I've spent some time in the West Main Street-Chili Avenue area over the last few days, first to listen to Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard talk to residents gathered at Junior's Barber Shop & Unisex Salon on West Main, and then to observe a Lovely Warren campaign event at the Iglesia Educational Center on Thurston Road. Warren, who is running for mayor, came to talk about education, but also ended up discussing crime, drugs, parenting, and other issues.
The events were less than two miles apart in an area of the city struggling with poverty, crime, high unemployment, and other seemingly intractable issues. I was struck to see that while people in both places are interested in higher-concept, longer-term discussions like neighborhood schools versus school choice, they also want to know what Sheppard and Warren can do to help them right now: How is the Rochester Police Department going to protect the beaches and other public places given this trend of youth using those opportunities to stage fights? (Sheppard talks about the youth fight at the 2013 Lilac Fest in the above video). A woman at the Warren event said she has a son with attention deficit disorder and no school seems to be able to handle him. Could Warren help her?
The point is, their needs are immediate. They can't wait for committees and studies and prayers to pay off. Sheppard talked about how the RPD monitors social media so they know where fights might take place. And Warren gave the woman the names of a couple of schools that might be able to help her, while promising to also follow-up later with more information.
A common theme that emerged at both events was the need for, and the lack of community responsibility. Young people need adults to take an interest in them, the people at the events said, as well as discipline and guidance. If the parents can't or won't do it, then the community and the system need to step up, and they need to be held accountable when they fall short, they said.
"Not everybody's a gangbanger or hanging on the corner," Sheppard said. "They just need to know someone cares. Those little conversations you have with people make a difference. It's not just about cuffing those boys up."
A woman at the Sheppard event said the city needs to get back to a time when everybody knew each other in their neighborhood and were all involved in bringing up the children.
"I need you. You're my history," a woman said to a young man at the Sheppard event. "Why are we killing each other? Our families are so destroyed. We see each other killing each other in droves. We need you. We don't have to know you to hurt."
Karen Iglesia, founder of the Iglesia Educational Centers, said the young men she sees often refer to the "3 C's" as the only ways out of the "ghetto": the classroom, the cell block, or the cemetery.
"You have to show them that there's another way," she said. "I have 28, 29 year old grandparents. I have parents who've never set foot in their child's school."