(Editor’s note: A representative of Hobart William Smith Colleges contacted Geneva Believer the day after this article was published and stated that HWS Campus Safety will NOT be involved in the “Back the Blue” police-youth forum on August 24th, as reported in the Finger Lakes Times. According to the HWS representative, the organizer of the “Back the Blue” event incorrectly claimed to the Finger Lakes Times that HWS Campus Safety officers were participating. The newspaper will be publishing a retraction.
Geneva Believer regrets the error and we hope that, in the future, the Finger Lakes Times will so some fact-checking before reporting any claims made by “Back the Blue” organizers.)
Police from Geneva and Rochester, along with officers from Ontario and Monroe County Sheriff’s and HWS Campus Safety, will participate in a police-youth forum at an undisclosed location in Geneva on Monday, August 24, 2020.
So far, twelve volunteers aged 16-22 have agreed to attend the event in Geneva (along with their “coaches”).
The event, which is being billed as the first in a series of roundtable discussions to be held around the county, is the first publicly-announced forum in Geneva for police and youth since February 2018, when an event entitled “Know and Assess Your Rights: A Youth and Police Community Conversation” was held at the Ramada Inn Geneva Lakefront.
Meanwhile, 31 community leaders signed a “statement” generally condemning racism and hate that was published as a full page in the August 20 2020 edition of the Finger Lakes Times.
“Back the Blue” in Ontario County
In July 2016, the police killings of two black men within a 24 hour period, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, pushed the Black Lives Matter movement to the forefront of global consciousness. Black Lives Matter protests spread to countries including Canada, the UK, South Africa, France, Brazil and Australia, and the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was being mentioned in nearly 500,000 tweets each day.
About two months later, the Ontario County Police Benevolent Association (founded in 2015) launched a “Back the Blue” campaign. The campaign had been suggested to the OCPBA by Ontario County Sheriff’s Office veteran investigator Bill Wellman.
“With everything going on in the world, and all the negative press that some of the law enforcement has had throughout the country, we just want to show locally that we support our law enforcement.”
Bill Wellman, Ontario County Sheriff’s Office, on the OCPBA “Back the Blue” campaign
An “open conversation?”
The August 19 2020 Finger Lakes Times article by Mike Hibbard announcing the upcoming August 24 police-youth forum begins with the following statement:
In what is being called another step toward healing the community, local police will meet Monday with young adults and coaches in the Geneva area for an open conversation on law enforcement, race, and current events.
- Who is calling the event “another step toward healing the community?” The Ontario County PBA? Sheriff Henderson? Chief Mike Passalacqua? The Finger Lakes Times?
The event is also described as an “open conversation,” but the very next paragraph states that “the forum is by invitation only and the location is not being disclosed.”
- How could an invitation-only event being held at an undisclosed location be described in any way as an “open conversation?”
The article further states that at least eight law enforcement officers will be attending the event, including “members of the Rochester Police Department and Monroe County sheriff’s office,” along with “at least two members of the Geneva Police Department, Ontario County sheriff’s office and campus security at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.”
- Why is it necessary to have a minimum of two officers from Monroe County at this event?
The youth who will be in attendance are described as “about a dozen young adults ranging from 16-22 years old, along with coaches” who “volunteered to attend.”
- Where are the youth “volunteers” from? The City of Geneva? Ontario County? And how can young people “volunteer” if they’d like to participate?
It would seem that this “forum” is nothing more than a tightly-controlled, PR-driven event.
All of the young people in attendance are “volunteers” who will be accompanied by “coaches.”
The public is not being told where the event will take place, how young people can “volunteer” to participate, or any other details.
Community Leaders Issue Statement Condemning Racism and Hate In General
On August 20 2020, a full-page statement signed by 31 community leaders was published in Finger Lakes Times. Signatories included representatives of local colleges, non-profits, and other community organizations.
We write as leaders of institutions in Geneva dedicated to serving the public good, prompted by recent incidents in the City we love to look closely at the values we hold dear both personally and in the organizations we guide. We remain resolute in our denunciation of violence, racism, misogyny and intolerance in all its forms, and condemn any rhetoric that supports inequity. We believe that to be part of a community means to treat others with respect and kindness, to be accountable for our actions and words, and to hold one another and ourselves to the highest of standards. Despite the many benefits of social media, we deplore the ways in which some have used the medium to divide our community and create chasms of harm.
We stand together in our commitment to protect the well-being of all people that work and live in our great City. In times of turmoil and challenge, Genevans have always come together in dialogue, both to heal the wounds of the past and to join in fellowship to build a better tomorrow. We pledge to engage in dialogue and act within our capacity to build up our community together. Geneva deserves nothing less.
The signatories all denounced “violence, racism, misogyny, and intolerance” and “rhetoric that supports inequality.” Then they condemned the way “some” people have used social media to create “chasms of harm.”
It’s good to know that so many community leaders are opposed to violence, hate and injustice.
But who are they talking about? Who is engaging in racism and intolerance?
Frank Gaglianese? The People’s Peaceful Protest? Back the Blue? HWS?
What good is this statement if nobody is calling out specific examples of hate?
The letter closes with a pledge for “dialogue” by the same people who won’t even mention the names of perpetrators of hate:
In times of turmoil and challenge, Genevans have always come together in dialogue, both to heal the wounds of the past and to join in fellowship to build a better tomorrow. We pledge to engage in dialogue and act within our capacity to build up our community together.
Dialogue is important, it’s true. And it’s also true that in the last ten years, Geneva has “come together in dialogue” in “times of turmoil.”
In 2011, after GPD officer Carmen Reale murdered Corey Jackson, there were several community dialogues, and those dialogues showed that people wanted police accountability and oversight.
In 2017, after GPD officer Todd Yancey was discovered to have posted racist memes on Facebook, there was a community dialogue, and that dialogue showed that people wanted police accountability and oversight.
In 2018, when a former police officer and expert on Fair and Impartial Policing came to Geneva and hosted a community dialogue, that dialogue showed that people wanted police accountability and oversight.
In 2018, when the Community Compact held a community forum to update the public on their Compact Action Plan, that dialogue showed that people wanted police accountability and oversight.
After all those “dialogues,” city leaders took literally ZERO steps towards police accountability and oversight. Year after year, dialogue after dialogue, nothing changed.
It wasn’t until the people started demonstrating in the streets that any sort of meaningful steps toward police accountability were taken.
Promises of more “dialogue” don’t mean much to anyone at this point.
This “statement” from community leaders just serves as a reminder of why racism has been allowed to continue in Geneva. The statement avoids addressing the issue directly, and offers no solution other than for the community to just keep talking to each other.
City Requests Public Feedback on Police Reform Measures
The City of Geneva is currently asking for public feedback on three police reform proposals:
- Review Item #1: Proposed Geneva Local Law 2-2020: Feedback appreciated by 8/31/20
- Review Item #2: Draft Police Department Body Camera Policy Task Force By-Laws Feedback appreciated by 8/24/20
- Review Item #3: Draft Police Budget Advisory Board By-Laws Feedback appreciated by 8/24/20
Please send feedback on these specific initiatives to our City Clerk, Lori Guinan at firstname.lastname@example.org. While dates are noted above for sending initial feedback, please let us know if you are working on providing feedback and need more time. We will let Council and staff know.