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The shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri has sparked a discussion about how young black men are covered in the press.

A Twitter hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown refers to what pictures the media would show of young black men killed by police officers. Would the media deliberately choose pictures of them looking like thugs?

I can’t say I’ve witnessed this specific type of bias in Rochester, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. When covering a story about any deceased individual, I look for the nicest pictures available. The pictures we show are most often provided by families. Sometimes families don’t have many pictures from which to choose. (Poynter offers a good discussion for journalists on how to avoid bias in these situation when choosing photos.)

But the hashtag raised a much larger issue of how the media covers young black men. The most thought-provoking article I read was by Jasmine Banks in Root titled, “Black Kids Don’t Have to Be College-Bound for Their Deaths to Be Tragic:”

The more horrific part, in my opinion, is that we—people of color—have been exposed to this “thugs deserve to die” narrative so frequently that some of us seem to have embraced it ourselves. Instead of arguing that nobody deserves to be shot, we tie ourselves up in knots making the case that the latest victim of a law-enforcement officer’s bullet was a good kid, or that the photo the news media selected wasn’t the most flattering depiction of him…

We cannot and should not engage in discussions that look like black and brown people explaining that an unarmed person shouldn’t have been shot because they lived in a way of which we are proud. 

This article resonated with me. There are so many young, black men who are killed in Rochester. We hear grieving loved ones say, “He was turning his life around.” We hear, “He was going to MCC in the fall.” We hear, “He was a good kid and would have done anything for anyone.”

Sometimes those things are true. Sometimes they are not true. Sometimes victims are innocent. Sometimes they are not. Sometimes people are honest about their loved ones. Sometimes they are not.

It doesn’t matter.

When I was attending John Marshall High School, I was acutely aware of how the media treated urban crime. Even then, I was a news junkie. During a time of record homicides, many of them young black men, we collectively remember only one young black male from that era: 14-year-old Ralik Henton, hit with a stray bullet, dying with a bible in his hand.

In 1995, a black teenager I went to high school with was robbed, shot and left for dead on the sidewalk as he left his job at McDonald’s. The name of this murder victim is long forgotten to all but his friends and family.

When I started my first job in Rochester, I asked why some homicide cases get more attention that others. A manager told me, “Families shouldn’t look to the news media to validate their loved one.”

One some level, that’s true. The news media pays more attention to things that are out of the ordinary. Innocent victims, suburban victims and white victims are more unusual. Some crimes are simply more shocking than others.

StreetMake no mistake, however. Media bias exists. At another job, I was constantly criticized by some superiors for “doing too many stories in the city.” The message was clear: The (mostly white) suburbs matter more than the (racially diverse) city. I was dumbfounded. How can you have too many stories in a city with 210,000 people, a city with enormous challenges and numerous people without a voice? Why does the news exist, if not to tell these stories? I am grateful I was still able to do most of my “city stories,” despite the criticism.

There’s so much urban violence, we have become numb. Even if we wanted to do personalized stories on every victim, we may not find family members willing to speak. We may not find pictures. The story may not get anyone’s attention. That’s why it’s important to focus on larger problems of poverty, education, drug policy, segregation, and more. Those “city stories” also tell the story of lives lost.

Where the media devotes its resources sends a message. How it chooses to cover certain things sends a message. It sent one to me when I was in high school. It is surely sending that message to other teenagers watching every day.


Links of the Day:


– If casinos are supposed to be cash cows for local governments, why do they need tax breaks?

– Stop The Cap takes on Adam McFadden for writing a letter in support of Comcast’s takeover of Time Warner. (McFadden told me he simply hates Time Warner and Comcast does not give that much money to his group.)

– Syracuse’s mayor is exploring municipal broadband.

– Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy has discovered Twitter. It turns out, he’s pretty good at it! Even better, his boss hasn’t tried to rein him in.

– The Cuomo administration is deleting all emails after 90 days, raising issues about records preservation.

– The New York Times editorial board calls on Cuomo to stop trying to throw his Democratic primary challenger off the ballot.

– This is why call centers are bad economic development. Xerox is laying off 468 people in Houston.

– An orthopedic surgeon writes about the growing number of children who have sports-related injuries. His advice to parents is to chill out.

– A mom is reading her emails on her phone while her kid plays at the park. Give her a break!

Credit: City of Rochester

Credit: City of Rochester

Monroe County is getting more diverse. Newly-released census data shows Hispanics are the fastest growing group, followed by Asians and blacks.

Hispanics numbered 62,994 in Monroe County in 2013, up from 57,670 in 2010, a 9.2 percent increase. That means they make up 8.4 percent of the population, a .5 percent increase from 2010.

The number of Asians went up 8 percent between 2010 and 2013 to 31,366. They now make up 4.2 percent of Monroe County’s population, up from 3.9 percent in 2010.

There are 131,269 black residents of Monroe County, up 2 percent from 2010. They make up 17.5 percent of population, up from 17.3 percent in 2010.

There are 598,101 non-Hispanic white residents, up from 596,345 in 2010. But their total share of the population dropped from 80.1 percent to 79.8 percent.

Monroe County is less diverse than the United States as a whole, where whites make up 62.6 percent of the population. Asians and Hispanics are the fastest-growing groups in the nation.


Links of the Day:


– A suburban Syracuse school district can bring back soup and sandwiches at lunch. It’s rejecting the federal lunch program. (Poor districts can’t do this.)

– Math under Common Core has parents stumbling.

– Oh look. Another state lawmaker indicted.

– Work programs for people with disabilities are being phased out. Maybe that’s a good thing, because the jobs paid less than minimum wage.

– High Falls repainted old “Ghost Signs.” This is so cool!

– People love the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival, but they don’t know a lot about jazz.


Tweet of the Day:



Graphic of the Day:



4b51f4aa-f527-4184-b647-0a3fb726dc8cWhen Detroit filed for bankruptcy, cities across the country asked if they would be next. Many face the same challenges of pension and employee costs, suburban flight, a declining property tax base, vacant housing, crime and struggling schools.

Rochester Mayor Tom Richards warned the city could go down the same path as Detroit if it’s not properly managed. But there are significant differences between the Flower City and the Motor City. City workers are in the state pension system and Rochester has not had the same management problems. (Detroit suffered through decades of having an extreme debt load and saw an explosion of even more borrowing under Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who was also convicted in a corruption scandal.) Rochester maintains a decent quality of life with libraries, police and fire services, parks and more. Rochester’s credit rating is stellar, and has remained so since at least the days of Mayor Bill Johnson.

In short, Rochester is a long, long way from being Detroit.

That’s why I was disturbed to hear people say after Lovely Warren was elected mayor, “Rochester will be Detroit.”

There are no facts to support any such prediction that the city will go down the tubes. Warren has no record of financial mismanagement or incompetence as City Council president. Her mentor, David Gantt, has had some minor scandals and questionable episodes (Fastrac on East Main, red light camera legislation that favored his protege lobbyist, collecting his pension early and playing politics with many major projects and the RCSD), but there’s nothing to suggest deep-seated corruption. Every longtime politician in Rochester has their issues.

Meanwhile, Monroe County is embroiled in a major corruption scandal and struggles to maintain a good credit rating. But no one says the county will become Detroit. Why is that?

We all know the answer.


Links of the Day:


– Cannot get my head around a $20 million state contract for a Rochester head-hunting firm.

Ginna is considered at risk of closing.

– Xerox fired someone for posting a selfie of herself on the job.

– Rochester has some super-wealthy Zip Codes, as this interactive map shows.

Rochester teachers who appealed their ratings tell me they were awarded a total of 1 to 2 points extra, not enough to make a difference.

– Syracuse’s mayor sometimes gets confronted in public restrooms. She’ll discuss policy anywhere.

Study will look at bike share feasibility in Rochester. Bob Lonsberry tweeted this is bike entitlement. But:



There is such a gap between the experiences of rich kids and poor kids, the differences between the haves and the have-nots will continue to worsen. David Brooks write in the New York Times about “The Opportunity Gap:”

A generation ago, working-class parents spent slightly more time with their kids than college-educated parents. Now college-educated parents spend an hour more every day…

Affluent parents also invest more money in their children. Over the last 40 years upper-income parents have increased the amount they spend on their kids’ enrichment activities, like tutoring and extra curriculars, by $5,300 a year. The financially stressed lower classes have only been able to increase their investment by $480, adjusted for inflation…

Richer kids are roughly twice as likely to play after-school sports. They are more than twice as likely to be the captains of their sports teams. They are much more likely to do nonsporting activities, like theater, yearbook and scouting. They are much more likely to attend religious services.

It’s not only that richer kids have become more active. Poorer kids have become more pessimistic and detached.

City of Rochester Communications Bureau

This “opportunity gap” is painfully evident in Upstate New York’s cities. The Urban Land Institute ranked 100 metro areas on gaps between white and black residents in income, housing, school test scores and employment. Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse ranked in the bottom 10.

A Brookings Institution study found that poor people have limited access to higher quality schools. Rochester also scored badly in this study.

The consequences to society of unequal access to opportunity can be dire in terms of unemployment, crime and poverty. But there are also moral reasons to strive for equal opportunity.

It remains very true that anyone can “make it” in America. But when the barriers are high, fewer people will.

Links of the Day:

– A study has found creating a countywide school system in Ontario County is feasible, but it may not save money.

– How can bus systems attract people who don’t need to ride the bus? Should they even try?

– Remember “Dirty Dancing?” The Catskills wants to be known as something other than cheesy resorts.

– A test shows whether your cancer is good and you’ll live or bad and you’ll die. Would you want to know?

– PETA named Frontier Field a Top 10 vegan-friendly ballpark.

City of Rochester Communications Bureau

More Links of the Day:

Although a recent study found America is less racially segregated than ever before, there are places where it persists. In some of those places, there is a significant “opportunity gap.”

The Urban Land Institute ranked 100 metropolitan areas based on black-white equality. The study measured residential segregation, income, employment, school test scores and home ownership.

Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse ranked in the bottom ten.

Here’s Rochester’s report card:

Overall: F | 92nd

Residential Segregation: D

Neighborhood Income Gap: F

School Test Score Gap: D

Employment Gap: F

Home ownership Gap: D

The Atlantic points out the study doesn’t take into account the different sizes and lifestyles of each metro area.

But I’m glad this study went a little further than the Manhattan Institute study that looked at residential segregation. That study proclaimed our country is less segregated than ever. As I blogged recently, the data showed only slightly more integration in Rochester. It certainly feels segregated here. This study shows it is – and points out possible consequences.

– What’s up with Syracuse’s school superintendent? She proposed a budget with a 12 percent increase – unheard of in these tough fiscal times. If that’s not shocking enough, her budget has a $35 million hole and she has no idea how to fill it.

– Kodak has a big bankruptcy hearing next Wednesday. The court filings show everyone is lining up to get their piece of the pie. They also suggest Kodak could be having a hard time with vendors right now.

– Rochester’s ShotSpotter program has a shockingly low return on investment. More than 3,000 activations led to only six arrests.

– Save the Crows! Here’s my story on the Facebook group protesting the city’s crow removal. My favorite line: “They’re birds. Let birds be birds.”

America’s cities are becoming less segregated, according to a new report by the Manhattan Institute.

The report names several reasons for the racial integration:

  1. Black people have moved to the suburbs. There are very few all-white neighborhoods these days. Most neighborhoods have at least a few black residents.
  2. Ghettos are emptying out. We’ve certainly seen this in Rochester. One census tract in northeast part of the city lost one-third of its residents in the last decade. Some of this has to do with public housing policies that fostered integration. The study noted, however, that while all-white neighborhoods are becoming extinct, the number of predominantly black neighborhoods declined only 7 percent from 2000 to 2010.
  3. Gentrification and immigration. White people and immigrants are moving into ghettos in some cities, though this is seen as a minor factor.

What’s the story in Rochester?

The report found only slightly more integration here in the last decade. A look at the numbers shows segregation still persists.

Rochester’s Dissimilarity Index went from 65 percent in 2000 to 62 percent in 2010. That means 62 percent black people would have to move to create even distribution of races.

Rochester’s Isolation Index went from 36 percent in 2000 to 34 percent in 2010. That means the average black person lives in a neighborhood with 34 percent more black people than the metropolitan average.

Buffalo is more segregated than Rochester. Albany is less segregated. Syracuse is about the same. Binghamton was on the list of top 10 metro areas with the largest increases in segregation.

Why do we care?

Separate is unequal, as our history has taught us. Integration is important to decrease racism, isolation and poverty. It’s also important to increase opportunity and equality. But the study’s authors conclude racial integration is not a cure-all:

Yet we now know that eliminating segregation was not a magic bullet. Residential segregation has declined pervasively, as ghettos depopulate and the nation’s population center shifts toward the less segregated Sun Belt. At the same time, there has been only limited progress in closing achievement and employment gaps between blacks and whites.

I would have liked to see a report on economic and educational segregation, as well. Nothing’s a “magic bullet,” but our community still feels pretty segregated, doesn’t it?