The Rochester Police Department had a bad year in 2002. Four men died at the hands of police or in police custody – in one summer.
“It actually frightened me,” said former mayor William Johnson.
– Lawrence Rogers died after police restrained him at the Driving Park Wegmans. Rogers had been agitated and fought with police before his arrest. He died after being given a sedative at the hospital.
– Craig Heard was shot by two officers who had him cornered on a dead-end street off Park Ave. Police said the 14-year-old was trying to run them over with a stolen car. His family received a $300,000 settlement. (Their lawyer was current City Hall attorney T. Andrew Brown.)
– Shawn Dukes died in the back of a police van while handcuffed and unattended. He had a heart attack. His family was awarded a $500,000 settlement.
– Willie Carter was shot and killed on East Main Street after he stabbed his wife to death. Police said he was advancing on them with knives.
Why didn’t Rochester erupt with protests, as we are seeing in Ferguson?
“If we hadn’t made a diligent effort to establish community relations in advance, this city would have blown off as well,” said Johnson.
To understand why Rochester remained calm, you have to go back to 1992. That was the year five officers were on federal trial for civil rights violations. The police chief was convicted on embezzlement charges.
“The police dept was in a huge mess,” said Johnson. “When I became mayor it was clear I had to solve this problem.”
Johnson’s first task was to find a new police chief. He went down to North Carolina to interview Robert Warshaw. He also wanted to talk to citizens.
“The black people in town said to me, ‘Do not take our chief,'” said Johnson. “They told me about a case where there was a young black man who engaged in a serious act. He was on top of some building in town. The SWAT team was dispersed. In the past the SWAT team would have killed him. Chief Warshaw personally intervened, went up and talked him down. Finally they had a police chief and department that cared enough about their lives.”
Johnson hired Warshaw. He told Warshaw the culture in the police department had to change. Robert Duffy was his deputy chief. The city started the Neighbors Building Neighborhoods program and Neighborhood Empowerment Teams. Police officers had offices right in neighborhoods to deal with quality of life issues.
“We had police out in the community all the time and created dialogue,” said Johnson.
In 2002, Duffy was chief. After four police-involved deaths of black men in one summer, Johnson and Duffy sprung into action.
“We had to start calling on people that knew the work of the police department to keep things under the control,” said Johnson. “We had a few hotheads. Rev. Raymond Graves did his best to fan the flames. I said, ‘Reverend, I’m here now. Give us some credit.’ I just had to keep leaning on Rev. Graves to not escalate things.”
Johnson said he was under a lot of pressure to take some kind of action against the department, particularly Chief Duffy.
“If he had any other mayor than me as his boss…I don’t know many other mayors who would not have sacrificed their police chief if they had four black men killed,” Johnson said. “Politically, that was a hard thing for me to swallow. I had to keep saying I have confidence in Bob Duffy and confidence in his administration and mistakes were made. You have to be willing to admit that to people.”
The lesson here is simple.
“People have to believe you are being honest with them and they have to believe based on experience,” said Johnson. “You can’t start that day. You have to have a strong foundation built up.”
Johnson doesn’t see any evidence of that in Ferguson.
“There’s no trust between police and citizen,” he said.
Johnson, who did some work in Sanford after the death of Trayvon Martin, said citizens also play a role. He condemned the “criminal element taking advantage of the situation” by looting. But he said it’s concerning the town is majority black, but elected officials are mostly white.
“This community has to get its act together,” said Johnson. “They can’t keep complaining they are oppressed. They have the means to be engaged.”
All of this could have been avoided, Johnson said.
“What it takes is the awareness you’ve got a problem and the willingness to do something about it.”
Links of the Day:
– Amnesty International is sending a team to Ferguson, the first time the agency has made a deployment in the U.S.
– The father of the Amish girls feels sorry for their alleged kidnappers.
– Jim Kelly says no thank you to Jon Bon Jovi.
doesn’t pass the smell test.”
– Could Zephyr Teachout hurt Cuomo in the primary?
– One-third of people have nothing saved for retirement.
– Rochester’s Adrian Jules dresses Jim Boeheim.
Tweet of the Day:
This photo of S.U. Coach Jim Boeheim was taken BEFORE he started buying his clothes from Adrian Jules- Thank God. pic.twitter.com/wPTz4I27OX
— Robert Duffy (@LtGovDuffyNY) August 18, 2014