ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The newly-formed commission on Racial and Structural Equity (RASE) made an announcement on Wednesday at the Frederick Douglass statue on South Avenue in Rochester.
“I wanted you to know that the RASE commission, which the mayor and the county executive appointed, and which officially began to work in August, has been fully engaged with the events of the past 7 days, extremely frustrated,” said William Johnson Jr., RASE Commission co-chair and former Rochester Mayor.
The formation of the RACE commission, a joint county-city venture, was announced in June after protests in support of George Floyd erupted across the nation. Made up of 21 community members, the committee will be overseen by two co-chairs; former Mayor William Johnson and Dr. Muhammad Shafiq, Nazareth College interfaith studies director.
“We add another dimension to the community’s frustration because the mayor knew about it,” Johnson Jr. said. “She said she knew about this on August 4th, the commission’s members were sworn in on August 10th, and at no time did anyone bring this to our attention.”
“As the result of this announcement we had to ask two members who were appointed to the commission to stand down and that was Chief Singletary and Mike Mazzeo, President of the Locust Club,” Johnson Jr. said. “When this news hit, we felt that it would be untenable for them to continue serving on the commission so we immediately asked the mayor to remove them — they both were her designees — so we asked and she complied. We also asked the mayor to come meet with us.”
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The former mayor said he was frustrated about the commission not knowing about the body camera footage from the incident that led to Daniel Prude’s death.
“I was absolutely horrified at what I saw,” Johnson Jr. said. “I talked to my colleagues, we sent a letter to the mayor at about 10 p.m. that evening demanding answers and asking for a meeting. I spoke to them mayor the next morning, I told her this was not a good look. Not that we should be receiving special privilege, but we were convened to deal with these kind of issues. It would have been nice to know that this was happening in our backyard.”
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The former mayor emphasized that the RASE commission is not serving local government, but working to help the community, independently.
“The RASE commission is not an arm of the city and county government,” Johnson Jr. said. “We were appointed by the city mayor and county executive, but it is an independent commission. We will not have our report disregarded an disrespected and I think people will see as this work unfolds they will see how serious we go about this work.”
Johnson Jr. says the community needs serious police reform.
“There may be some people who say we don’t need police,” he said. “It doesn’t please the majority of people who understand the role police play. We don’t say defund the police, we say reform the police. However the police have been trained, that training is not complete. I can’t imagine a protocol that you would leave a human being out in the snow out on the cold streets.”
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The former mayor said it’s time for peace and healing in the community is calling for tensions to resolve.
“We are extremely fortunate that no lives have been lost yet in these demonstrations, but we can’t take the risk that that’s not going to happen, because the tactics continue to escalate, the tension continues to increase, and the patience is worn out,” Johnson Jr. said. “So I don’t want to sit back and watch what’s going to happen. I think it’s time to have a cease-fire, if only for a brief time. The point has been made, we don’t need to make it. How many times do you need to put an explanation point behind a statement of fact? The point has been made. You’ve been heard, lets bring the groups together with the mayor, with the police department, with the county executive. I know that if I were still the mayor I would utilize such a resource because we’re seeing what’s happening here and it is very sad.”
“I would like to see a night or two without any demonstrations,” Johnson Jr. said. “Instead of gathering at 1 a.m. let’s gather at 1 p.m. and see how it goes.”
The former mayor said it was the current mayor’s responsibility to inform the commission on what had happened.
“I believe that she had a responsibility, after all think about the context — we’re supposed to be studying this in the context of George Floyd. We have our own George Floyd situation right here that no one knew anything about,” Johnson Jr. said.
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Despite the frustration, Johnson Jr. says Mayor Warren can lead city through this difficult time.
“We are a nation of second chances,” he said. “I think there has to be an honest acknowledgement that flawed decisions were made. I can’t say why or how. This situation has led to a tremendous loss of faith and you have to work to rebuild it.”
The former mayor said he hasn’t met with local Black Lives Matter leaders like Ashley Gantt and Stanley Martin from Free the People ROC, or Mikey Johnson from Save Rochester-Black Lives Matter, but he says he’s aware of their commitment and intensity.
“I’ve never met Ashley Gannt and Stanley Martin, because that’s not my job anymore,” Johnson Jr. said. “I watch them, I see their intensity, I see their commitment — I’d be wiling to sit down with them myself and say, ‘based on experience let’s see what this leads too.’ Give it a chance, I think other people, who have better connections that I do, should do the same.”
The former mayor said President Donald Trump tweeting about the situation in Rochester is painful.
“It pains me mightily that Donald Trump can even find a way to compare what’s happening in Rochester to other communities, but that’s how his mind works. The answer to trump is the election day,” Johnson Jr. said. “It is not inconceivable to me that the far right movement is trying to take advantage of these demonstrations and use it to their advantage.”
The former mayor questioned the state’s role in the Daniel Prude death investigation.
“Gov. Cuomo, he’s been a good governor, but he has to answer for why did he want to look like George Wallace the other night,” Johnson Jr. said. “Why did the state police be dispatched to Rochester with police dogs? People are outraged when they saw those dogs down there. I think that everybody — the attorney general, god bless her soul — what’s taken her so long? All this publicity comes and she jumps into action? Nobody in this situation was totally blameless, everybody has contributed to this mess, and they need to own up to it, and we need to fix it.”
The commission was ordered to review the state of education, health care, business development and other social services, as well as submit policies to both the city and county governments to address racial inequalities.
Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Mayor Lovely Warren announced the 21 members of RASE in August.
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Officials say the commission received 225 applications. Of those 21 people were selected: Eight by Bello and Warren, and 13 though a community selection process that included representatives from organizations, community groups, and residents.
Recently, after the death of Daniel Prude while in-custody with Rochester police officers, protesters have been calling for changes within policing. In response, Warren said the city will be working with the RASE commission to continue improving responses to mental health crises. Availability of mental health professionals will also be doubled.
Full press conference
This is a developing story. News 8 WROC will provide updates as they become available.
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