The Battle of Hamburger Hill during Vietnam was a test of the nation’s military leadership, and it failed badly, marking a negative turning point in the war. The battle of Hamilton Hill in Schenectady is a test for the city’s police and political leaders, and they must do more if they, and the people of that neighborhood, are to prevail against the criminals, blight and poverty. A group of Hamilton Hill residents who attended Monday’s city council meeting brought with them a very good tactical (small picture) and strategic (big picture) plan.
And, importantly, they got the attention of new Police Chief Mark Chaires, who, in response to their concerns about a sudden increase in gang members and drug dealers on certain streets, promised to make changes in the patrol schedule for the neighborhood. He also said he would actively seek out information from neighborhood residents for the department’s computerized crime mapping effort, which allows for more efficient use of the force’s limited manpower and identifies problem areas for joint action with state police under Operation IMPACT. The Hill’s black residents might be more willing to talk to Chaires, who is himself black, which would not only help the department map crimes but solve them (recently, residents’ non-cooperation with the police has been an obstacle to crime solving).
Better police protection wasn’t the only concern of residents, though. They came to the meeting with a bunch of other constructive ideas, developed as part of the federally funded Weed and Seed, which aims to help troubled neighborhoods like the Hill by weeding (getting out the bad guys) and seeding (establishing positive programs and addressing community needs). The ideas (presented as “demands”) included: expanding youth employment and summer programs at the city’s parks; negotiating with contractors to train residents for construction jobs; improving street lighting in the most crime-prone areas; providing more money for the emergency food pantry; and securing funding for a much-needed small grocery store in the neighborhood. Until the latter happens, they suggested a “food shuttle” to transport neighborhood residents to low-cost groceries so they don’t have to buy food at the much more expensive corner stores.
These aren’t pie-in-the-sky. If a consultant were paid to come in and determine Hamilton Hill’s most basic needs, most or all of the above would be on the list. But in this case the city got the information free, from the people who actually live in the neighborhood and who, increasingly, are making their voices heard. The city doesn’t have to do it all at once, but it should commit to making these things happen, sooner rather than later.