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'Don't rely on suburbs'


Mary Anna Towler is furious about tactics Republican leaders are using in Maggie Brooks' campaign against Bill Johnson for county executive ("Campaigning on Fear," August 6). Republicans are perpetuating the idea that Johnson plans to consolidate Monroe County's towns and villages into a single metropolitan government, and merge the city and suburban school districts into one countywide system.

                  The idea of the mayor attempting to pull off such a stunt is indeed ludicrous. Yet Ms. Towler's perspective represents a less than thorough, potentially dangerous analysis of the situation.

                  First, it is important to acknowledge that "a campaign of fear, divisiveness, and hate" would be irrelevant if such sentiments were not thoroughly entrenched among many thousands of suburban residents. It is not enough to take Republican leaders to task over such tactics. What about their followers? Surely Ms. Towler does not believe that suburban folks' fear of and disdain for city residents --- and especially their endearment to apartheid schools --- began with town supervisors standing on the steps of City Hall criticizing Mayor Johnson.

                  Second, it is one thing to theorize that "all Monroe County elected officials --- led by the county executive in a nonpartisan manner --- ought to be involved in finding a way to educate the county's neediest children." Theoretically, ethically, and morally, this is what "ought to be." Realistically, it is not likely to happen. In fact, it would be foolish for city residents, especially parents, to sit around and wait for people who are "fearful, divisive, and hateful" to take responsibility for educating city students.

                  The truth of the matter is that legally, it is the responsibility of the Rochester Board of Education and the State Education Department (with support from the US Department of Education) to provide a sound, basic education for all children within the City School District.

                  It is critical for city residents to stop relying on our enemies to do what we can and must do for ourselves. And if Monroe County's Republican town leaders (at least the eight who held the anti-Johnson --- and in fact, anti-city --- press conference) are not our enemies, they ought to prove it.

Third, Ms. Towler is way off base regarding the critical issue of addressing rampant crime in Rochester. She contends that mayors, town supervisors, and county executives "can do little to prevent crime." "Most especially," she says, "they cannot prevent the kind of crime from which Rochester is reeling right now: young African American males callously shooting each other."

                  She is dead wrong. City, county, state, federal, and even town and village officials and their law enforcement agencies can do a hell of a lot more than they are doing to prevent young African American males from murdering each other (mainly over issues connected to illegal drugs, and mainly with illegal weapons).

                  Hopefully, none of us are so naive as to believe that all of the illegal drugs and weapons finding their way into this nation, state, and city are arriving by car. We know, and the FBI and CIA know, that the drugs and guns arrive by air and by sea. It is interesting, to say the least, that the government can spend billions of dollars in Iraq (uncovering or creating imaginary weapons of mass destruction), but it can't find weapons of mass destruction in this nation, this state, and this city.

                  Also, hopefully, surely we know that on their way to Rochester, some of those illegal drugs and weapons are flowing through the towns and villages in Monroe County. So to do more to stop young African American men from murdering each other --- mainly over illegal drugs, and mainly with illegal weapons --- where there is a will (that is, a political will), there is a way.

                  If this is not true, we would have to conclude that Mayor Johnson was just "blowing smoke" when he stood before the cameras of every major news organization in Rochester on August 1 and declared that "this crime wave will be arrested."

However, at least two critically important questions remain:

                  1) Will the strategies being used to help reduce rampant, criminal activities, especially senseless killings, be sustained beyond the upcoming November elections?

                  2) Will Rochester police officers (in their stepped-up quest for law and order) become overly zealous, and begin violating peoples' civil and human rights?

                  It is important to recall that the current effort does not represent the first, or even the second time that the mayor and the police chief have decided to use extraordinary measures to crack down on illegal drugs and weapons. In each case, efforts resulted in significant, temporary success, but were largely negated and discontinued because of police abuse.

                  Police officers must remember that because people are involved in illegal activities doesn't mean that they lose their Constitutional right to humane treatment. It is precisely because of lapses in memory, poor judgment, and over-zealousness that officers have botched past efforts to crack down on criminal activities, especially as it relates to illegal drugs and weapons.

                  To "prevent the kind of crime from which Rochester is reeling now," it would be simply foolish for city residents to rely upon the leaders of Monroe County's towns and villages. They are not legally obligated to do so, and obviously many, if not most, have no sense of moral responsibility to help --- even though they "ought to."

                  The bottom line is that it is the responsibility of city residents --- particularly those of us who are most negatively affected by crime and violence, a decrepit school system, and lack of economic opportunities --- to bring pressure to bear on those who are directly and legally responsible for addressing these issues.

                  And it is of utmost importance for us to categorically reject all perspectives that are predicated on theories of helplessness or hopelessness.

                  Howard Eagle is a Rochester teacher and a candidate for School Board in the September 9 primary election.