Tom Richards Budget Cuts "Voice of the Customer"

Today in Lake Riley Lodge at Cobb's Hill Park (Norris Dr. at Culver Rd., although the City claims it is at 100 Norris), Mayor Thomas S. Richards was on hand to discuss the City budget and take requests to cover a deficit at Voice of the Customer 2012 meeting with for the Southeast portion of the city. I had trouble getting Tieson to behave so I left late, then went to the wrong lodge, and finally arrived a bit late. And then I had to leave early on top of it! But at least I got to say my piece — whether it's heard or not is out of my hands.

Richards and his staff outlined the situation and attempted to lead the audience to avoid cuts to police (e.g., paraphrasing, "the school budget is out of our hands, and many people say, 'don't cut the police force' so we can consider those two biggest bars on the graph off-the-table.") He also avoided mentioning the millions of dollars of tax exemptions on certain commercial properties in the city — but thankfully Alex White was there with a brochure describing exactly that. Relatedly, there didn't seem to be line items for equipment costs for the police (e.g. how much does a patrol car cost for a year?) except for the mounted patrol which, I guess Richards wants to eliminate. I also noted that there was a budget item for the pension fund in addition to paying for pensions in the cost of individual employees.

So I migrated to the Public Safety table and made suggestions that the extreme surplus of police officers should be reduced. I attempted to outline a system that used conviction rates as a benchmark: officers who arrest people who are then convicted of those crimes are "good cops" (who we should keep) and officers who, say, arrest people in a park illegally and don't get convictions are "bad cops" (who we should let go). Another person at the table brought up the security cameras, and I dovetailed jeir suggestion that we eliminate them unless there is proof they work (specifically: being admitted as evidence in court, since we were sold them on the claim that if someone commits a crime, jeir face is on camera and jee can be arrested.)

But my genius suggestion was that we could create a health plan that any city resident can buy into (expanding from all city employees) which, since it's a larger pool of participants, will further reduce costs. And it will provide a valuable service to citizens (and particularly small-business owners in the city) as an inexpensive, quality health plan.

Truck Versus Man

I was walking out to go to The Bug JarMySpace link (219 Monroe Ave.) When I got to the end of my street, I saw a man walking in East Henrietta Rd. I thought nothing of it — after all, the sidewalks are covered in snow and ice, so depending on his physical condition and footwear, it's understandable that he would walk in the perfectly clear road. (I'm fortunate enough to have boots, balance, and strength, so I just get a tremendous workout in my gluteus maximus.) As I arrived at the intersection, I noticed the light was in my favor (even if the inconveniently-placed crosswalk doesn't reflect that) so I was making my way across, parallel to the light traffic. As the light started changing and the last vehicle passed, I heard a thud, as if the pick-up truck had run over a log in the road.

I knew it was trouble before I turned around, and as I had expected, the man was lying in the road.

I was calling 911 (although I almost called 9111 in my panic) before the driver even got out of the truck. I think my initial assumption was incorrect — the man wasn't run over, but run into. Thankfully the driver was going relatively slowly, but he didn't see the man and didn't react, so the truck hit with full force. A firetruck, ambulance, and two police cars arrived within a couple minutes. They got the man on a backboard and into the ambulance — he didn't appear to have a broken back or other severe injury, so I hope the worst he could suffer would be a broken bone or two.

I always wonder how most people think this is okay — as if it's just a fact of life that these kinds of car accidents happen. It was certainly preventable. Why aren't cars equipped with brakes that engage automatically when they detect something? For that matter, why aren't the sidewalks cleared to the same standard as the street? I could blame the driver, but humans are wholly unequipped to drive the same route without incident and be expected to handle a random, unusual circumstance, proven again and again by psychology and anthropology.

It's really too bad we can't use science to guide our collective decision-making.

Arrests at Occupy Rochester

I went to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Made in Dagenham at 8. Before the film, it was announced that people in Washington Square Park (Woodbury Blvd at South Clinton Ave, across from Geva Theatre) protesting as Occupy Rochester would be arrested: Mayor Thomas S. Richards had ordered them out at 10 p.m. Although that news distracted me through the first part of the film, it was nonetheless enjoyable. It reenacts the events surrounding a strike of female auto workers at a British Ford factory in 1968 — their pay was cut when they were reclassified from "semi-skilled" to "unskilled". I gathered the historical accuracy was not perfect but reasonably good, and although the film concludes stating better labor relations, the Dagenham plant closed after the film was made and moved its operations elsewhere.

Although I'd rather have gone to celebrate for Halloween, I headed to Washington Square Park just about 10 p.m. At that point, no police were around — hauntingly, I saw no police on my way there either, and it was the Friday before Halloween Weekend on the busy East End area (in which one would ordinarily observe 2 or 3 parked cruisers). The members of Occupy Rochester were discussing their plan for the evening. They did this with a technique I saw at an anarchy class: whenever anyone wanted to speak, they were added to a "stack" by a moderator, and then allowed in turn to speak to the group. They used a "living microphone" of sorts where when one person spoke, they'd do it in 4-7 word pieces which were then loudly repeated by the group so everyone could hear.

A posting on the statue announced that the park was to be vacated by 10 p.m. The police had notified the group earlier that they would arrive at 11 p.m. The group appointed two laissons to approach the police when they arrived. The laissons were to explain the purpose of the protest, state that it was indeed a protest and a peaceful assembly protected by the Bill of Rights, and to ask that the arresting officers contact their superiors and request that the arrests be cancelled. The crowd was to remain respectfully quiet for the laissons to speak with police. Discussion in the group then revolved around getting arrested, having bail money, pairing up, and finding a small group of people who would remain at the jail until everyone goes home.

Camera crews from TWEAN (Time Warner Entertainment-Advance/Newhouse Partnership) News Channel of Rochester L.L.C d.b.a. YNN and Newport Television LLC, 13WHAM (formerly WOKR ABC) were on hand. The police arrived at 11:15 p.m. and set up a pick-up truck with what appeared to be a Long-Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) along with about 15 cruisers and a few vans. They announced to the crowd that the park was closed from 11 p.m. (maybe it was 10 p.m. … I don't remember off hand) to 5 a.m. (per city ordinance which they identified), anyone remaining in the park would be arrested if they did not leave in 15 minutes, and all remaining personal belongings in the park would be confiscated. (It reminded me of reenactments of witchcraft trials where the accusers attempted to claim the side of right and good with formal language that failed to address the whole situation.) Some people moved to the sidewalk around the park, leaving a crowd of 40 or so in the park proper and another 50 more on the sidewalk. I opted to observe from the other side of South Clinton. There were about 40 uniformed officers including Police Chief James M. Sheppard and a few other high-ranking officers. Police cruisers had blocked South Clinton at 490 and Byron St. as well as Woodbury from South Clinton to South Avenue.

My friend and City Council candidate Alex White was there. I talked with him a bit and he was checking in with the police and observing to ensure things went smoothly and peacefully. He noted that the police were concerned as they were outnumbered and did not want things to turn violent.

At around 10:35 the police announced they would begin making arrests. Police Chief James M. Sheppard personally attended to the first half-dozen arrests. I don't know if the laissons from Occupy Rochester stated their case, but the crowd was quiet, and they were the first two to be arrested. During subsequent arrests, the crowd shouted at the police things like, "you are working class too", and chanted "shame".

The police had two vans they were using to transport one person at a time to jail until the Monroe County Sheriff showed up with a van capable of transporting more people, at which they filled it with 8 or 9 women from the group.

TWEAN (Time Warner Entertainment-Advance/Newhouse Partnership) News Channel of Rochester L.L.C d.b.a. YNN left before the arrests began as the 11 o'clock news had ended. Crews stayed from Newport Television LLC, 13WHAM (formerly WOKR ABC) although their large production van left before midnight.

Around 12:30 a.m. a woman drove the wrong way down South Clinton. When she approached the police barricade, one of the officers approached her and told her she was driving the wrong way and to turn around.

I left around 1 a.m. before all the arrests were completed, although it appeared that only about 10 people remained in the park at that time. As I heard later, 32 people were arrested.

Mayor Thomas S. Richards did not speak with the protesters beforehand and did not arrive to witness the arrests.

Too Many Police in Rochester

This evening I was biking on my "tall bike" through The Lilac Festival today when I came to the South/Highland intersection. Police had stopped traffic to permit the pedestrians to cross. Once the people had completely cleared the intersection, I slowly rolled through next to the barrier blocking Highland before the cops released vehicular traffic. One of the cops said, "do you know I can give you a ticket for that?" I just smiled and he repeated his question so I just said, "yeah" and rode away.  [Admittedly, I made a terrible mistake: I should have stopped and answered him with, "am I being charged with a crime or am I free to go?"]

What the hell was that all about? He said nothing to the pedestrians who cut through the road, jaywalking outside the crosswalk. But once again I get to have a negative experience with the police. By riding a bike, I not only have to be responsible for a motorist hitting me [let's be real here: if I were killed by a car, you'd hear a lot of, "well, he was taking chances riding that tall bike"] I also have to deal with being hassled by the cops (just like last time).

If Officer Killjoy wasn't just a power-hungry egomaniac awarded a badge by Mayor "More Cops For More Problems", he would have actually stopped me and given me a ticket — after all, that's his job. Along with all the jaywalkers. But he was out to ensure I "knew my place" — that he was the Authority Figure. I tell you what, pig: how about you ticket the myriad of SUV's that get a tax discount for being a commercial vehicle, but that exceed the 3-ton gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) on most residential streets, and I'll start caring that you have anything to do with enforcing the law.

Why not? Here's a thought: BP Oil.

Someone riding a bike says, "we don't need oil." It's a statement that although the oil companies could go bankrupt and the economy could go to hell, people will be okay. Illegally using a commercial SUV as a commuter car is a statement of faith in infinite oil and in a vibrant and ever-growing economy. Guess which activity attracts more police attention? See, it's only through ensuring people are terrified of something (in this case, gas shortages) that they stay in line and obey cops. After all, it depends on what you think is important: a viable future for America, or an easily controlled populace.

Questioned by the Police

So I was leaving The Flower City Habitat for Humanity ReStore (755 Culver Rd.) after doing my Saturday afternoon grazing when a police officer (I think his name was W-something) came up to ask some questions. I had not witnessed a crime nor was I involved in one. But I was acting suspicious. See, I was riding a bicycle with a trailer to do my Saturday shopping. Officer W. said there have been problems with people on bicycles with toolboxes on the back and totes stealing copper pipe from houses.

Although I was highly irritated by being singled out, I only revealed that fact by asking if he had also stopped cars and asked if the occupants were involved with such crimes because cars can carry a lot more material. He was respectful and ginger about the whole 4th Amendment and all, and only asked questions. Obviously, though, if I had not answered openly, I am certain I would have been further suspected, detained, and harassed.

I mean, who gets stopped like this? Have you, dear reader, ever been stopped and questioned for no good reason? In my case, it was an unpleasant experience all around. I can see no "silver lining" in it at all: I was singled out for being different. And to add insult to injury, "different" in a way that promoted reuse of materials (the trailer is homemade and the bike was rebuilt from junk), healthy living, and a low impact on the world's resources.

Of course, I forgot to ask the perfect question: "how many people have been convicted of stealing copper pipe on bicycles?" I did comment that I thought this kind of theft in general is a relatively rare occurrence and he replied that "it happens more than you think" — a statement that seemed lacking in factual backing.

I guess I could find a lawyer to search cases and see just how prevalent the problem is, but as a start, I searched "copper pipe" theft on Google and came up with some 15,000 hits. A couple other attempts, like a search for "stole copper pipe" bicycle came up dry, finding only theft of copper pipe and bicycles, not with them. Likewise, searching "stole copper pipe" on Google's news search reveals only 55 hits — for the 29 year period from 1980 to 2009. By my guess, this is less of a problem than Officer W. thinks.

So I think back on the times when I've had non-trivial interactions with the police (i.e. more than just saying hello), none are clearly positive. Twice I've been through vehicle sticker checkpoints (and waved through), once through a breathalyzer checkpoint (blew far less than DUAI), and once when someone backed into my car (the cop failed to take an accurate report, omitting eye-witness evidence). And a few years ago I was terribly depressed and out for a walk and I was stopped by a cop because — and I swear this was not me — I matched the description of someone spotted trying to jump off a bridge in the area … that one I chalk up as just really really weird.

My conclusion is to have far fewer police. Sadly, we live in Mayor Former Police Chief's land and his solution to any problem is "more cops". I also realize that I'm either doing something very right or very wrong by daring to take visible action to help treat the planet better. It's just another notch in my being ejected from society — from a lay-off to being rejected for a mortgage refinance (before the *ahem* real crooks [hint: driving Lexus cars, not bikes with trailers] ruined everything), some other similar bumps along the way, and now this.

I might as well get used to it because there is absolutely nothing I can do about it.

Dude, Where's My America?

So now it's July 1, 2009 — just short of 233 years since the United States of America declared its independence from England. And, you know, I don't believe in it anymore.

I was raised with the notion that America was a place where the smart and the hard-working were rewarded. Taught that we control our government, not the other way around. [In Soviet Russia, government controls you!] That anyone can step forward and change the country for the better.

But what I've found is that none of that is true.

There was a confluence of several things that got me here.

The "Cash for Clunkers" law is the poster child for everything that's wrong with the legislature today. The goal set before them was to set America on a path to reduce pollution and consume less oil. What they did was to create a law that caused more consumption: building a new car consumes more energy and creates more pollution than keeping an old one on the road. And all because the actual problem won't fit in a sound-byte. Plus, the law reinforces the new American model of mass consumerism.

Then there was a discussion I had about class reunions. It's rare that you get a truly random sample of America, but people who came from the place you did is a pretty good random sample. I mean, just because our parents chose to live in the same place doesn't mean we're anything alike. Anyway, when I think about my reunion, I realize that — unlike my self-selected group of friends — that in fact, only about 5% of people even remotely believe in the same ideals as I do. Most are thrilled that America is at war all the time and that we do things bigger than other countries.

Finally, there's the curious case that American's, by-and-large, don't hold mass protests, and certainly don't get violent (police excluded). When you watch other countries people deal with things they disagree with in the government, it's friggin' serious. But here, it's just a bunch of jobless hippies who protest. The reason is that we have a superior government where you can simply write to your representatives and they get the same message. If you don't like what they do, just vote them out. The truth of the matter is that our representatives do whatever they please, and it's good marketing (with lots of money) that gets them reelected.

So the illusion is over. America is what it is. Have a good birthday, old man.