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Hurt and anger in the neighborhoods


"Anger is a secondary emotion. The first emotion is hurt. Our kids are angry, but initially they are hurt. They're in excruciating pain; they have nothing to look up to, nothing to look forward to."

Those words came from one of the many speakers at a December 7 community forum, attended by about 60, mostly African-American, area residents. And both anger and hurt were in evidence, as speakers talked about conditions in Rochester's inner-city neighborhoods.

Frustration with police, local media, and a lack of jobs was at the center of the two-hour dialogue about what it will take to help the city's impoverished neighborhoods move forward.

The keynote event of the meeting --- the one that attracted the television cameras --- was City Councilmember Adam McFadden's explanation of his confrontation with city police and a local bar owner late one October night. The incident catapulted McFadden into the headlines. But television crews and reporters were barred from his address at last week's forum. Their coverage, some at the meeting said, would have been like throwing gasoline on a fire.

News outlets, some at the forum said, had rushed to print and broadcast a few heated words exchanged between McFadden and the bar owner, but they had shown a distinct lack of curiosity about why McFadden confronted the police in the first place. That kind of question, they said, would be an obvious one for members of a community whose relationship with police has often been one of mistrust.

But trust hasn't always been a hallmark of African-Americans' relationship with the local media, either. On her way out the door, one woman related a story of how she'd taken a white friend to a similar meeting in the past and asked her to read the daily paper's coverage of it the next morning. Afterward, her friend agreed: The pair might have attended a completely different meeting for all the similarity between the report and their experience the night before.

Many of those at the forum complained that corporate media have little real interest in the long-term health of their communities and neighborhoods.

Media weren't the only outside institution whose ties to the community were questioned at the forum. Several people mentioned state troopers and sheriff's deputies occasionally brought in to help city police operate roadblocks in crime-ridden (and overwhelmingly poor and minority) neighborhoods. One man spoke of watching upstanding members of his community being stopped and hassled in their cars, while known drug-dealers passed by on foot or bike, even waving to the police at times.

This man --- and others at the forum --- questioned whether outside police feel deeply obligated to protect and serve an inner-city neighborhood.

But it would be a mistake to conclude that the meeting was nothing more than a racial gripe session. Race was just one of the concerns discussed.

Economic justice was another. One after another, residents spoke of how jobs have fled the inner city over the past several decades. One man told of an innovative program borrowed from Boston and recently launched here. When the program advertised job opportunities for 10 high school-age kids, more than 300 applied. The will to work and to improve the state of inner-city neighborhoods is clearly present, the man said; it's the opportunity that's lacking.

Residents bemoaned the demise of locally-owned mom-and-pop stores that once anchored the economy of their neighborhoods and provided meaningful employment for their youth.

Despite the pain and anger at the forum, however, there was a consensus that positive steps can come from those feelings.

There was also a sense of urgency. Poor inner-city residents can't afford to re-fight the battles of the civil rights era in this generation, one of the meeting's organizers said; they have to move forward.

But how? It was obvious, that organizer said, that there was plenty of enthusiasm, energy, and will in the room that night. The challenge, he said, is to figure out how to direct it.

Organizers are planning another meeting for December 26; they want to use the power of the emotions at the December 7 forum as a force for positive change, they said.