Conversation in county over race, policing
GENEVA — The memory of her father being arrested and handcuffed by police as she watched, at age seven, from the back seat of the car, stays with Aliyah Wright, 21, who lives in Phelps. Wright, whose father is Black, was one in a group Monday discussing law enforcement, race, and current events.
Sim Heard, a young Black man from Rochester now living in Buffalo, who also shared personal experience, lost a cousin killed in an altercation with police. After the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died while being pinned by a white Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day, Heard recalled sitting up all night with his mother watching TV and crying.
“I felt helpless,” said Heard, a basketball coach active in efforts to bring together Black youth and police.
The discussion, led by Karen Iglesia from Webster, took place at the National Guard Armory in Geneva. It brought together representatives from local law enforcement and community members, including those with state and city police, from Geneva and Canandaigua, as well as members of the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office including Sheriff Kevin Henderson.
Iglesia said that after the death of George Floyd, a lot of people were talking but not with young adults of color, who are the most impacted. “I wanted to give the young adults a platform, to have a real meaningful conversation with law enforcement at all levels,” she said.
Conversations in Monroe County, with police and youth interacting through discussions, basketball and other avenues, have worked well, she said. “We were asked to do this in Ontario County,” added Iglesia. Joining her in organizing the event was Donna Schaertl, Back the Blue coordinator in Ontario County.
Heard talked about what it’s like to be a Black man, fearful of police. He said as a boy you are taught not to wear a hoodie, to not get tattoos, to always carry receipts in your bag as proof you paid, to speak quietly and cautiously — or it could cost you a life in jail, or your life. Heard said he is the first man in his family to not be arrested.
Gary Moxley, a retired Rochester City Police officer and a Black man, said he lives in “a great neighborhood” where he and his family are respected and they don’t experience racial tension. Still, he teaches his son how to protect himself. “I realized I lecture him in the same way Sim has been lectured,” Moxley said. “Watch how you walk, watch how you talk.”
Wright, who is active in efforts to bridge the divide between people of color and police, said she has experienced resistance toward these efforts.
“I understand with the riots, everyone was scared,” she said. “But this conversation is needed.”
Sheriff Henderson encouraged Wright to contact him for support. Henderson and other members of the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office spoke out against police brutality after the death of George Floyd, as Black Lives Matter rallies took place locally.
Henderson said he is third-generation law enforcement, and proud of that — as he is not proud of what happened to George Floyd. “We are not perfect,” said Henderson. “How can we do better?”
“I think these kinds of discussions are important,” the sheriff said.
The discussion in Geneva took place one day after the latest incident nationally of police brutality involving a Black person. The encounter in Kenosha, Wisconsin, partially captured in a video, shows an officer firing several shots at close range into the man's back. Wisconsin officials identified the shooting victim as Jacob Blake, a Black man. He was in serious condition at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee as of early Monday morning, law enforcement said. Protests broke out following the shooting. At least three garbage trucks were burned out Monday and several businesses’ windows were shattered.
Among those at the event in Geneva were Darryl Sims and Juanita Aikens with the Ontario County Justice Coalition, a Geneva-based community organization whose mission is seeking justice, equality and unity throughout the community.”
“We are willing to do whatever it takes to promote healing, for all of us,” Aikens said
Iglesia said more events like the one Monday in Geneva are planned, including one in Canandaigua.