– by Patrick Flanigan, Staff Writer –
Democrat and Chronicle.
The relationship between the Rochester Police Department and the city’s African-American community was seriously tested in 2002.
Before summer ended, three black men and a black teenager had died during or shortly after contacts with police.
But as 2002 came to a close, many of the city’s African-American leaders were satisfied that the events were a series of anomalies rather than the result of racial insensitivity among most of the city’s cops. Forty years after race riots that were sparked by the arrest of a black man, the events of 2002 offer a contrast that highlights a changed relationship between the department and the black community.
One of the biggest differences is communication, said Marion Walker, president of the Jay Orchard Street Neighborhood Association.
Such programs as the Neighborhood Empowerment Team offices and the Police Citizen Interaction Committees provide residents with a sense of partnership with police officers, he said.
Police Chief Robert Duffy compared the relationship between the Rochester community, including African-Americans, and the department to a bank account that holds a reserve of good will.
Accusations of excessive force, rude behavior and lack of compassion by officers represent withdrawals. Treating people with respect, hiring officers who reflect the diversity of the community and responding to critical incidents with as much candor as possible are deposits, he said.
Despite the challenges of 2002, Duffy said, there was a positive balance at the end of the year.
Police Officer Roy Hopkins, who grew up on Tremont Street and was 7 during the riots, said the increase in minority officers on the force has helped build bridges to the community.
“When I was first hired, people called me an Uncle Tom,” said Hopkins, who joined the department in 1982. “I haven’t heard that in 18 years.”
Not all African-American leaders fully credit the appearance of calm in the black community to a better relationship with police. The Rev. Joy Powell who led a series of peaceful protests in response to the 2002 incidents, said apathy also has playeda role.
“When I was coming up, people talked about Martin Luther King and fighting for equality,” said Powell, 42. “Now, they’re too busy doing black-on-black crime and selling drugs. They don’t even know who Martin Luther King was. It’s pathetic.”