The Elephant in the Room: Rochester, New York, A Tale of Two Cities


Southwest Tribune Newspaper, Rochester, NY

It is the year of 2022.

Many African Americans that have lived during the days of the civil rights movement, probably forecasted by now, the American society would be free of its hateful practices based on the color of a person’s skin.

However, more than fifty-years separated from that momentous movement, a great majority of states that encompasses urban cities populated mostly by people of color, still represent the grounds for poor housing, lack of health and mental services, high unemployment and failing public schools.

A great majority of those predominantly ethnic cities have not properly developed into healthy and prosperous communities because our elected leaders, media intuitions and a great majority of America’s white contemporary society does not have the urgency to address the elephant in the room.

America’s unwillingness to depart from its governmental systems based on institutionalized and systematic racism towards its citizens of color is the ‘defining issue’ our leaders have blindly refused to wholeheartedly address for centuries.

This behavior is a clear signal this country will never depart from its unmerited societal practices and laws because many representatives of states elected to Capitol Hill are benefiting from racial inequality and do not want to relinquish those life line perks.

To put it in context: Our leaders have failed to abolish or recognize the employment of governing practices that resembles racist political systems of America’s pastimes such as Apartheid, Jim Crow Laws and Urban Renewal.

Apartheid- was instituted as a widespread systematic effort to concretize racial segregation and white supremacy in South Africa during the 20th century. It was meant to ensure white control over both the economy as well as the social environment, including how the races could interact and what jobs were available to whom.

Jim Crow Laws- Jim Crow laws were a collection of state and local statutes that legalized racial segregation.

Named after a Black minstrel show character, the laws—which existed for about 100 years, from the post-Civil War era until 1968—were meant to marginalize African Americans by denying them the right to vote, hold jobs, get an education or other opportunities. Those who attempted to defy Jim Crow laws often faced arrest, fines, jail sentences, violence and death.

Urban Renewal- Referred to by author James Baldwin as “Negro removal,” urban renewal was another racially coded planning initiative, most of which took place in the 1950s and 1960s following the 1949 Housing Act. The legislation provided loans and grants for cities to acquire and clear blighted areas and the black residents who lived there before selling them to private companies for redevelopment. The redevelopment that resulted from urban renewal projects included housing for middle income white people and institutions such as hospitals, universities and civic centers.

According to the lackadaisical efforts by elected officials on this issue, the elephant in the room will be here for another century, if they can have it their way.

Urban cities like Rochester, New York have been dealing with police departments in their cities that continue to operate like the 1960s. Police brutality that frequently escalates into unarmed people of color being murdered and rampant misconduct in departments around the country is still a huge problem in America’s urban cities.

In 1975 the federal government sanctioned the Rochester Police Department (RPD) with a Consent Decree.

A consent decree is a court ordered reform plan for the police department. Since 1975, the city of Rochester has been under a federal court order to improve diversity among its police force. The consent decree was part of the settlement of a racial discrimination lawsuit brought by black officers.

To this day in 2022, more than fifty years later, the RPD is mostly Lilly-white and most of them do not live inside the city limits.

Although people of color living in America’s impoverished urban hubs pay their salaries, the hiring process to become a police officer is systematically geared to keep a significant number of people of color from being able to join the force. In result, you have mostly white police forces coming into communities populated mostly by people of color like an invading force, which is strikingly similar to the system of Apartheid.

This is no ‘coincidence’ because this same racial unbalance is commonly present in every urban city in America. It’s a modern-day form of institutionalized and systematic racism.

The Rochester Fire Department is systematically constructed in the same way as the RPD and their hiring process is also geared to defer people of color. These fundamental departments of employment that provide a livable wage are constructed in this lopsided and unacceptable racial unbalance in urban cities throughout America.

A great majority of our public schools in urban cities including Rochester are populated with students who are mostly people of color. However, the teaching staff are mostly white and the greater majority of the staff live on the outskirts of the cities in the neighboring suburban towns, near where they are employed. And like the police and the fire departments, the city's black and brown taxpayers pay their salaries, which is also an economic disaster, because that money leaves and never comes back to the community from which it came.

In addition, children who live in these urban cities are forbidden to enroll in a suburban school by law, if they try to, the parents can be jailed.

However, the teachers who live in the suburbs can teach at city schools and their suburban children can attend there with no problem. And ironically, most teachers employed in these urban settings tend to use proportions of their salaries to send their kids to a suburban school outside of the city, not where they teach.

These types of systematic arrangements that are still governing urban cities are the absolute elephant in the room on Capitol Hill and within many of our local municipalities throughout the country.

This is not a story of individual failure but controlled-systematic governmental neglect.

For America’s Black and Brown citizens, this is a clear example of taxation without representation.
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