Reed: George Floyd protests and riots strike close to home

A protester is pepper sprayed by a line of Albany Police officers on Arch Street.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
A protester is pepper sprayed by a line of Albany Police officers on Arch Street.

Categories: Opinion

For some, it would be easy and convenient to dismiss the racially charged events of the past week as something that’ll pass in time.

But we can’t allow it.

The magnitude of the situations in Minneapolis and New York City and even Albany may have been out of the ordinary, but the underlying issues were distressingly familiar in many poor and minority communities in America.

In cities all across the country, people of color have been raising concerns about racial disparities and social injustice for decades. Here in Schenectady, these issues are never far from our minds as we plan our daily and longer-term coverage at the Gazette.

In the past six months alone, our reporters have written some eye-opening stories about the subject. Here are a few:

  • As one of the lead reporters on our COVID-19 coverage team, Pete Demola has documented the racial disparities with the coronavirus’ impact on the black community in Schenectady.

In one of his earlier reports, Pete revealed that while African-Americans constitute 12.4 percent of the population in Schenectady, they were accounting for almost 30 percent of new positive COVID-19 cases here.

And thanks to his dogged reporting, Pete found that local black leaders were growing increasingly concerned about what appeared to be a lack of information about the virus being disseminated to the minority community.

“Our members feel the city and county have been slow in bringing information, and it’s not as detailed as it could be,” Schenectady NAACP President Dr. Odo Butler told Pete.

Within days after we published Pete’s first story about the concerns, Schenectady County officials pledged to step up efforts to communicate.

“If I could take those first 30 days of the pandemic back, we would have done things differently,” county Manager Rory Fluman acknowledged during one of his first COVID press conferences.

The allegations were contained in a letter to the Board of Education that was signed by 20 district employees of color — including teachers, district and building administrators, family engagement specialists and other support staff.

In it, the staffers outlined examples of mistreatment of students and employees of color, and called for anti-racism training and a deeper commitment to the district’s espoused goals.

The letter, as Matson reported in his story, painted a troubling picture of a district that talks about supporting students and families of color as a priority but fails to live up to those goals. 

“As a district, we talk about equity, but organizationally, we don’t operate with intentionality,” the signatories wrote in the letter. “For a system to be working towards a mission statement is not unusual. However, in the case of this district, to simply be ‘working toward’ the ideas behind our mission, as a future goal, is unacceptable. The fact that we are not holding the overall organization accountable to the daily reality of the mission is something far more dangerous.”

Curiously enough, we published the story on Page A1 last Tuesday — the same day that news broke nationally about the racially charged situations in Central Park in New York City (between a white woman and a black man) and the even more distressing incident in Minneapolis, where a black civilian died at the hands of a white police officer.

  • Earlier this year, nearly a dozen members of the Schenectady NAACP addressed the Schenectady City Council after one of the council members made a remark widely interpreted as racially-insensitive. Councilman John Polimeni appeared to nearly use the word “colored” when delivering comments praising newly elected Council President John Mootooveren, the first-ever Guyanese to hold the position. Polimeni later apologized for his inadvertent use of the word, but black leaders weren’t appeased.

As part of a coordinated presentation to the City Council, NAACP members read portions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in synchronized order.

It was a powerful reminder of the racial tensions that still simmer — and sometimes boil over — in Schenectady and elsewhere in the United States.

Miles Reed is the editor of The Daily Gazette.

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