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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Random Act of Kindness

During the holiday season in Central New York people in every community rally together to help bring Christmas to those less fortunate. In Utica/New Hartford there are multiple toy drives and annual charities like 'Stuff The Bus' and 'Operation Sunshine' that have helped hundreds of people. But every year people get lost, families slip through the cracks and spend their Christmas morning without adequate food, presents and sometimes, even a warm place.

The reasons don't matter; when there are children involved fault or bad parenting isn't the issue. In a world where 'Santa' awards those that are 'Good' and gives nothing to the 'Bad' kids; an empty Christmas can be damning to an innocent childs self esteem.

Imagine the simple thoughts that go through a poor childs mind in the county building waiting with Grandma or Mom in one of the long lines watching other kids playing, with gadgets and poking at tablets that Santa brought them for Christmas. Imagine what they are thinking when they get back to school and the inevitable 'what did Santa bring you'? conversation comes up. In the back of their minds a self loathing develops, they might even lie to feel better, to temporarily fit in. The seeds of discontent and misunderstanding firmly planted, growing into frustration at a world they have just been born into.

What happens to those people? We ask. "They often end up here" shared Dale Lintz, Food Service Director at Utica's Rescue Mission.

The Rescue Mission is one of the only places in Utica people in need of a warm meal can get one with no questions asked. A place where the needy gather in larger numbers during Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"We have families come in cold and wet....Children" Lintz explained. He paused in thought "I mean, you can tell sometimes things may be pretty bad for some people"he added.

A single Grandmother and four of her Grandchildren were recently going through that type of 'pretty bad'. The Grandmother (name unimportant) had just had four of her Grandchildren from Syracuse (N.Y.) abandoned to her. She herself had no power in her small one bedroom apartment. The kids were left with no food or change of clothes. The mother, overwhelmed with her own personal demons, inexplicably went back to Syracuse

"The kids were dropped off a couple of days before Christmas". Dale explained. "At first I didn't really pay them any special attention, I mean we feed a lot of people". Dale was refering to the kitchen at The Rescue Mission. The Grandmother brought the kids because she had no food to feed them; even if she did, there was no power to cook it.

The Rescue Mission is primarily run by volunteers and one of them , Zonia Lucas, knew the Grandmother. Seeing her in the dining room she greeted her with surprise and joy, a joy that was quickly extinguished when she realized the dire situation she and the kids were in. "I was like, 'Oh Lord, we got to do something' I couldn't believe what I was hearing" . Lucas was immediately touched by her friends plight and her first thought, after a solemn prayer, was to tell Dale.

"Well the night of the 23rd Zonia explained how bad things were for her and the kids....all I could think about was helping them"

Dale didn't waste any time, before he even left work he went to Social Media and shared the story on his FaceBook home page. What happened next is nothing short of amazing, outstanding, incredible and Angelic.

"I'm kinda involved in my Church" Dale humbly admitted. "To be honest, I just give all Glory to God for everything in my life" he added.

The response to Dale's post was immediate. His friends on FaceBook took to the streets. Gift Cards toys and money started arriving at The Rescue Mission. Keep in mind, he posted the day before Christmas Eve.

By Christmas Eve there were so many toys, he needed the Rescue Mission Van to get them delivered. But there was still a problem. The kids had no power. Honestly, what good is a bunch of toys when the kids don't have a mother,clothes, food, or a warm place to stay?

"This was an emergency; I honestly didn't know at first how bad it actually was". Dale just posted about a lack of toys for some needy kids. Zonia left out the gritty details of their abandonment.

When he tried to make delivery Dale discovered they had no power and The Grandmother had sought help at The County Building; all four, wet, cold snotty nosed kids in tow. "Here we are Christmas Eve, we got all these toys, but no power" Lintz's faith has put him in a mental place where he doesn't dwell on problems but lives in solutions. He let his fingers do the walking and got on his phone.

Dale called a local Hotel inquired on rates and availability and booked these total strangers a room. "I discovered the Grandmother received a grant but the power would not be on till 12/31 so I used my Credit Card.

The next person he called was Cecil Morris Pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Prospect. "When I heard the passion in Dale's voice I couldn't let it go, God moved in his heart to help so I pledged the Church to reimburse him for the room rental".

So at the last minute, these four kids and an overwhelmed Grandmother with nothing to look forward to were swept up in a wave of love and compassion. They received over a thousand dollars worth of gifts, gift cards clothes and food. But one thing that they got you can't put a dollar sign on for value; its a priceless commodity and sometimes it seems to be in short supply. If we all shared it the world would be a much better place.

It's called Love.

Unconditional Love.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Thick Blue Line



Law enforcement has been a controversial topic lately. The enforcement of laws, methods applied and outcomes from those methods has been the subject of lively public debate.

People in and around Utica have not ignored the subject. The entire community in Utica is well aware of the two most publicized cases where it appears members of law enforcement were given free reign over the well-being (lives) of Black American citizens. Even Students at Hamilton College in Clinton demonstrated, taking part in an international 'hands up don't shoot' movement.

Along with the demonstrations a large number of hand held phone and police dashcam videos have been posted on social media, exposing a pattern of abuse and indifference among many different officers and departments nationwide. Things seemed bad enough for the President to weigh in, suggesting officers wear body cameras to accurately catalog their behavior toward the people they are sworn to serve and protect.

It does not take an expert to note the cultural consistency in the most deadly encounters. Often times the officers are White and the victims are Black. The contact is usually initiated by some petty offense like seatbelt, innadequate license plate light or walking in the street.

Sound Familiar?

Many Black Uticans have historically avoided contact with law enforcement for obvious reasons, a healthy distrust, and in some cases, fear, of what could happen if they let the police into their homes and or personal lives. Fears that have been validated by past actions of law enforcement. Imagine calling for help and getting a hard time instead. For some officers it is difficult to see some people as innocent victims.

We don't have to look to far back for examples that helped feed the distrust and fear. April 12, 2007 City Of Utica Police Officer Thomas Lindsey was gunned down. The search for evidence and a suspect was frantic; the Chief at the time (Pylman) conveniently and incorrectly blamed the crime on a black male in a hoodie. Law Enforcement swooped in on Cornhill like an occupying army. A big complaint was the treatment of the people within the neighborhood (99.9% innocent of said crime). Unfortunately many were treated like criminals.

People remember these interactions and those memories play a part in everyday decisions. Familiar faces and people with an understanding of our cultural nuances can help alleviate those, very real fears and help solve crimes. That’s exactly why many people feel Utica needs, more Black and Hispanic police officers.

This obviously is not just a Utica problem, nationwide minorities are less likely to work in law enforcement even when they are the majority of the (urban) population. A 2007 survey by Bureau of Justice reveals some telling statistics. One out of four officers nationwide is a member of a racial or ethnic group. For larger cities it jumps to about 30%; but for small cities like Utica the disparity is larger. There are many theories that could explain this phenomenon. On a micro-level: a change in the unique 'culture' of individual departments with challenges recruiting would be a start.

It should be understood that Black folks do not ridicule each other for seeking jobs like police officer, that is a myth. The people that have those goals are not on the corner talking about it, they are usually active in pursuit of their goals. They usually participate in sports, do their schoolwork and prepare themselves the best way they can to achieve their goals. Quietly looking for ways to increase their chances; they start by staying out of trouble.

The City of Utica Police Department put posters up at all the corner stores in Utica's 'inner city', announcing the upcoming Civil Service exam necessary for entry to the academy. Recently a Black American recruit from Utica, Wesley Jackson, took the test and passed.

Before anyone could celebrate, he was forced (coerced) to resign one week before his graduation from the Academy.

The story was leaked to The OD and the subject of the article, written by Rocco LaDuca, was how difficult it is to find qualified minority candidates within the City of Utica.

A narrative was developed that would supposedly provide a temporary excuse for the small number of Black officers. It is a narrative that insinuates the integrity required for anyone who desires a career in law enforcement is in short supply within the minority community of Utica.

During a sit-down interview last week Jackson explained his experience. "Basically, he (Chief Williams) called me in the office and asked me to sit down." Gathering his thoughts, Jackson continued. "He told me I was the subject of two Internal Affairs investigations over the last five months and my activities off the clock had come into question."

Jackson explained he was in the final week of a 26 week training course. He was in good standing and had everything worked out he would be on the streets right now.

When contacted, Chief Williams was open and candid regarding Wesley's termination. But he also explained that he was unable to talk about the specifics of the Internal Affairs investigation (the reason for his dismissal).

"He can say all he wants about it...I can't," Williams said.

Dancyscorner asked Chief Williams if it was routine for a candidate to be investigated by Internal Affairs before hitting the streets, after all, he had passed all the necessary physicals and civil service examinations.

"No, it’s not," he said.

But Wesley’s case is different. His father, Ray Jackson, Sr., has an active lawsuit against The City of Utica Police Department and,we all know this should not matter but, he is also Black.

"It might have been the lawsuit. I honestly thought they hired me thinking my dad would drop it," Wesley thought aloud searching for reasons. "My sister, who passed away two years ago, has an old boyfriend who they thought I talked to."

When asked, "what is so important about him?" Jackson replied, "They were looking for him and since he is still at large they thought I was passing on information."

So the story gets stranger. A shadowy figure that law enforcement is looking for was tied to Jackson due to his relationship with his deceased sister. Wesley emphasized his innocence and steadfastly denies any relations with 'undesirables.'

But for him to even think they hired him because he was anything but qualified speaks to the dire reality. The collective self-esteem and trust of the Black community is at an all-time low. The establishment, right wing, 'Obama Backlash' (knee-jerk negativity for all things Black) has hurt Black communities all over the nation.

"They also said a lot of the guys (current cops) don't want me (on the force) and don't think I deserve to be there" Jackson added.

Jackson would have been the seventh officer among the 163 active. That’s a whopping 4% of the force. It would be foolish to assume every member of the department would welcome him with open arms but to look for reasons to get rid of him before he even starts is hard to overcome for anyone regardless of race.

The active Black officers have not been quoted for this article on purpose. They have Sworn to work within and for a system that has historically made life difficult for men just like them. They have successfully straddled the line of decency and have enforced the law with fairness and equity, like the majority of their White brethren and sisters.

Dancyscorner would like to Highlight and celebrate the valuable trust within the professional ranks that they have earned.

The leadership within law enforcement is concerned with crime. It is their first priority, however they are not proud of the lack of diversity. They would like to think everyone is welcome to join 'The Boys in Blue'.