Imagine a magic bullet that only needs to be used a few times to treat otherwise treatment-resistant conditions. A bullet that could erase the need for medication. It might sound like science fiction, but such a miracle drug might have been accidentally discovered more than 30 years ago and brushed under the rug by our government.
Alicia Danforth, a psychologist and researcher at LA BioMed, is testing the safety of using 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) in conjunction with dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) to help people with treatment-resistant social anxiety learn how to overcome their social anxiety. The Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelics Studies better known as MAPS (www.maps.org) is providing the funding needed to conduct this study.
Dr. Danforth made it clear that she was “not attempting to treat autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, but was rather looking at the benefits of using MDMA to treat social anxiety which is only one symptom that affects some people on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) spectrum.”
She chose to study people who fell on the ASD spectrum because they were less likely than people in the general population to be helped by more traditional therapies. According to a report on the MAPS website, treatments that work very well for neurotypical people often fail to provide benefits for people on the ASD spectrum because they have a much harder time than their neurotypical peers in forming a rapport with therapists.
The study, which currently features ten patients, is observing how safe it is to use MDMA, and not the long-term benefits of MDMA. To my knowledge, this is the only study being conducted to test the use of MDMA in helping autistic people overcome social anxiety. Two more subjects are currently being evaluated to see if they can participate in the study. The long-term effects of MDMA are speculative and unsubstantiated at this time. Hopefully, this study will help determine if MDMA will provide long-term benefits to autistic people suffering from social anxiety.
According to Dr. Danforth, the benefits observed in autistic people who have completed the study has lasted many months. The benefits of the study are calculated by Christopher Struble, MD who uses the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale to measure how the subjects improve.
Dr. Struble only measures the results of the MDMA therapy and does not engage in any other parts of the study to minimize the risk of bias tainting the study. Dr. Danforth hypothesizes that the benefits from the study occur because the subjects experience “an altered state of consciousness from the MDMA and not as a direct result of the pharmaceutical action of the MDMA.”
One of the major problems people on the ASD spectrum face is called alexithymia, or the inability to verbalize their emotional states, said Dr. Danforth.
Dr. Danforth advises people against self-medicating with MDMA because people cannot be assured about the purity or dosage of MDMA bought off the streets. She also had a medical team on standby in case life support was needed. Because the subjects were carefully selected and monitored, none of the patients involved in the study needed any medical interventions.
One of the main benefits of MDMA-assisted therapy is the limited number of times that the medication needs to be used to get lasting results. “Two applications of MDMA have lasting effects to people on the ASD spectrum who suffer from social anxiety, and the maximum of three applications has been shown to benefit veterans with treatment-resistant PTSD,” Dr. Danforth said.
Her inspiration for this line of research stemmed from Gary Fisher’s research conducted in the 1960s. He a psychologist who worked at a hospital in Sothern California and tested LSD on autistic children who were unable to communicate. While not every patient was helped, a few patients who society had given up on, were able to attend a public school as a result of Dr. Fisher’s therapy. It would currently be impossible to conduct such research because institutional review boards would not allow doctors to conduct medical research without the informed consent of subjects.
Amy Thompson (note: the name was changed to protect her privacy), an autistic person from Canada, is using Cannabis Sativa to help overcome her social anxiety so that she can work. She is using Cannabis Indica to help quiet her overactive mind so she can sleep at night. Mrs. Thompson has a medical marijuana card in Canada so she can legally access cannabis.
She said, “legal cannabis costs much more than buying cannabis from dealers” and that “she would start buying cannabis from street dealers again if her card was not renewed.” She also told me that since autism is not a qualifying condition for getting cannabis in Canada many doctors are giving cannabis to autistic people for neuroleptic pain or other co-morbid conditions but are being pressured by the Canadian Ministry of Health to stop this practice.
Mrs. Thompson said that she “will need to travel to another province the next time she wants to get her card renewed.” Her current doctor was pressured by the Canadian Ministry of Health not to renew medical marijuana cards for autistic patients who are using the marijuana to help them deal with social anxiety. Going to another doctor to get medication your main doctor refuses to provide to you is known as doctor shopping.
To help support this research, you can donate to MAPS (www.maps.org) or to the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center (www.mdma-autism.org). MAPS is also investigating the use of MDMA and Ayahuasca (a very powerful hallucinogenic drug that results in total ego loss) to help veterans with PTSD, and the use of Ibogaine (an LSD-like drug that has psychedelic effects that last for two or three days) to help heroin addicts stop using heroin without going through withdrawal. MAPS is a non-profit group which investigates the medicinal uses of psychedelics.
If anyone on the ASD spectrum who is over 21, and suffers from social anxiety lives close to Los Angeles and wants to participate in the study, they should either call (310) 222-1664 or go to www.mdma-autism.org for more information. Anyone who is interested in taking part in the study needs to be in good health, have no blood pressure issues. They also cannot have used MDMA in the past.
Related: How to Help Black Lives Matter (and Other Causes) While Dealing with Mental Health Issues | Why some therapists are risking arrest to heal trauma using psychedelics | Finding from a Study on the MDMA Experiences of Adults on the Autism Spectrum (YouTube Video) | Can Ecstacy Ease Symptoms of Autism? (The author also talks about how Psilocybin and Ayahuasca can help people.)
Above in a video interview with Kerry Coleman talking about the police brutality he and his wife experienced at the hands of RPD officer Brian Cala.
On the afternoon of January 19, 2009, Kerry Coleman had called for the Mobile Crisis Team (MCT) for his wife. Instead of the MCT showing up, 10 Rochester Police Department (RPD) cruisers came to his home. Upon opening the door, RPD officer Brian Cala barged past Mr. Coleman into the house.
According to his complaint to Professional Standards Section (PSS), Mr. Coleman informed the officer that he had called for the MCT and not patrol officers. Officer Cala responded, "What the fuck do you want me to do? Take her to the hospital or take your fucking ass to jail?" Mrs. Coleman told the officer Cala to leave her home to which he replied "Shut the fuck up!"
Mr. Coleman's Professional Standards Section Complaint
In the interview at the top of the article, Mr. Coleman explains that the RPD had a warrant for his arrest based on an issue with the Rochester City School District (RCSD), and that that's why the police were there, not because of his call asking for help from the MCT.
Mr. Coleman's complaint then states that officer Cala maced his wife and proceeded to punch her in the face. While lying face down on the bed after being punched, officer Cala proceeded to "punch her in the face about 9 - 10 times." At this point, another officer came into the house and maced Mr. Coleman.
Officer Cala was eventually secreted away by officers in another squad car after irate family members started demanding to know who beat up Mr. Coleman's wife. Before getting in the car, officer Cala smugly yelled, "I fucking did it!"
Mr. Coleman was arrested, charged with criminal contempt in the first degree over a dispute with the RCSD and menacing, and then taken to jail. Mrs. Coleman went to the hospital for injuries sustained by officer Cala. Mr. Coleman was eventually tried and convicted of criminal contempt in the first degree and given probation for five years. He was arrested again over another RCSD issue and charged with violating his probation and sentenced to two years in state prison with one year of parole.
On March 15, 2013, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department released their decision in an appeal made by Mr. Coleman, stating that, "It is hereby ORDERED that the judgment so appealed from is unanimously reversed on the law, the plea is vacated and the matter is remitted to Monroe County Court for further proceedings on the superior court information."
Read the Appellate Court decision in PDF format above
Mr. Coleman was railroaded by the system in which a network of corrupt individuals worked to force him into positions he never wanted. One such position was taking a plea deal and accepting a guilty verdict that, technically, he should not have been allowed to take. The Appellate Court saw this and reversed the conviction telling the lower court to retry the case.
After the decision, he was released from probation (after two years of prison and eight months of probation) and his case was to be retried with the original criminal contempt in the first degree. Because the case was shoddy to begin with, the district attorney's office offered him plea deals. He refused and demanded either a new trial or that the charges be dropped. Eventually, seeing they had no case, the DA's office dropped the charges.
Aside from having his conviction vacated and the charges dropped, the DA has not sought to prosecute officer Cala for police misconduct and the department, according to Mr. Coleman, has refused to administer discipline. Officer Cala, as of 2015, was still employed by the RPD and still on active duty.
Justice delayed is justice denied. Enough Is Enough!
Related: B.L.A.C.K. addresses community after 73 protesters arrested | A Jury of One's Fears | NYS is a no SWAT zone! Reject SWAT conferences & police militarization | "Racism Lives Here": a student response to the UR's "We're Better Than That" campaign | Joey Lipari on Syracuse's Citizen Review Board | Student athlete, who settled false arrest suit with City, racially profiled & falsely arrested for shoplifting | Mental Health: A juxtaposition of Rochester police tactics | Rochester Police Department demographics, 2015
A Rochester Police surveillance camera was recently placed on the corner of
Flint and Jefferson, which happens to be where the organization Building Leadership And Community Knowledge, B.L.A.C.K., garden happens to be. This follows a march organized by B.L.A.C.K that took place on July 8 of this year in which police violently arrested 74 protesters. Tonya Noel, Director of Cause N'FX and organizer for B.L.A.C.K. was intervewed regarding the new RPD blue Light camera.
Questions have arisen if this is an attempt by the police to harass or
keep under surveillance an organization who has been challenging the status quo. This is not the first time that the police have started surveillance in places that activist groups meet or gather following incidents with police.
Video: Police Harrassment and surveillance at meeting to discuss police brutality after anti war march turns into police riot.
Kent Handy, the author of "The Dark Secrets of Woodruff County," told Rochester Indymedia the story of how five children in his extended family were murdered by racist sheriff's deputies in Woodruff County, Arkansas on the night of March 1 and into the early morning hours of March 2, 1984.
His book is not only about the story of how Ku Klux Klan members by night and cops by day murdered five innocent children, but it's also about the conspiracy of a pathologist, the fire marshal, and the county coroner to cover up the murders.
Kent has been seeking justice for his family since.
In 1992, Kent moved to Rochester, NY where he wrote the book and now lives.
The interview was conducted on March 5, 2016 at Java's Cafe in Rochester, NY.
Related: "Racism Lives Here": a student response to the UR's "We're Better Than That" campaign | Ferguson Revolutionary Community Organizers Speak! | A Jury of One's Fears | #SayHerName #JusticeForIndia
Rochester's Pride parade kicked off on July 16 with a theme of "Let's Make Magic." This year it followed a different route starting downtown heading up Park Ave to a festival at Cobbs Hill park.
A group representing veterans was able to march, thanks in part to the elimination of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" in the US military.
One group paid tribute to the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting and another called attention to the larger problem of gun violence.
A group sponsored by Rochester Red and Black called attention to private prisons the mass incarceration of LGBTQ people.
More photos of the event in the gallery!
Professor and activist Wendy Lynne Lee spoke at the Flying Squirrel Community Space on July 21 2016. Lee is a professor of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, Bloomsburg. The event was sponsored by the Green Party of Monroe County. The talk was about sustainability and how current social and philosophical attitudes make achieving it more difficult. The accompanying photo show showed the effects of fracking in Pennsylvania and world wide climate change. The video includes the full lecture, photos and follow up questions.
The immediate withdrawal and dismissal of all charges against the 73 arrestees on the night of July 8th.
The immediate retraction of the false statements regarding lack of injuries and use of force made by the Mayor & Police Chief, as well as a public apology to all the men, women, children, and gender non-conforming people who were terrorized on the night of July 8th along with 73 people who were arrested
We want officers names who assaulted protestors to be publicized and for them to be held accountable
We want an independent community civilian review board with the power to review complaints and administer disciplinary action including but not limited the suspension and firing of officers with multiple infractions
This review board should be at least 60% Black and Latino to reflect the population of the city
Demilitarization the police and the ban on use of deadly tactics on unarmed citizens
Immediate end to broken window policing and racial profiling that negatively black, brown, and poor communities
Less funds to go to the police and fund year round vocational training and employment opportunities for youth, after school programs for young adults, and support black-owned businesses
Police misconduct to be independently investigated and prosecuted
Community voice to be heard in police union contract negotiations and that union contracts hold officers accountable for misconduct
Article: Dredging Up the Past on Police Union President Mike Mazzeo http://rochester.indymedia.org/node/6979
Article: Police Harrass Community Members Attending Meeting in Support of Emily Good
Video: Police Retaliate Against Supporters of Emily Good
Video: Police Harrassment at meeting to discuss police brutality after anti war march turns into police riot.
To say we live in scary times is an accurate description of today. Even if we put aside the most pressing issues that the Black Lives Matter movement has brought front and center to the national consciousness, there’s still wars abroad that the USA is involved in (most notably in the Middle East), fascist demagogues making power plays for the White House, environmental degradation, and probably some other global problems I’m forgetting. It’s hard enough to fight the good fight for these issues even when one is completely mentally sound and competent – just imagine though what it’s like when you want to contribute positively towards these causes, only to have your already existing mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc., holding you back.
Having a mental health-related disorder is already perceived as a stigma enough as it is in our society. When it prevents you from working and fighting for the causes you want to fight for, it can feel even more debilitating. However, it’s important to keep in mind that despair solves nothing – while helping to further society’s progression is easier said than done when you suffer from mental health issues, it can be done. You just need to do so in a way that fits within your capabilities and gives you that sense of accomplishment. And helping progressive causes can actually do a lot to help one’s depression, anxiety, etc., because helping others in and of itself is beneficial to the human mind.
With that, here are some ways to help causes such as Black Lives Matter that those who suffer from depression, anxiety, or other issues can do. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, nor is it meant to be one-size-fits-all. There are probably other ways to help progressive causes that aren’t mentioned here, or that maybe your local organizations can come up with. But these are the most obvious methods.
Donate money, goods, or services.
This is probably the most obvious method that one can do to help. Organizations such as your local Black Lives Matter group need money and/or other tangible things to make their voices heard and their movement possible. Money isn’t inherently evil – it is a tool, and it’s what you do with your money that counts, so donating your money to causes such as Black Lives Matter is as effective a way to support them as any. If you don’t have money to spare, then try donating things or services such as giving supporters rides to meetings or protest marches with your vehicle. Ask your local group what they need, and they will tell you.
Play a more behind-the-scenes role.
Having your proverbial boots on the ground for a protest march is good and all, but contrary to what the popular media might depict, it’s not the only way you can help. There’s a lot of logistical stuff that needs to happen to make those protest marches a reality, from contacting and organizing supporters to writing press releases, making flyers and other ways of spreading the word. Maybe you have the technical know-how to maintain an online mailing list. Maybe you have graphic design skills to make the provocative communications necessary to get the word out about the cause. The bottom line is, a lot of skills are needed to make these movements a reality, and using your skills can be a great way to help without exposing yourself to situations that might trigger your issues.
Make your voice heard through writing.
Chanting slogans at the top of your lungs in a public assembly isn’t the only way to get people to notice the movement. You can use the power of the written word to express your support for Black Lives Matter and other movements from the comfort of your own home (or wherever you choose to write). Write letters to your local government officials, media outlets, or even Congress people or Senators. While this might not have any immediate impact that you might be seeking, it’s still a way to make your position and solidarity known. Even posting on social media venues such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. can be helpful in this regard – even though you shouldn’t expect to immediately change anyone’s mind with such postings, it is at least a way to express your solidarity to your fellows and can lift the spirits of those who support the movement by knowing they’re not alone.
Step out of your comfort zone gradually.
Being part of a progressive movement inherently involves stepping out of the realm of what’s comfortable. But one doesn’t immediately learn to swim by jumping into the deep end of a pool. Still, you have to step into the water – just do so gradually. You can start with the aforementioned behind-the-scenes activities and gradually work your way up. Start with donating money, then try to attend meetings to see what else they need, and go from there. So-called passive participation can be just as effective as active participation, as those who are more active in Black Lives Matter or other movements need the support of both active and passive members alike. You don’t have to be Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X to make a difference…because even those famous figures needed the support of millions to make their movements known. Popular media likes to make it seem that it takes singular extraordinary individuals to exact change in our society. It’s yet another lie of the mainstream media to keep people in line. In reality, every individual counts, because even figures like King or X couldn’t do it alone.
Take care of yourself.
This is probably the most important thing you can do, because if you’re paralyzed or crippled with fear due to lack of treatment of your mental health, then you’re no good to anybody. Your mental health needs to come first, as without a sound mind and spirit, you can’t be effective in any capacity. Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish, as you’re abler to contribute when you’re healthy and happy. So take your medicine (if you do take any), observe proper diet and exercise, go to your appointments, whatever it takes to maintain a healthy and happy state. You’re most effective when you’re healthy enough to make a difference and happy enough to want to continue making a difference.
The above steps don’t just apply to Black Lives Matter, but any progressive movement. Being fearful and afraid is what the racists/fascists/warmongers want you to be, so it’s important to do what you can to counteract that fear first. You need to be the change you want to see in the world – if you want others of any stripe of life to be healthy and happy, you need to be that way yourself.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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[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.