 2015, Rochester had more people living at less than half the federal poverty level than any other American city of comparable size with 16.2% of those living in extreme poverty (Crescent of Poverty, 2015). Second, of the 36 separate neighborhoods listed in the Appendix, 14 of them are color coded red. Two neighborhoods the map codes in green (Susan B. Anthony and Brown Square) are mislabeled. On the map in the Appendix, there are two small areas west of Center City identified as high desirability, high safety and low crime. My experience working in these neighborhoods has shown them to be two of the most economically challenged and dangerous.
The Brown Square area includes the “Fruit Belt;” a grouping of streets named after fruits known for poverty, crime and high immigrant populations (Governale, 2015). Located near Sahlen’s Stadium where the Rochester Rhinos play, this troubled neighborhood also contains Enrico Fermi School #17. New York State test scores consistently show School #17 to be one of the lowest performing schools in the state, firmly entrenched in the bottom 1% of all schools for the last decade (School #17- Enrico Fermi, 2016). The Susan B. Anthony Neighborhood has historically been considered part of the Crescent (Crescent of Poverty, 2015), so I added these neighborhoods to those coded in red. That brings the total number of high crime, low safety and low desirability neighborhoods to 16, or 44% of the 36 identified areas.
The Red-Light Camera Traffic Safety Program is contained within the City of Rochester, meaning there are no cameras at any suburban intersections. Of the 36 neighborhoods considered part of the city proper, 16 contain red light cameras. It is important to point out that there are no traffic cameras on Main St. in Center City, and the lack of cameras in one of the highest traffic areas in the County compared to other chosen intersections is alarming. Excluding downtown, 11 of the 15 neighborhoods are considered high crime, low safety and low desirability.
In the early years of the program, opposition pointed to a lack of statistical evidence proving the program increased public safety or justifying its need in the community. Three years into operations the City hired an independent auditor, SRF Associates, to evaluate the effectiveness of cameras in reducing the frequency and severity of accidents caused by red light violations (SRF Associates, 2014, p. 1). The City hoped the findings of the study, released to the public in November 2014, would provide overwhelming evidence that the program positively impacted public safety and silence critics suggested the only benefits were to the City’s bottom line. While the aggregate numbers appear impressive and overall accidents at red light intersections were down 26%, a deeper dive into the numbers raised questions about just how effective the program is.
Of the 32 intersections studied, 8 experienced increases in total collisions while 11 saw increases in rear end crashes and 6 had a higher frequency of right angle crashes. Overall, eleven of the 32 intersections saw increases in violations (SRF Associates, 2014, p. 23); with 35% of intersections seeing increased frequency of red light violations and 25% seeing increased collisions, some questioned if the cameras were affecting driver behavior as intended. One City Council member, Elaine Spaull, stated the cameras were intended to change driver behavior leading to few fines and few collection measures (Fien, 2015). While the cameras improved overall safety through accident reduction, the increase in violations and accidents at several intersections cast doubts on the overall efficacy and effect of the program while failing to silence opponents.
Concerns and Controversy
One of the concerns surrounding the Red Light Camera program is where the cameras are placed. According the study on Red Light Camera Effectiveness in Rochester released in November 2014, 207 potential camera locations were reviewed. These 207 locations were identified through recommendations from the Rochester Police Department's (RPD) review of accident data by City staff and traffic volumes. A small camera was placed at each of these locations for a 12-hour period to measure signal compliance. An intersection was recommended for installation if 15 or more red light violations occurred in the 12-hour period, if it exhibited a history of accidents, and if the camera manufacturer determined the intersection was suitable. A team of City staff with representatives from the RPD, Information Technology, Engineering, Law and budget departments made the final decision on where the cameras would be installed (SRF Associates, 2014, pp. 2-3).
Several community members, including City Council Members who originally supported the cameras, have expressed concerns over them recently. In June 2015, both Council President Loretta Scott and Council member Adam McFadden expressed concerns that the program focuses on impoverished neighborhoods which disproportionately punishes Rochesterians with less disposable income (Fien, 2015). Further analysis of aggregate of the data from the SRF report suggests these Council members may have a point.
While plotting camera locations on the map in the Appendix, I noticed the same geographical pattern as Scott and McFadden. There are high concentrations of cameras in the high crime, low safety neighborhoods that form the Crescent. To see how high, I tallied the number of intersections and overall cameras located in each color coded section. Excluding Center City, 11 of the 15 neighborhoods with cameras are coded red on the map and considered high crime, high poverty areas. Of the 16 multi-camera intersections, 10 are located in those 11 high risk neighborhoods. In total, 53% of the intersections (17 of 32) and 56% of the cameras (27 of 48) are located in 31% (11 of 36) of Rochester Neighborhoods. If you remove Center City and only include neighborhoods with cameras, 61% of the intersections (17 of 28), 63% of cameras (27 of 43) and 67% of the multi-camera intersections (10 of 15) are located in high risk neighborhoods.
While these numbers show a disturbing trend, removing one block intensifies the argument the cameras target the poorest neighborhoods. Five cameras and three intersections are located in the same block near Kodak Park where 104 forks into Ridge Rd and Ridgeway Avenue, an area coded green. Removing that 100 sq. ft. area, in conjunction with Center City, the ratios are even more startling. That puts 68% of intersections (17 of 25), 71% of all cameras (27 of 38) and 71% of multiple-camera intersections (10 of 14) in impoverished neighborhoods. Simply put, neighborhoods with cameras located in the Crescent comprise less than one third of the City, but represent 73% of all residential neighborhoods monitored through the Red Light Camera Traffic Safety Program.
The concentration of red light cameras in the Crescent raises concerns about the privacy of citizens. License plate numbers and registration data as well as who owns the vehicle and where it’s located are aggregated into large databases creating more opportunities to collect this data thus stockpiling this information (Lederman, Taylor, & Garrett, 2016, p. 118). There are several instances over the last few years of data breaches in the public sector and private industry, and this information could be used by hackers to track the movements of people, identify frequently used routes and compile locations on where to find someone. Private information relating to specific individuals could become widely available to people with ill intentions (Lederman, Taylor, & Garrett, 2016, p. 115)
While the current cameras only take photos of red light violations, as the technology associated with traffic enforcement cameras evolves these could turn into surveillance cameras used in broken windows policing. The theory of broken windows policing involves focusing on areas with unattended disorder to maintain public order (Smith & Greenblatt, 2016, pp. 460-461). By focusing on neighborhoods with high crime, high poverty and dilapidated structures with broken windows, controlling the main sources of crime. The neighborhoods with the highest concentration of red light cameras meet these criteria, and are already being watched 24/7. The RPD already has a Police Overt Digital Surveillance System (PODSS) comprised of fifty cameras placed in high crime areas to help police maintain order (PODSS, 2016). Adding the red camera intersections to the PODSS program may be as easy as switching out cameras or updating software, and adding additional surveillance to already struggling neighborhoods falls in line with the current RPD policies and approach to policing these communities.
Lastly, concerns are prevalent over how the program is administered from start to finish; in particular, there are no witnesses to the offense and no due process. When a violation occurs, the camera snaps a photo of the vehicle license plate, making it difficult to identify the actual driver or passengers. The recorded footage of the violation is sent to Redflex Traffic Systems in Arizona, the company Rochester contracted for the cameras, where it is reviewed by company auditors. If these civilians determine a violation has occurred, the incident is sent back to Rochester and reviewed by members of the RPD. Notice of the violation is sent to the address attached to the vehicle registration along with a $50 fine (Twietmeyer, 2015).
With no witnesses, officer discretion and the circumstances surrounding the violation are discarded in favor of photographic evidence that is often viewed as indisputable. There is no trial or opportunity to defend yourself- you’re sent a document telling you that you are guilty and that you must pay a fine. If the owner wasn’t driving the car when the violation occurred, they are still responsible. While I was unable to find statistics on what percentage of tickets are overturned, the City of Rochester rarely rescinds violations. There are also concerns violations aren’t reported in a timely fashion, and that registered owners don’t find out about the fine until it’s too late. Failure to pay the violation can have extreme consequences, and some enforcement measures used support claims the program is a money grab for the City of Rochester.
Since the beginning of the program, unpaid violations were referred to the City’s Collection Agency EOS CCA (City of Rochester, 2016). Unpaid penalties damage credit reports, creating a scenario where the vehicle owner responsible for the violation is notified through their credit report and not the City assessing the fine. The judgments levied by the City stay on credit reports for years and can impact the ability to purchase cars or homes. Frustrated by accumulated unpaid fines, the City of Rochester implemented extreme policy measures to increase the collection of fines as revenue. In May 2015, the City started booting cars with unpaid red light camera violations (Riley, 2015). Many citizens and City Council members saw this as an overly aggressive measure to collect fines on a program advertised as a public safety measure, with McFadden and Scott pointing to the impact and perceived focus on the poorest neighborhoods in the city.
Additionally, Mayor Warren has included further punitive measures in her Fiscal Year 2016 Budget. Despite the fact these tickets are a civil matter, Mayor Warren included a plan to report these violations to the Department of Motor Vehicles (Riley, 2015). Reporting these tickets to them could impact the ability to register a vehicle, renew a license and could lead to suspension or revocation of driving privileges. Should this happen to a vehicle owner who is held responsible for another motorist or one who isn’t properly notified, charges like driving without a license, driving on a suspended license and driving an unregistered vehicle become tangible turning a civil fine into a serious criminal matter.
Despite the negative public perception of the program and the implications the cameras target low income residents, many argue the financial benefits of the Red Light Camera Traffic Enforcement Program, the City of Rochester will ensure the initiative continues. While estimates range on how much revenue red light fines the City makes, in 2014 the city assessed almost 87,000 citations generating $3.7 million dollars in revenue (Davidsen, 2015). It is not clear much of that money the City got to keep, and the Rochester CAFR doesn’t identify the red light cameras as a specific revenue source. It also doesn’t mention where the money went, or how the revenue generated from the cameras will be used to benefit the City. The fact that the revenue is hidden in other line items and not specifically discussed supports the claims this program is a cash cow for the City of Rochester.
One thing that is clear is the cameras aren’t going anywhere in the near future. In November 2014, City Council voted to extend the program through December 1, 2019 by a 6-3 margin. The three council members who voted against continuing the program were Elaine Spaull, Adam Mc Fadden and Loretta Scott (Staff Report, 2014).
While the report from SRF Associates provides data showing some improvements to public health and traffic safety, the benefits do not outweigh the negative impact the Red Light Camera Traffic Safety Program has had on the City of Rochester. These cameras were advertised and implemented as a public safety measure, but when due process is removed and fines are levied with the assumption of guilt, it becomes harder to see them as anything other than a cash cow for a struggling City. Based on the location and quantity of cameras located in the Crescent, there are strong implications this program is in fact targeting the neediest families in our community and some of the poorest neighborhoods in all New York State. The measures the City chooses to ensure payment of these fines are excessive, and inflict damage beyond a $50 fine if not paid promptly. The decision to boot vehicles, send fines to collection and report them to the DMV show how desperate the City of Rochester is to maintain this revenue source, especially when 3 City Council members who initially supported the initiative have raised serious concerns about the equity of the program in an already racially divided community. At the least, the City of Rochester owes its citizens transparency over how much revenue is generated from the program. Hiding the proceeds in vague fund balances does nothing to support claims that the goal of the cameras is to improve traffic safety.
If the focus is on profits instead of public safety, then the privacy and security of sensitive information is most likely an afterthought. Part of public health is peace of mind; the ability for the public to feel safe and protected in the community knowing the police and government are protecting your rights. As long as these cameras are part of the City, the lack of trust felt by the residents of the Crescent and vehicle owners who were mistreated or ignored during the violation process will override any feelings of security. The City already uses PODSS as a tool, harming the relationship between the community and the RPD. Until studies show overwhelming reductions in accidents and violations strengthening the public safety stance or due process is added allowing for the application of circumstantial discretion, the harm the cameras cause will continue to outweigh any safety benefits. Angry citizens will continue to feel like the program is nothing more than a cash cow, creating further resentment for a City government more concerned with collecting fines than addressing the blatant racial, procedural and civil right concerns the Red Light Traffic Safety Program leaves in its wake.
Bortnick, C. J. (2009, April 2). Rochester to Get Traffic Cameras. Retrieved from The 9/12 Project: article referenced taken from RNews: http://www.meetup.com/WSR912/messages/boards/thread/6617713
City of Rochester. (2016, April 27 2016). Red Light Camera Program- Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from Red Light Camera Traffic Safety Program: http://www.cityofrochester.gov/article.aspx?id=8589940922
Crescent of Poverty. (2015). Retrieved from RocWiki: The People's Guide to Rochester: http://rocwiki.org/Crescent_of_Poverty
Davidsen, B. (2015, November 2). NYS Exposed: The future of red light cameras in Rochester. Retrieved from WHEC Rochester- News 10: http://www.whec.com/article/stories/s3950224.shtml
Governale, M. (2015, August 26). Help Nurture Rochester's Fruit Belt. Retrieved from RochesterSubway.com: http://www.rochestersubway.com/topics/2015/08/help-nurture-rochesters-fr...
Lederman, J., Taylor, B. D., & Garrett, M. (2016). A private matter: the implication of privacy regulations for itelligent transportaton systems. Transportation Planning and Technology, 39:2, 115-135.
Rochester, NY Neighboorhoods. (2016, April 27). Retrieved from Google Maps: https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/1/viewer?hl=en&oe=UTF8&vps=1&msa=0&ie=UT...
Smith, K. B., & Greenblatt, A. (2016). Governing States and Localities. Los Angeles: CQ Press, an Imprint of Sage Publications, Inc.
SRF Associates. (2014). Red Light Camera Effectiveness Evaluation. Rochester: City of Rochester, Monroe County, New York.
Voorhees, S. (2015, June 24). Rochester City Councilman Calls for Investigation Into Red Light Camera Program. Retrieved from Time Warner Cable News: http://www.twcnews.com/nys/rochester/news/2015/06/24/red-light-cameras-r...
Camera Placement in Neighborhoods Color Coded by Safety & Desirability
Contact the author: Robert D. Richardson III, Department of Public Administration, SUNY Brockport. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Robert D. Richardson III, Brockport MetroCenter. 55 St. Paul St., Rochester, NY 14604. Contact: email@example.com
Read the original paper
[Rochester Indymedia note on profit motive and RedFlex corruption: According to page 49, Exhibit D Compensation & Pricing, of the contract between the city of Rochester and RedFlex, “The fixed fee shall be $3,740 Per Month per System.” From what Rochester Indymedia can gather from the contract, a “System” simply means a camera at an intersection.
Mr. Richardson's paper notes that “48 cameras have been installed at 32 intersections” which means that RedFlex, a private, for-profit company, is raking in $179,520 per month. Over a 12 month period, that's $2,154,240 per year. That's private profit: public money is being used to subsidize a private entity—a corporation—that offers the service of using its technology to penalize drivers in Rochester. The city certainly gets some of the money from the ticket as well. As it is the case that most of the cameras are located in impoverished neighborhoods—71%—as Mr. Richardson notes, then it's reasonable to assume that most of that $2.1 million in private profit is being taken directly from the pockets of the people living in those neighborhoods and shuttled to a privte company in Arizona. That's a bad deal. That's hardworking folks' money being fleeced from them for the benefit of a private corporation—over minor traffic violations.
Another thing to consider with RedFlex is the massive bribery scandal officials engaged in to get the system installed in Chicago. See: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/redlight/ct-red-light-cameras-ceo-guilty-met-20150819-story.html. Why does the city continue to do business with a company that is being investigated for crimes where its former CEO has plead guilty to a massive, $2 million bribery scheme? The city found there were no ethics violations, but when $4 million is raked in from the program, one could see why there would be hesitation at finding anything wrong with the program from an economic point of view.]
Related: FOIA Docs: Red-light Camera Contract between City of Rochester and Redflex | Strike it down! Larry Krieger fights City Hall on red light cameras | Larry Krieger's 1st transcribed hearing re: red light camera ticket | Rochester's Red Light Camera Law Is Bad For Business and Tourism | Mapping the Police State: Police Cameras, Maps, and You!
On May 31 2016 a group of about 25 activists met at Rochester's Liberty pole. The action was led by Mothers Out Front, an environmental group advocating renewable solutions to climate change. The timing of the event was in national solidarity for the Long Island-New York City Offshore Wind Project. The project would construct a large number of 300 foot diameter wind turbines 12-15 miles from the south shore of Long Island. The project is a joint effort between Consolidated Edison Co. which supplies electricity to New York City, the New York State Power Authority and the Long Island Power Authority. Hearings were being in conducted in New York City at the same time as the national rallies, and a large crowd was assembled outside of New York's City Hall.
The proposed project would produce 350 megawatts of power with the wind blowing 40 percent of the time. If the project is successful the number of windmills could be expanded to produce over 700 megawatts. By comparison, Rochester's Ginna nuclear power plant is rated at 600 megawatts. Each of New York's nuclear reactors at the Indian Point plant, 35 miles up the Hudson river, produce about 1,100 megawatts. One reactor is permanently shut down and the two operating ones are leaking radioactive toxins into the river. Projects such as this are a giant step toward eliminating nuclear plants and their toxic waste, as well as coal and gas plants and their greenhouse emissions. An added bonus is no corporation or foreign cartel can raise the price of the wind.
More information can be found at http://www.linycoffshorewind.com. The site has computer generated images of what the project would look like. The towers would barely be visible from shore on a clear day and you would need binoculars or a telescope to actually see them moving.
The project is part of Governor Cuomo's renewable energy plan. Similar projects off the shore of Lake Ontario are feasible locally.
The original article, cross-posted with permission, can be found at: https://medium.com/@I.MMA70/what-islam-means-to-the-white-male-through-the-lens-of-a-bullet-covered-in-bacon-grease-129d42a03ea5#.y3iviiqmc
What Islam means to the White Male- Through the lens of a Bullet Covered in Bacon Grease
It’s a little ridiculous that after more than 20 years of being born and raised in the US, having received a proper American education, and chosen to serve a career in the public sector, that I am deemed a terrorist or a demon in the eyes of the White Male. It’s also a little ridiculous knowing that due to the unforeseen nature of terrorist attacks that the White Male feels that he has the privilege to take matters into his own hands. How obscene it is that the White Male believes he has privileges…oh, wait…
You’re right, White Male, I am of the nature of the unforeseen, I am the modest and the hopeful, I am the one you will never understand. For too long, you have maneuvered your way around every person that does not carry the color of your skin or the same genitalia. For too long, you have weakened all other races and ethnicity in your eyes, just so that you may carry on with yourself as you do in 892 other Active Hate Groups that exist in this Country. Staring at a map created by the Southern Poverty Law Center, I’m throwing up in my mouth a little as I noticed a Black Separatist Group is only miles away from my home.
Just understand, while you frustrate me enough to want me to pull out my hair or have transcended into a more hateful organization of individuals who deserve no respect, you may carry on with your hate. Please continue loading your rifles with bacon grease and practicing aiming bullets at Muslims…good luck finding them because not all of them wear Hijab or grow beards. In fact, lots of them look like you — they’re fathers, mothers, teachers, scientists and you probably have one in your doctor’s office. In fact, some of them are working on curing cancer, plotting expeditions in space to see the unknown, and more. Some of them are activists, like I, who fight for everyone and anyone they can. It’s too bad you don’t see that.
Your stories make me tremble and your tactics even more so. You have frightened many and have won. What then comes after the millions you are plotting to kill? You are right in a few instances, extremists are bad. Very, very bad. I’m also aware that while I call out the White Man, not every white man out there deems to be as hateful as you are. It’s shameful that as time and politics seem to progress, it is no war or disease that sets us back, instead it is our decision to stay away from educating ourselves in the matter.
Jihad is not easy to understand; even some of us Muslims find it hard to interpret. Though as we choose to live, many have chosen to live lives of peace and trust and forming bonds— after all, we call everyone a brother and sister. The Quran claims that even as people commit hateful acts, we must not judge and understand that there is always room to forgive. It is hard to unsee the hateful crimes committed but I, and my family, will always forgive. May you stop characterizing a group of people as extremists. On this very Memorial Day, my own parents recognized the innocent and most courageous lives gone too soon as they fought for not only their land, but their independence, justice and freedom.
As we commemorate this Holiday, may we lend an ear and encourage others to learn a little more about Islam rather than making assumptions of a group that does not deserve a bacon-grease topped bullet.
Watch the video that sparked Iman's response:
Related: Islamophobia: The New Racism | After the Requiem, Chomsky answers questions | Ryan Harvey on Europe's Refugee Crisis | Cornel West's "Connecting the Dots: Poverty, Racism, & Drones" | From the Vault! Rochester Indymedia digs for content from the past | ROC Says "No" to hate and intolerance and "Yes" to refugees | Rev. Hagler's U of R speech and an interview with student organizer Hijazi | Rochester Rally for Palestine | Nothing to Fear: Debunking the Mythical "Sharia Threat" to Our Judicial System
Alex White spoke on May 26 2016 on Corporate Welfare and what it costs the people of Rochester. The event was held at presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' headquarters. Sanders has been an outspoken critic of Corporate Welfare on the national level. But the local costs are mostly due to Democrats.
Alex White has run for mayor and city council as a Green Party candidate.
Below is a PDF of the BWC [Body Worn Camera] Manual Draft 4.29.2016 Public Release found as a link on the Rochester Police Department website concerning the Rochester Police Department's (RPD) development of policies for the use of body worn cameras. This is not the final policy, but it seems like it could be headed that way, if the public does not get involved.
The many failures of the draft policy for Body Worn Cameras
Scroll down for more information on 10 failures of the draft policy released by the Rochester Police Department regarding the use of Body Worn Cameras (BWCs). Rochester Indymedia encourages you to read the policy and compare our concerns with the policy as written. We are aware that there are additional concerns and failures with the draft policy, but these 10 seemed to be most egregious. Check back here for future updates!
Failure #1: Should officers deviate from any of the policies listed, there is NO presumption of guilt and NO consequence for violating policy. We must demand officer accountability! We must demand a presumption of guilt for violating policy as well as discipline be incorporated into the policy!
There are no consequence listed in the draft policy for violating its directives and no presumption of guilt for deviating from the BWC policy.
What does "no consequences" mean? It means exactly what it sounds like: for violating any portion of the proposed draft policy regarding BWCs, there are zero consequences, zero penalties, and no accountability for individual officers and supervisors.
The policy fails to include a section on discipline and what constitutes a violation. Theoretically, if an officer violates the policy, then there could be disciplinary consequences. It is vital that the final BWC policy include this section. Stating that discipline "will be administered" isn't good enough. The policy should elucidate specific types of discipline. For example, for a first violation, the officer would receive a reprimand. On the second offense, the officer would be suspended for 30 days. And on the third violation, the officer would be fired. Currently, with the way the policy is written, police impunity is built-in, with no accountability offered.
What does "presumption of guilt" mean? If an officer violates the policy, for example, by not turning the camera on or by turning it off, we presume that the officer is guilty of a violation. If we are demanding police accountability, then a presumption of guilt would hang over that officer and their BWC footage. If an officer didn't turn the camera on, in violation of BWC policy, then at trial the jury would be unable to review the footage and any (allowed) testimony from officer would be treated as highly suspect.
Both officer discipline and the presumption of guilt for violating BWC policy are crucial if there is to be any accountability for police officers operating with BWCs. We must demand that the presumption of guilt and specific officer discipline with a clear definition of what a violation of policy means, be built into the policy.
Failure #2: Officers have discretion to turn the cameras on and off. (Including your private residence!) We must demand that the cameras be always on or that individual officers cannot have control!
According to the BWC draft policy, "members assigned a BWC will activate it and record all activities..." which means that the individual officers will have the power to turn the cameras on and off at their discretion. This leaves a wide margin of potential abuse for officers who may be operating in an illegal or abusive manner. Again and again, Rochester Indymedia has heard from people that the cameras must remain on all the time, or at the very least, individual officers must not have the ability to turn the cameras on and off.
There's also the issue of police discretion when BWCs are on in private residences. There is no mention of what is and is not permitted to be filmed inside a private residence, where individual privacy rights are very different from street or public interactions. Assuming that the cameras have to remain on, if the officer did not get consent to record, on film, within a private residence, then the footage would be deleted or, at least, it would be inadmissible in court.
We must demand that the cameras remain on all the time or that the individual officers have no ability to turn the camera on and off.
Failure #3: Police conducting investigations into police misconduct are prohibited from using their body cameras. We must demand that police turn the cameras on for both civilian and police investigations!
The BWC draft policy notes that officers are required to have their cameras on during calls for service or self-initiated interactions with civilians, enforcement activity, Quality of Service Inquiries, pursuit driving, foot pursuits, prisoner transports, when in proximity to a prisoner, certain identification procedures, searches and seizures, traffic stops, vehicle checkpoints, and civilian transports. These are all civilian interactions with officers.
However, when it comes to investigatory action into police misconduct conducted by the internal affairs section of the department, Professional Standards Section, the BWC draft policy, states, "Members will not record with BWCs interviews relating to departmental investigations being conducted by PSS or by any other section performing similar functions."
In the case of civilian criminal matters, police have full discretion to use BWCs. In fact, in many interactions with the public they are required, according to the draft BWC policy, to turn their cameras on. That requirement ends as soon as an investigation is focused on police misconduct. If we value integrity and fairness, two terms PSS loves to talk about, then it is imperative that BWCs be turned on during police investigations into police misconduct. We must demand that the cameras stay on when criminal investigations are occurring–regardless of whether they civilian or police in nature. No exceptions.
Failure #4: BWCs are in the off position unless otherwise ordered when the SWAT Team, Bomb Squad, and Crisis Negotiation Team are deployed. We must demand that the cameras be on when these "Special Teams" are deployed!
If the above listed units are called to specific situations, according to the BWC draft policy, these teams "will not record with a BWC" unless "authorized by the Chief of Police, a Deputy Chief, Division Commander, or the Team Commander."
Let's start with the SWAT team, part of the "Special Teams" mentioned above. The Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team is charged with responding to "hostage incidents, barricaded armed subjects, high-risk warrant service, high risk suspect apprehension, protection of dignitaries, and any other situations as determined by the Chief of Police" and other high ranking officers in the department.
Their duties also include evicting grandmothers and families–such as Catherine Lennon–from their homes under fraudulent orders from bailed out banks and conducting botched drug raids based on bad intelligence that lead to the killing of innocent people. Lives–along with homes and personal property–are destroyed with no reparations to the victims of this militarized, police violence.
Concerning drug raids, it's worth quoting Michelle Alexander in full, from her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, regarding the rise of SWAT teams and their primary use since the 1980s (pages 74 and 75):
SWAT teams originated in the 1960s and gradually became more common in the 1970s, but until the drug war, they were used rarely, primarily for extraordinary emergency situations such as hostage takings, hijackings, or prison escapes. That changes in the 1980s, when local law enforcement agencies suddenly had access to cash and military equipment specifically for the purpose of conducting drug raids.
Today, the most common use of SWAT teams is to serve narcotics warrants, usually with forced, unannounced entry into the home. In fact, in some jurisdictions drug warrants are served only [sic] by SWAT teams–regardless of the nature of the alleged drug crime. As the Miami Herald reported in 2002, "Police say they want [SWAT teams] in case of a hostage situation or a Columbine-type incident, but in practice the teams are used mainly to serve search warrants on suspected drug dealers. Some of these searches yield as little as a few grams of cocaine or marijuana."
The rate of increase in the use of SWAT teams has been astonishing. In 1972, there were just a few hundred paramilitary drug raids per year in the United States. By the end of the 1980s, there were three thousand annual SWAT deployments, by 1996 there were thirty thousand, and by 2001 there were forty thousand. The escalation of military force was quite dramatic in cities throughout the United States. In the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, for example, its SWAT team was deployed on no-knock warrants thirty-five times in 1986, but in 1996 that same team was deployed for drug raids more than seven hundred times.
These encounters, Alexander notes, "are not polite encounters." Police conduct raids in the middle of the night or in the early morning hours by blasting into homes, "throwing grenades, shouting and pointing guns and rifles at anyone inside, often including young children." She continued that in recent years, "dozens of people have been killed by police in the course of these raids, including elderly grandparents and those who are completely innocent of any crime."
Lydia Boston and her young children were traumatized in a drug raid based on bad intelligence in 2011
When the SWAT team is deployed, we must demand that BWCs be on. The targets of these raids must have access to BWC footage to be used as evidence in civil and criminal suits brought against the department, especially when things go wrong.
With regard to the Bomb Squad and the Crisis Negotiation Team, these "Special Teams" often work in tandem with the SWAT team and should not be exempted from having their cameras on as the default setting. In fact, under General Order 630, the SWAT team must "maintain close working relationships with specialized teams (e.g., the Crisis Negotiation Team (CNT), the K-9 Unit and the Bomb Squad)" as well as conduct joint training exercises at least once a year. Regardless of whether those other "Special Teams" are working with the SWAT team, the cameras must be on.
Let's assume that the cameras are in the default on position; if a supervisor orders the cameras off, then the burden of proof would be on the police to show why turning the cameras off was imperative–and if it can't be shown why the cameras had to be turned off, then the presumption of guilt rests with the individual officers and their supervisors, not the victims of police action.
For the reasons stated above, we must demand that the cameras are in the default on position when any of the "Special Teams" are deployed.
Failure #5: BWCs are in the off position unless otherwise ordered when the Mobile Field Force (MFF), another assault unit of the RPD, is deployed to protests, demonstrations, and areas of civil disorder. We must demand that the cameras be on when the MFF is deployed!
The Mobile Field Force (MFF) is a beast unto itself. If the MFF and / or the Grenadier team is deployed, according to the BWC draft policy, these teams "will record with assigned BWCs" as "directed by a supervisor and/or in accordance with an operational directive." Again, the camera is in the default off position unless the officers are directed otherwise.
Rochester Police Department General Order 605 defines the MFF force as, "a specially trained group personnel assigned to provide rapid, organized, and disciplined response to civil disorder, crowd control, or other tactical situations."
Aside from the problem of police determining the definitions of "civil disorder," "crowd control," and "other tactical situations," protected First Amendment activities such as protests and demonstrations–where the likelihood of police violence is high–the cameras must be in the default on mode. Otherwise, you get situations like the police riot against anti-war protesters on the Main Street bridge in 2009 where police claimed they had to intervene violently because protesters blocked a fire truck. Video evidence was offered contrary to the police lie, but the mainstream news agencies refused to report on the truth of the matter.
The policing of First Amendment activities–by such heavily armed police–where body cameras are in the default off position, is an invitation for abuse of power and brutality. In all of the above situations, we demand that the cameras must be in the default on position.
Failure #6: Officers are allowed to review their own footage when writing their reports–a potentially abusive situation. We must demand that officers not be allowed to review their own footage when preparing reports!
According to the BWC draft policy, members can view their BWC recordings "if available" in order to "assist in accurate reporting." Police generally write their reports hours or days after the incident. Each time someone recalls a memory, it changes a little. Memory recall isn't perfect.
In the BWC draft policy, under the section about officers having access to footage while writing their reports, the policy notes, "the purpose of using BWC recordings in writing reports is to maximize the accuracy of the report—not to replace the member’s independent recollection and perception of an event." Except that while the police want us to take their word on this, the reality doesn't bear fruit.
With the acknowledgement that recall isn't 100% dependable, reports are more accurate the closer in time they are written to the actual event. The problem with having officers review video as they write their reports–up to 24 hours or more after the incident–is that the review of the video corrupts their memory and their brains start to work out narratives of what happened in relation to what the video shows rather than what they recall (and did) without the aid of the video.
In abusive situations, officers might engage in misconduct and intentionally rewrite their reports to reflect that misconduct in a more favorable light–obfuscating the truth in the process.
In one national case, that of Laquan McDonald, police claimed in initial reports that Mr. McDonald was going down Pulaski Road stabbing car tires with a knife. According to the Chicago Tribune article linked above, Fraternal Order of Police spokesperson Pat Camden claimed that the teenager had a blank, "100-yard stare" and that he was non-responsive to police orders after allegedly damaging a police cruiser.
Mr. McDonald then "lunged at police, and one of the officers opened fire," according to police. The truth of these statements came out a year later after a line officer informed Jamie Kalven, an investigative journalist, of hidden and nondisclosed footage. Mr. Kalven pushed and pushed with other activists and family members until the police and the city were compelled by a judge to release the footage.
Contrary to police narratives and official reports, Mr. McDonald did not lunge at cops–he was walking calmly away from them with his hands at his sides. The 17-year-old Black teenager was then gunned down by Chicago Police Department officer Jason Van Dyke with 16 bullets–many of them entering his body after he was wounded and on the ground.
It's cases like Mr. McDonald's that make the public skeptical of police having access to their own footage. Granted, the cover-up began immediately after Mr. McDonald's murder (with police going to a nearby Burger King and deleting some 86 minutes of footage from the chain's security system) and not during the writing of reports, but in the end, the false narrative and police reports all conspired against what really happened that night.
Locally, people have been arrested and held in the backseats of patrol cars, while officers conspired to come up with a favorable police narrative of what happened as well as determining charges for the arrestees. Some examples of this include the arrest of Willie Joe Lightfoot, the arrests of several anti-war demonstrators after a police riot in 2009, and the police union releasing false statements after the DA withdrew charges against Emily Good who was video taping a racially motivated traffic stop in front of her home on Aldine Street and was arrested for doing so by Mario "Cowboy" Masic.
Is there a compromise position on this? The Washington Post published an article describing a compromise position: officers write an initial report before viewing the video and then write a follow-up report after viewing the video where the officer would "acknowledge and attempt to explain any discrepancies between the video and the initial report." The second report would be used in court. This is an interesting compromise and certainly not what the BWC draft policy is advocating for here in Rochester. The cops want full access to BWC footage while they write their reports. We must demand that officers have no access to the videos on their BWCs. The temptation for abuse is too great.
Failure #7: The draft policy gives the District Attorney redacting power and direct access to BWC footage; all other lawyers must go through a longer, slower process! We must demand that the same process be used for all lawyers or remove the special access granted to the DA!
The BWC draft policy contains a streamlined process for the District Attorney (DA) to have direct access to all BWC footage in addition to redacting power. Under Subsection A, number 1, the policy states that the City's Information Technology department and the Research and Evaluation Section (R&E) of the RPD will "provide direct access to MCDA [Monroe County District Attorney] to obtain BWC recordings stored in RPD's BWC System needed for criminal prosecution."
The draft policy goes on to state that the "MCDA will directly provide defendants with copies of BWC recordings," and here's the kicker, "as it [the DA] deems necessary." The term "necessary" is never defined. This creates a problem wherein the DA could know of certain footage but refuse to hand it over as the DA deems it not necessary–when in fact, it might be very necessary.
A third point in the process is that the DA "will be responsible for any required redactions" that the DA "provides to defendants." The terms "required" and "redactions" are not defined nor is there any process or standard of what would be "required" to be blacked out or fuzzed out–redacted–in these videos. An amazing amount of disproportional power is vested with the DA and the policy doesn't even define the terms of the power it is granting to the DA.
Redacting raises all kinds of questions: How does redaction work? Will it include facial blurring, voice scrambling, omitting sections of video entirely? Does redacting change the original footage or will an unredacted copy also be kept? What will be redacted and under what circumstances? Who is R&E and / or the RPD will have the responsibility to redact? If the DA and the Public Defender are given authority to redact, what guidelines for redaction will they be using and who will be responsible for ensuring redaction happens accurately and fairly? Who will have access to unredacted footage? For how long? And where will it be stored? The draft policy offers no answers to the questions above. Redaction doesn't promote transparency or accountability, but rather state secrecy.
Finally, the last step of the process states that the R&E section of the police department will be at the disposal of the DA as needed to "ensure necessary BWC recordings are obtained" by the DA. Basically, the police section that works on the BWC system is at the disposal of the DA when it comes to tracking down BWC footage.
If we scroll down the BWC draft policy to subsection C, Defense Subpoenas or Demands in Criminal Cases, we very clearly see a different and more scrutinized process.
Instead of the above process, all defense subpoenas or demands in criminal proceedings by lawyers outside of the DA's office for BWC footage would go to the R&E section. They, in turn, would consult with the city's law department and the "appropriate prosecuting office" regarding the request. From there, R&E would identify the BWC footage that related to the demand or subpoena. Once the footage is identified, R&E would send copies of the requested footage to the defense attorney or office as "advised by the City Law Department and / or the prosecuting office." However, before any such copies are turned over to the defense, R&E will consult with the city's law department as well as the prosecuting office to "determine if any redactions may be required." R&E would follow their "legal guidance" concerning redacting. Finally, any copied BWC footage that was sent to the defense would also be sent to the "appropriate prosecuting office."
Again, the terms "redacting" and "required" are never defined. And again, any demands or subpoenas for BWC footage would go through the DA's or prosecuting attorney's office. Any "required redactions" would be made before the defense would be sent a copy of the footage and it appears that the defense attorney or office has no recourse to challenge any of the, as of now, undefined "required redactions." The other piece that is missing from this process is a time table: how long does each step take and when can the defense expect to get copies of footage? Will the defense get an unredacted version of the video? Without the above failures resolved, the power is solely held in the hands of the state with no recourse should a subpoena or demand be denied.
That's why we must demand that the process for obtaining BWC footage be the same for both the DA and all lawyers, or that there be no special, streamlined process for the DA's office.
Failure #8: The draft policy continually uses broad and undefined terms like "safe" and "practical." We must demand that this language be struck from the policy or that such language is clearly defined and accompanied by examples and guidelines.
The first instance of the terms "safe" and "practical" can be found on page 5 of the draft policy. "Safe" and "practical" are not legally defined terms and are not defined in the draft policy. What do these terms mean? What constitutes "safe and practical"? Officer safety is already prioritized in civilian-police interactions. "Practical" is a broad term that can be a synonym for "convenient." These terms should not be used as the standard for officers' discretion in operating the BWCs and following procedures. The language potentially allows officers to use unbridled discretion for a number of other factors that amounts to officer choice about when cameras are on or off.
Therefore, we must demand that this language be struck from the policy, or, that such language is clearly defined and accompanied by examples and guidelines.
Failure #9: There is no outlined process for auditing the BWC project to make sure that it is in compliance. We must demand that the BWC policy include a section regarding audits as well as discipline for deviations of policy and that a civilian third party–with no connections to law enforcement–be responsible for running audits of the entire project.
The maintenance of the BWC project is complicated and involves many parties, including each individual officer who tags and enters their own BWC footage. According to the draft policy, there are 10 different tags or categories for officers to label their footage. There is no specific procedure or process in the draft policy for how audits of tagging footage are conducted. We must demand that a civilian third party–with no connections to law enforcement–conducts regular audits of tagged footage to ensure compliance with policy. Or, at the very least, R&E could do the tagging audits as long as a clear process is outlined and disciplinary action exists for deviation and abuse.
We know that the Civilian Review Board (CRB) is simply a rubber-stamping mechanism for police action with no actual power over police. We also know that the CRB is outsourced to a nonprofit organization–Center for Dispute Settlement–that gets paid directly from the RPD's budget to administer the CRB. Setting up a system where police have an undue amount of influence over the proceedings–an audit system in the case of BWCs–is the creation of yet another intentionally failed system. Police cannot police themselves. It is vital to have regular, independent audits where the auditors have no connection with any local, state, or federal law enforcement agencies.
Additionally, the same civilian third party would conduct a biannual audit of the whole project to ensure that it is performing as intended. We must demand that this be written into the final policy.
Failure #10: New York Civil Rights Law Section 50-a can be used by the RPD to block disclosure of BWC footage to the public using the Freedom Of Information Law (FOIL). We must demand that the city and police explicitly state in the policy that section 50-a will not be used to deny transparency.
The BWC draft policy contains a list of exemptions to the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). While section 50-a of the New York Civil Rights Law is not directly invoked, the first point states that FOIL requests can be "specifically exempted from disclosure by state or federal statute," which, is in effect saying that any public request for BWC footage could be denied under section 50-a.
According to the 2014 Annual Report from the Committee On Open Government (COOG), section 50-a is "an exemption from the ordinary rules of disclosure that apply to other government agencies. Section 50-a permits law enforcement officers to refuse to disclose 'personnel records used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion.'"
The law was passed in 1976 and over the last 20 years, the exemption has broadened considerably. Again, according to the 2014 COOG report, the "narrow exception has been expanded in the courts to allow police departments to withhold from the public virtually any record that contains any information that could conceivably be used to evaluate the performance of a police officer. That means information about what an officer actually has done can be kept from the public in most cases. And it is."
Robert Freeman, executive director of the Committee On Open Government, discusses FOIL and 50-a at an Enough Is Enough event
The 2015 annual report elucidates how the section 50-a jeopardizes any attempt at police transparency in New York with the use of BWC footage: "Under current application of §50-a, many law enforcement agencies would surely contend that a recording can, in the words of §50-a, be 'used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion' and, therefore, is exempt from disclosure." Thus, "if there is no public disclosure, a primary purpose of the bodycam would be defeated."
But wait, that's not all! Not only is there protection for police from disclosure of BWC footage (if they want to invoke section 50-a), but according to the draft policy if there is an ongoing criminal investigation and a FOIL request asks for footage relating to that investigation, the chief has final, arbitrary authority over whether or not that footage will be released, regardless of differences in internal legal opinion between the city, the police department, and the prosecution.
We must demand that the city and police explicitly state in the final policy that section 50-a will not be used to deny transparency to the public.
Establishing transparency and improving police-community relations
In order to get $600,000 in federal BWC grant money, the city had to submit a Project Charter (see below), one of many documents. Section II, Background of the charter contextualizes why the city of Rochester needed federal funds for BWCs:
In an effort to provide a more accurate record of police encounters, foster the improvement of police-community relations, establish transparency, and improve the quality of evidence brought into criminal prosecutions, many law enforcement agencies across the country have begun to outfit their uniformed officers with body worn cameras. In accordance with this trend, the City of Rochester Police Department has undertaken a Body Worn Camera project.
If the above statement is a true rationale for why the city wanted BWC grant money, then the draft policy governing the use of the cameras is a complete contradiction. The draft policy doesn't mention transparency or police-community relations at all. And why should it? It is clearly written from a police point of view, where cameras are seen as another tool in their vast arsenal to use against people. Transparency was never the motivation.
To be honest, the city of Rochester was focused on getting BWCs regardless of whether there were policies or not. The question wasn't was the city getting cameras–we knew they were coming. The question was what policies would govern them. The above list indicates many failures of the current draft policy instructing officers on how to use BWCs. If the final policy is to reflect transparency and accountability, which will bring with it more trust, then it is incumbent on the people of Rochester to compel the police department, the police union, city council, and the mayor to make the required changes. If no changes are made, then a next possible step might be to demand the scrapping of the BWC project. We have an opportunity to make a democratic decision that will expand police transparency and accountability. Let's use it to create the best possible policy to serve the interests of the whole community, not just the police.
Project Charter for BWC project
: BWC draft policy, page 5, Section IV, Recording Requirements and Restrictions, subsection A, Mandatory BWC Recording
: BWC draft policy, page 5, Section IV, Recording Requirements and Restrictions, subsection A, Mandatory BWC Recording
: BWC draft policy, page 7, Section IV, Recording Requirements and Restrictions, subsection C, Prohibited BWC Recording, number 2c
: BWC draft policy, page 5, Section IV, Recording Requirements and Restrictions, subsection A, Mandatory BWC Recording, numbers 1 - 15
: BWC draft policy, page 9, Section IV, Recording Requirements and Restrictions, subsection E, Special Circumstances, number 4
: Rochester Police Department General Order 630, "Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) Team," page 1188, from the Rochester Police Department General Order Manual
: Rochester Police Department General Order 630, "Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) Team," page 1193, section E, from the Rochester Police Department General Order Manual
: BWC draft policy, page 9, Section IV, Recording Requirements and Restrictions, subsection E, Special Circumstances, number 5
: Rochester Police Department General Order 605, "Mobile Field Force," page 1147, from the Rochester Police Department General Order Manual
: BWC draft policy, page 10, Section V, Employee Access to BWC Recordings, subsection A, Employees may review and use BWC recordings only for official RPD duties, number 1
: BWC draft policy, page 11, Section V, Employee Access to BWC Recordings, subsection A, Employees may review and use BWC recordings only for official RPD duties, number 1 and attached note
: BWC draft policy, page 18, Section XII, Disclosure of BWC Recordings in Legal Proceedings, subsection A, Criminal Cases Prosecuted by the Monroe County District Attorney's Office (MCDA), numbers 1 - 4
: BWC draft policy, pages 18 - 19, Section XII, Disclosure of BWC Recordings in Legal Proceedings, subsection C, Defense Subpoenas or Demands in Criminal Cases, numbers 1 - 6
: BWC draft policy, page 5, Section IV, Recording Requirements and Restrictions, subsection A, Mandatory BWC Recording
: BWC draft policy, page 28, Appendix C, RPD BWC User Guide, bullet point 10, Tag the Recording – In accordance with training.
: BWC draft policy, page 20, Section XIII, Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) Requests, subsection B, number 1
: BWC draft policy, page 20, Section XIII, Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) Requests, subsection D, numbers 1 - 7
Related: WXXI Connections with Evan Dawson: RPD Body Worn Camera Project | Rochester Police Department General Orders Manual (March 2016) | What does the term “grenadier” mean to you? | NYS is a no SWAT zone! Reject SWAT conferences & police militarization | Police reform group makes policy recs to city for body cameras | Coalition praises council on body cameras; demands a voice in policy decisions
A "grenadier" at the 2013 Puerto Rican Festival, Rochester, NY
To suppress resource scarcity in all of society, would be to eradicate poverty. Since the inception of anti-poverty in 1964, when former President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty in his state of the union address, no organization has documented findings proven to eradicate poverty. Yet, the only answer to the question, “Can poverty be eradicated?” are, “It's always been around,” or, “It's human nature,” but never any positive analysis. In order for all of society to live with an insufficient level of scarcity to allow poverty to subsist, some invention or new technology must be produced. Could poverty eradication be a technology? Technology does come in the form of methods and systems as well as machines and gadgets. Wouldn't it be safe to say that research and development is the next step to take in order to achieve the technological breakthrough that is poverty eradication?
What must we research in order to eradicate poverty? The simple answer is economics. There are theories for poverty eradication and existing systemic barriers that can be explored by applying the scientific method. For example, the Profit Theory, which provides that one party’s profit comes at the cost of another party’s economic mobility. Another is the scarcity suppression theory which provides that poverty cant subsist if scarcity of goods and services to everyone in society is suppressed. Last but not least, the Commerce Theory, which provides that scarcity justifies the use of commercial exchange and without scarcity, commerce is irrelevant. So, why aren’t anti-poverty organizations working in this regard?
Some of us have come to believe that poverty will always exist due to religious ties like that of the Holy Bible, in the Book of Matthew, chapter 26, verse 11, in which, Jesus is quoted saying, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” Take it any way you want but Christians have interpreted this dialog as the Lord Jesus Christ prophesying poverty to be an ever existing factor of life outside of Heaven. This interpretation may seem harmless but in the case of anti-poverty, it fuels pessimism against inquiring the possibility of permanently ending poverty.
Commerce is also a reason many of us believe that poverty will always exist; being the preferred system of resource distribution and fulfillment in the American culture. Our economy, culture, and values, are shaped around the buying and selling of scarce resources. If all services and goods were abundant, buying and selling would be counterproductive, in that, commerce would introduce scarcity to an abundant situation. We would revert away from commerce which includes business, wage labor, profit, money, banks, insurance, life as we know it; raising the question, “What would people do?” So, instead of inquiring the possibility of suppressing scarcity and fine tuning cultural design thereafter, we indirectly dismiss the opportunity of progressing in the war on poverty.
My favorite belief rests on the idea that technology has some sort of foreseeable limit that prohibits the permanent suppression of scarcity in society. It’s reasonable to conclude that poverty eradication would require science-fiction like advancements but it is incorrect to assume these advancements are unobtainable. For example, as long as service is based on human labor, it will contain a level of scarcity that conflicts with the eradication. So, there needs to be some sort of invention or breakthrough to succeed human service which many believe is impossible regardless of the constant progression of automation.
Despite all the strong arguments against this path in anti-poverty, neither has the backing to render it impossible which is why this uncharted territory deserves a shot at wide scale exploration. The government has the R&D resources in their $135-billion-dollar annual budget split between defense and non-defense. This is clearly a non-defense project but considering the behavior influenced by the environmental conditions of finite resources scarce to many and abundant to a few, the defense budget should be in question of splitting resources for the eradication of poverty as well.
Related: Bookchin's Post Scarcity Anarchism | A Trickle-Up Economy | Why we're not protesting the economic collapse like the rest of the world, or What's Next? 'Inverted Totalitarianism' | American Harvest: a superficial, patronizing, and smug film
On May 2, 2016, I sat in court to observe jury selection with other members of Enough is Enough in support of Scean Gordon, arrested as he filmed the illegal handcuffing, search, and abduction of his friend, Daryl Appleberry who was racially profiled and targeted by Rochester Police Department officers Nicholas Thomas and Christopher Kosch. The infamous race-baiting, bully cops insisted their behavior was a legitimate case of mistaken identity. Mr. Gordon, however, recorded Mr. Appleberry repeatedly clarifying his identity, his family members anxiously shouting that the police had the wrong person and naming him correctly, the cops illegally searching Mr. Appleberry's person without permission, and then police forcing Mr. Appleberry into a police cruiser and beginning to drive away with him. All this activity occurred without a warrant or any legally required effort to speak with the family members who offered identification, or required response to Mr. Appleberry’s saying he did not consent to search.
Having infuriated the police with his loud insistence on legality, Mr. Gordon was targeted, chased down, beaten and maced, and arrested under false charges. He chose to stand trial, rebutting police lies and their brutal treatment of him, rather than admit to guilt in a false plea deal.
I'd been part of a small team that attended the Huntley Hearing for the case, listening to police testimony. Later we FOILed and transcribed the sworn testimony of the two officers' claims and compared their words, frame by frame to the videos that Mr. Gordon himself, and Daryl Appleberry's sister, Diamond, had taken of the episode. I could easily see for myself that the accusations were largely untrue; the police lied in answer to nearly every question asked about their behavior from the start of the episode to its brutal end. There seemed some hope that if we could get the video and the testimony shown to a jury Scean might have, before a jury of his peers, a chance at justice.
We already understood that the jury would be drawn from the wide county, not many from those who live in the city, and realized then that the pool would be predominantly white, matching the county population. From earlier study of the overwhelmingly white and suburban composition of the police force (there isn't a single city dweller on the Professional Standards Section that reviews complaints of police violence, for example), we understood the risk of going before a likely white jury. Still, Assistant Public Defender, Christine Seppeler, was sharp and remarkably clear about the issues, we had the video and still shots as proof, and were confident any jury could practically touch the bigotry and racial undercurrents in the materials and testimony. So when we viewed officer Thomas complain that the "houses were all jammed together, the way they are in the city," we knew he brought suburban standards not only to Scean's neighborhood, but to ALL city neighborhoods in this country and around the world. The pattern he complained about, "a house just separated from the next house by a driveway," is the format of streets in Washington DC, San Francisco, St. Louis, Paris, Tokyo – poor neighborhoods and rich, sophisticated and impoverished. His bias seemed so obvious, it gave us hope. But we knew it would be easy to exaggerate fears if the jury selection didn't include anyone from city neighborhoods.
Luckily, there was hope of unbiased possibilities among the sixteen selected, one an IT specialist working for Xerox, another a homecare nurse raising a family not far from the courtroom. All but one other lived in the suburbs. Two of the three city dwellers were black and had some experience with profiling, (The remaining city resident, a woman my age, was surly, inattentive throughout the trial, and was snide in response to questions involving race.) There was, in the remaining mix, an out lesbian, not Caucasian, who acknowledged police might make errors based on racial expectations and may have been profiled herself. Everyone else was white. Very white. Sunglasses-on white. My own kind of pink people. And not a single one of the jury pool – not one – could (or would) explain what the Black Lives Matter movement was about. (Christine Seppler, asked them all that very question.) None of them had ever had anything but the most "positive treatment" by a police officer and none expressed any concern at being pulled over for traffic infractions – their ONLY experience with police. So only the three with darker complexions had darker experiences with cops. Guess who were the first to be eliminated in the backroom selection. The two black potential jurors were dismissed, immediately and only because their experiences with police paralleled Scean Gordon's, by the vigorously racist assistant district attorney, Hillary Levitt. (More about her handling of the prosecution in another piece.) We expected their truth telling, however careful and delicate, might cause their dismissal, but watching such cultural bias in action solidifies my beliefs that the system is carefully designed and extremely effective in maintaining racial imbalance.
Among those still standing were many golfers, men whose hobbies included working on their large homes and lawns, a pilot who enjoyed trips in his private plane, several college professors, and most astonishing, a judge who knew the prosecutor, had been a police officer in Gates – long known as a Sundown Town, where black people are unsafe being pulled over after dark – who spoke in puffy absolutisms that sound like overacting on a one-season cartoon cop show. Representing the middle class, just a bit less privileged, were a suburban stay-at-home mother and a man who worked as a dishwasher in a franchise restaurant.
As the selection continued, the judge actually lobbied for retention of her colleague, a judge who radiated such bias in every phrase that we supporters cringed at his oblivion and sanctimony. Naive and hopeful to the last, not for a second did I think he'd be even considered. Yet Judge Ellen Yacknin used her position to insist the judge stay – a sickeningly obvious ignorance of both her own and his cultural bias, of systemic injustice. Luckily, the assistant public defender had just enough clout to assure he would not serve. He tottered off, likely relieved, to his country club.
So this was 'a jury of one's peers.' All white. Nearly entirely suburban. None with the daily experience of profiling, racism and violence that the RPD has been known for from its inception. [Do a search for "Rochester Police Department" on Rochester.Indymedia.org to get a sense of the problem, Ed.] None who would question the many overt lies of the police, even when they were demonstrated by the video and the still photos blown up for details. None questioned the pretense of officer Thomas that he was offended at the phrase, 'You don't have to listen to that niggah,' or 'Get the fuck off the property,' when he is known for his own abusive, vile, racist sputtering. Street talk shocked the suburbanites and the DA played them like lutes. Their own cruelties take place behind large picture windows and vast lawns. Police assure and comfort them when they veer from polite and quiet exchange. They don’t risk arrest for conferring with a neighbor about music production schedules in their own yards! Shocked, they were, that Scean Gordon was loud and angry at repeated and extensive abuses against him, his friends. I was sick at heart, exhausted each day by the pretense of 'justice' in a courtroom of lies. Mr. Gordon maintained equanimity and grace – and utter silence – throughout the four-day ordeal.
This experience did not surprise Scean or Daryl or their families, for they are used to such abuse every day. It will not shock my other black friends and allies. This is their daily diet.
I, who have lived next to racism and have experienced its advantages, who have seen it regularly in our city where I work and play, have read and watched its nationwide effects online and know its history, have worked against it in Enough is Enough and other local groups fighting police bias, have tried to work with the police and finally determined it is only possible, and truly necessary, to work against the entire policing system, I, for all my efforts to understand racism, was stunned by the ugly implications of this jury selection.
The roots of racism are like those of black walnut trees: they reach both deep and wide, holding up a productive and beautiful tree as they poison everything beneath its crown in a wide radius. We must, as so many gardeners have learned when their nearby crops fall as the tree roots touch their beautiful tomatoes, peppers, sunflowers, to uproot that thing that poisons everything else. Our local police union calls itself the Locust Club for the hardwood used in its billy clubs. Better, I think, we call it the Black Walnut Club, poisoning every part of city lives in a huge radius. Get the saws and axes. This deadly police system must fall.
– Katherine Denison, 12 May 2016
Related: Two Black men, one falsely arrested & the other brutalized by RPD, tell their stories | Gordon's motions denied by judge in police violence case | Motion to suppress statements denied in police violence case | According to civil suit, RPD officers Kosch and Thomas have violent histories on the force
Went to see REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM - The Chomsky Documentary yesterday at The Little Theatre. This was the first time Noam Chomsky saw the film himself. He was seated right in front of me. I was tempted to take a picture of the back of his head, with the film playing in front of him and post it with the caption "Chomsky watching Chomsky" or something to that effect but then I thought it would be too juvenile and with much self-discipline, I abandoned the idea.
photo: Mara Ahmed
The documentary is excellent. It parses hours and hours of interviews with Professor Chomsky and creates a clear and engaging narrative. As a filmmaker, I understand the challenge. How do you take a series of lectures by one of the most eclectic intellectuals of our time and cut them into a cogent and gripping 73 minute film? The answer: sharp editing, copious b-roll and terrific graphics and animation. The importance and urgency of what Professor Chomsky is saying helps too, of course. He talks about the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few (a fraction of one percent) and puts this phenomenon in a historical context, he explains how the "rabble rousers" of the 60s and 70s were crushed, how the media and their focus on consumption have produced a "me" culture and undermined solidarity, and how this will continue to shape an increasingly ugly society. The film ends on a positive note by reminding us of Howard Zinn and his bottom-up view of history - the idea that the countless small actions of unknown people drive all great historical events. Ultimately it's always been, and it continues to be, up to us.
photo: Mara Ahmed
watch the Q & A with Noam Chomsky (sadly, the video cut out at the last question and a half and so audio was utilized toward the end)
In the post screening Q&A, I got to make a comment. I told Dr Chomsky that as a Pakistani American filmmaker I had shot a film in Lahore in 2009. The film was a broad survey of public opinion about issues of interest to Americans, e.g. the Taliban, the War on Terror, American foreign policy in the region, and a polling of what average Pakistanis thought about Americans. I interviewed a wide spectrum of people and most of them were quite politically astute. Many talked about the corporate nature of American media and how the American public was totally brainwashed. Yet some mentioned Dr Chomsky by name and said, "But then there are also people like Noam Chomsky in America." The audience applauded vehemently. I concluded with how it was important for him to know that, even as a single individual, he's an antidote to American imperialism and aggression. Again much applause. In typical Chomsky style, he evaded the compliment completely and began to talk about international polls and how public opinions around the world are of immense consequence. He ended by complimenting me on recognizing that fact. Nate Baldo asked a brilliant question about American military aid to Israel and increasing grassroots resistance to the occupation. Interestingly enough that was the issue Dr Chomsky spent most of his time discussing. Of course he did not mention BDS, but this was a full house (500 people or more) and an excellent forum for educating people on Israel/Palestine. All in all, a spectacular evening with an intellectual icon.
Related: Noam Chomsky gives talkback about decline of American dream | Direct Action, Occupy and the Power of Social Movements: An Interview With Noam Chomsky | Noam Chomsky on the Cuban 5 | Atypical Tea Partier A Typical Tea Partier | The Propaganda Box | BTL:Noam Chomsky Offers Views on Motivation for Iraq War and...
feature photo: Miriam Steinberg
April Monday Mayhem was about Jalil Muntaqim and his parole hearing coming up on June 14, 2016, with a focus on ways to support him. The event included an open discussion on parole reform in New York State and letter writing to the parole board on Jalil's behalf.
On the first Monday of every month, the Flying Squirrel Community Space hosts special programming that forgoes the technical and logistical concerns of running an open-use community space in order to take a closer look at the impact of our actions on the community and our potential as a catalyst for change.
Portion of audio from the presenters
Jalil is an ex-Black Panther and the longest held political prisoner in the United States. He's served 44 years and is about to have his 9th parole hearing. In his time incarcerated he has been a consistent voice for revolutionary change and liberation for oppressed people, having organized a number of successful programs and events inside and outside of prison walls. Our Rochester community needs him to be granted release so that his kind wisdom and insight can help inform us in our current and ongoing struggles for justice!
Watch RBG| New Afrikan Freedom Fighter Jalil Muntaqim VOICE OF LIBERATION
Please check out Jalil's website below for more info and updates, sign the petition, and write a letter to the board to advocate for his release on parole this June 14th. And stay tuned to Rochester Indymedia for more upcoming events and ways to get further involved with Jalil's campaign. Spread the word!
Anthony J. Bottom #77A4283
P.O. Box 149
Attica, NY 14011-0149