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Buffalo and the R-word
Apparently, some people are reluctant to refer to this period in Buffalo’s history as a renaissance. This includes Spree editor, Elizabeth Licata. Her reason? As she says in this month’s magazine, she’s “not sure what a true renaissance would mean.” Others are more dogmatic about their denial. One local Facebook provocateur regularly writes, “What renaissance? All that curated happy-talk about Buffalo, false.” Then he posts some story he believes negates the idea that Buffalo is experiencing the R-word.
A renaissance by any other name
Licata has a point. There is no hard and fast meaning for the word as it applies to a city. It’s just a term some people are using to describe a dramatic upswing in development, recreation, culture, cuisine, diversity, and entertainment. Since the word has no agreed-upon definition, you’re free to define it as it suits you, like Rudy Giuliani defines truth. Renaissance isn’t renaissance. So, go ahead, use the word if you like, or don’t.
U.S. News uses “renaissance” to describe “places [that have] have evolved into flourishing hot spots in recent years.” Well if national media reports are any indication, Buffalo certainly qualifies under that definition. VisitBuffaloNiagara.com lists 170 quotes from media sources around the world that speak of Buffalo with breathless excitement.
“Pilgrimage-worthy?: Yes…” says USA Today.
“Nowhere is the transformation more evident than in Larkinville…” says the New York Times (comparing Buffalo favorably to “the city”).
“After decades of industrial decline, the second-biggest city in New York state is enjoying a new lease of life, as galleries, restaurants and music venues make the most of its architectural heritage.” — the Guardian
“This Buffalo renaissance is exhilarating and delicious.” – Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
“A great destination for families, vacationing couples (even honeymooners!) and business travelers,” remarks Johnnyjet.com
“A South Beach-inspired gathering place. Bike lanes and kayak tours. Free outdoor yoga classes. Alfresco dancing and dining. Ready for this one? It’s all in Buffalo.” – the Washington Post
“Whole neighborhoods and waterfronts have been revitalized, and there’s a growing cultural and culinary scene…” – Huffington Post
“brimming with energy,” reports the Boston Globe
“The City of Good Neighbors long ago shook off its rust-belt image and is undergoing a cultural renaissance.” – National Post
What about jobs and population growth?
Since there’s no fixed definition for the R-word when referring to a city, some people define it as a dramatic increase of industry and population. While Buffalo’s population has stabilized, it isn’t growing yet, and except for certain niche industries—technology, financial services, medicine, and education come to mind—there hasn’t been a significant increase in good-paying jobs. This has left much of the population feeling excluded from the so-called renaissance.
Ironically, one indicator of the city’s upswing is the recent gentrification of certain neighborhoods, which for many, is crueler than being left out. Gentrification in Buffalo hasn’t reached the critical point yet, but the warning signs are there. Parts of city’s East and West Sides are feeling the squeeze of rising rent prices. A recent headline in the Buffalo News tells the story: Local housing market still sizzling, with a little less steam. And in Business First: Affordability becoming an issue in tight housing market.
It’s hard to portray increased housing demand and rising prices—along with ongoing rehabbing of formerly abandoned industrial sites—as anything other than a renewed enthusiasm for living in Buffalo. The socially conscious among us (and let’s hope that includes local government officials) are “fighting for development without displacement.” Not long ago, there was no need for such a battle.
Defining the term
Literally, renaissance translates to “rebirth.” Some social media posts suggest that for Buffalo to experience a renaissance, we need to regain our peak population, while attracting abundant industry to bring widespread prosperity.
To me, that describes a city that HAD a renaissance sometime ago. A “rebirth” isn’t like a phenix bursting fully grown out of the ashes of its predecessor. Rebirth suggests a new start. A beginning, replete with the expectation of growth. Will our proximity to water and energy, our easy commutes, moderate climate, our culture and nightlife, and low cost of living eventually attract more jobs to the area? Maybe. Or, maybe not.
But I see nothing wrong with viewing Buffalo’s recent progress and the positive buzz it’s generating as evidence of a rebirth. So maybe the renaissance will die in its infancy, or languish at the toddler stage, but who looks at a fledgling newborn and sees anything but potential? Not me; I choose optimism. We have our work cut out for us as. We need smart development, with protections for the city’s current populations.
But dammit, call it a renaissance.
Suicide by cop leaves two victims
The age of video omnipresence has ushered in a growing public awareness of police abuse of authority. Last week, Long Story Short published an article about a local incident, where a body camera exposed what appears to be a clear case of police brutality.
Most controversial, of course, is when an officer takes a human life in the line of duty. Due to recent high-profile posted recordings of such incidents, the public has awakened to the prevalence of unwarranted, unnecessary, and even criminal police behavior (though police are rarely held accountable).
As a result of this heightened awareness, people are more inclined than in the past to react with suspicion to news of another “justified” police shooting. This is particularly true among people of color, who are statistically much more likely to be victims of police violence. Among a growing segment of the population, there is a knee-jerk response to news of a shooting—especially when a person of color is the victim—with the a priori belief that it must be unjustified.
The uncomfortable truth
According to the Washington Post, as of this writing, 957 people have been killed in the US by police so far in 2018. That number will likely be higher by the time you read this. Each one is a tragedy. But it defies logic to assume that all these incidents—or even a majority of them—were unwarranted. Sometimes police use guns to protect the lives of others, and there are times police shoot in self-defense. According to a 2015 analysis by the left-leaning Washington Post, just five percent of police shootings occur under circumstances that raise doubt. The vast majority are clearly justified. Many police barely use their guns at all. Only twenty-seven percent of law officers ever fire their service weapon on the job over their entire career. Often, an officer involved in a shooting suffers from a variety of psychological reactions, including “time distortion, sleep difficulties, fear of legal consequences, and various emotional reactions (i.e., anger, elation, crying).”
A tragedy unfolds on Buffalo’s West Side
When Marcus Neal, forty-seven, woke up last Tuesday, it’s unlikely he imagined it would be the last day of his life.
The tragic events of that day were set into motion when an on-duty police lieutenant pulled into Wegmans parking lot on Amherst Street, just as a 911 call went out regarding a shoplifter. A man matching the suspect’s description ran from police, ending up on the roof of a four-car garage a mile away.
Police reported that the suspect had a knife and was cutting himself, so they called an ambulance. Three officers climbed on a pool deck and then onto the garage to confront Neal, who continued to injure himself while making suicidal threats. Police verbally tried to end the situation, and when that failed, they used pepper spray to no effect. Then the troubled man charged the officers with the knife.
They call it suicide by cop, when people intentionally place themselves in situations where police have no choice but to shoot. The suicidal individuals get what they want, but police officers live with the consequences.
When Officer Joseph Meli woke up last Tuesday, it’s unlikely he imagined it would be the day he would take another man’s life.
On that garage rooftop, twenty-five-year-old Meli took three shots. Police are taught to fire three times before reassessing a threat. It’s known as a "triple tap." Why? Because, contrary to what you see in movies, bullets don’t always take immediate effect; often, people keep coming. On the roof, police had no room to retreat.
Neal died Wednesday morning at Erie County Medical Center. He had two bullets in the abdomen and one in the leg. A young officer will live with this moment for the rest of his life.
Almost a year ago, the New York State Attorney General recommended that Buffalo police carry Tasers. Plans for a pilot program will begin soon. But Tasers present their own legal and procedural problems, and according to police, probably would not been used in this instance. Body cameras could have eliminated any lingering doubt as to what happened on that roof. Buffalo police begin wearing them next month.
There are many unnecessary deaths at the hands of police, and these occurrences receive national attention. But not every shooting is unjustified. Each case has its own set of unique circumstances.
A question of body cameras
In the wake of the recent body camera video that undermined a deputy’s account of a Bills game arrest, Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard says he still supports wider use of cameras.
But, um, they’re not a priority. And Howard didn’t request funding for them from the County Legislature. He suggests the union would likely be unhappy about cameras being used for disciplinary purposes. Long Story Short has a suggestion to fix that; tell your deputies not to do things that require discipline. There, problem solved.
Instead of cameras, Howard wants a full time SWAT team.
Democratic Majority Leader April Baskin is skeptical that Howard really wants body cameras at all. Otherwise, she asks, why not make them a priority? Howard told the Buffalo News that, “videos don’t show what an officer may be justifiably thinking.” Yup, that’s true. They only show what happened. The Sheriff apparently prefers that the courts rely on what his deputies say happened—along with what they say they were thinking when it happened—rather than depend on actual evidence.
What a pain
Okay, we get it. Sometimes people fraudulently claim disability to file false lawsuits. It’s standard practice for insurance companies to hire investigators to surveil plaintiffs to look for evidence that they are not really disabled. But secretly recording a wedding?
Lisa Milligan was injured in a tow truck crash in 2013. After the accident she had arthroscopic knee and shoulder surgery, and when two years of physical therapy failed to relieve her pain, she underwent spinal fusion surgery. She takes two narcotics, and uses medical cannabis to relieve pain, but still can’t sleep a full night through.
The Aalmost There Towing company’s insurance carrier hired two investigators to follow Milligan around for fifteen months. They staked out her home and her mother’s home but were “stymied” because the severely injured woman rarely leaves her house. No hiking or biking like she and her boyfriend (now husband) used to enjoy.
So, when they got married, the couple held a wedding reception where they had previously placed a nonrefundable deposit. The private insurance dicks staked out the reception and got surveillance film of the woman dancing with her father, and briefly with some guests. This was the “evidence” the insurance carrier brought to the trial. The jury wasn’t buying it. They awarded the woman $3 million dollars for lost wages, pain and suffering, and medical expenses.
There will be an upcoming hearing, where the award could be reduced, and of course the insurance carrier will appeal. But maybe Milligan’s long wait is Aalmost over.
Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.
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