Justice instead of injustice. Finger flip dice and change the word "injustice" to "justice".

Political labels

Attorney James Maloney’s long career has ranged from clerking for Family Court to assistant county attorney handling inter-state child support cases to sole practitioner. He’s currently on the Assigned Counsel Panel in Erie and Wyoming County for which he handles criminal matters for indigent clients.
He’s also a conservative.
To a lot of people—particularly those on the political left—his political views automatically cast him as a racist. It’s a source of constant frustration to Maloney, who abhors racism. “The last few months have seen a heightened awareness of the issue of racism, although much of it has been simply yelling at one another for political gain/loss,” he says. “I would argue that some people don’t see racism; they see political opportunity. It is a cross that I must bear for having beliefs different than those on the other side,” he says. “But being conservative,” says Maloney, “does not make you racist any more than being a liberal makes you a non-racist. Both sides have their assholes.” 
Maloney finds it difficult to comment on racism, being white, upper-middle class, and living in a predominately white community. To some people, this alone makes him a racist. But he sees systemic racism “up close and personal” in his daily life. Does that make him an expert? “Hell no, but it gives me some perspective,” he says. “It’s only those who go through life as a person of color (POC) that have real perspective.”
Racism in the courts
Maloney claims that open prejudice is not as prevalent in the judicial system as many would believe. “I can count on one hand the number of racist judges, courts, police agencies, and individual acts I have witnessed over the years,” he says thinking back. “In part it’s because we are highly regulated and scrutinized, with a built-in review process that I would like to think keeps racism at bay as much as possible when dealing with human beings. Perfect? No.”
Maloney recalls one judge that was famous for being racist. “My first time in court I sat there and was mortified at the comments the judge made and the actions he took toward POC,” he recalls. “Unfortunately, he was Black, so it was not only overlooked, it was allowed.” It was people on the right side of the political spectrum, NOT the left, says Maloney, who called the judge out. The problem is with the public defender system. Public Defenders (PD) are reluctant to push back on a judge’s actions, preferring to “go along to get along,” as he describes it, “because they have another twenty cases with that judge on the morning calendar and will return for the afternoon calendar and again the next day, and so on, and so on.” 
A more subtle problem
Blatant racism in the courtroom is not Maloney’s biggest concern. It’s the kind built into the judicial system. Most people overlook it, but like everywhere else in society, it exists. “When we practice racism in the judicial system it means POC spend more time in jail, sometimes decades more than white people,” he says. “The federal sentencing disparity between cocaine and crack cocaine is a great example. Thankfully, the two previous presidents took major steps to reverse years of systemic racism in sentencing.”
Those reforms apply only to federal crimes, which account for just a small portion of prisoners. “In New York State people are mass incarcerated right now because by executive order the governor has suspended their rights,” says Maloney. “I had to tell a client yesterday it will not be until 2022 before their case goes to trial. People should not be sitting in jails because we can’t figure out how to run a judicial system!” 
Built-in bias
“It’s about the inequality in the judicial system right under people’s nose,” says Maloney “but, because they’re too busy preaching to everyone else, they don’t even realize they’re part of the problem.” PDs are far more likely to beliberal than private lawyers. But private lawyers can walk out of the courtroom after a single case and choose never to return. So, they are more likely to complain about a judge’s actions, says Mahoney.
Maloney believes a recent shuffling of judges and other changes in some courts is helping to eliminate racism in the region. “We do still have racist police forces though,” he adds. He doesn’t want to mention the town by name, but one suburb of Buffalo is known for the regularity with which people are arrested for “driving while Black.” In court, prosecutors routinely smile and dismiss charges because they know they can’t defend the actions of the police. 
Case in point
“I’m grappling with a case of racism in an outlining county,” says Maloney. “The evidence is so blatantly obvious because of the availability of body cams. Two officers are caught on tape saying, ‘We don’t like your type around here; keep your drugs in the city.’ More importantly, when given a description of a white man with a white dog on a leash with a ‘beer box’ full of drugs, the police officer pulls around the back of a building, sees the white man with the white dog, passes him by, and goes to the black man sitting in the car, who happens to be my client.”
Maloney has spent “countless hours” trying to suppress the search and seizure, to no avail. It enrages him that his client likely has a long stint in jail ahead of him for a case that was borne out of racism. To make things worse, his client had just spent thirty months in jail for a case where the police officer and district attorney were fired for hiding evidence. “The case was overturned and dismissed, but he doesn’t get his thirty-months back,” says the frustrated lawyer.   
Walking the walk
Maloney has been known to speak up when it might have been wiser to remain quiet. “I’ve been banned from one court in Erie County for storming out of pre-trial over overtly racist actions and statements.” An attorney accused his client of being a “gangbanger” and having “access to illegal guns.” “Not one to mince words,” he says, “I pointed out we all have access to illegal guns; that’s what makes them illegal. Duh.”
Then he really lost it on the characterization of his client as a gangbanger, a clearly racist term. “My client was a young black man from the inner-city with no prior criminal history whatsoever and the complainant was an affluent white girl from Elma. “I looked around the table at all the white faces and stood up and stormed out calling the court a kangaroo court.” Later, his voucher was denied by the judge, meaning he didn’t get paid, and the judge made sure he was never assigned cases in that court again. “It was a proud moment for me,” he continues, “and a disgusting and repulsive moment for the judicial system.” 
Sweating the small stuff
Overt racism is rare, but the system often discriminates against POC in ways that are all but invisible. Maloney points to the pandemic and the shutdown of the judicial system. Erie County has run one jury trial since March 2020. There are countless people being held in jail awaiting their day in court, which won’t come anytime soon because of the court shutdown. As one attorney says, “Remand, see you in 2022,” meaning they are locked away with no bail and no chance of a trial anytime soon.
“Although I have not seen any studies,” says Maloney, “I’m comfortable saying those impacted most by this are the poor and minorities, and yet have you seen one word from those that are presumed to care about racial injustice? For months, people were held without so much as even a hearing because it was so unsafe to be in a courtroom, yet they could shop at Wegmans, Walmart, and Home Depot. Where is the outcry?”
Car revenue
Maloney also sees systemic racism in vehicle and traffic (V&T) offenses. “Look at Buffalo gaining authority to prosecute and handle its own traffic violations,” he says. “Much like the towns and villages, the City can now plea V&T cases down to parking tickets so the local community keeps the money as opposed to it going to the state.” 
What the city did was monetize traffic fines in a way “that would make Amherst proud.”  It is not uncommon for people to face $1,000 or more in fines and be forced to plead guilty to fines around $300. They even throw in “jay walking” as a plea offer to gain maximum fines and power over collections. Who are the people most likely to appear in a Buffalo V&T Court? asks Maloney: “Poor and minority. A $300 fine means nothing to the doctor from Amherst (see my own story), but to the person struggling to put food on the table, it’s a severe blow, often resulting in further legal problems for a suspended license.” Maloney says that some of this has been corrected with new legislation, but the courts are already planning their workarounds. 
Virtual racism
Recently, Maloney has been grappling with virtual court appearances. During the pandemic, the court administration has been limiting or eliminating in-person appearances, and replacing them with virtual appearances. “Again, no big deal for that person sitting in their $300,000 home with their Apple laptop to log in and attend court,” says Maloney.
“Now try a person with no computer, limited technical skills, no WiFi, and ask them to appear for court. “The white judge sitting in their $300 leather chair bought by the state, has no problem making court appearances. If they do, they call their full-time IT department,” notes Maloney, “but God forbid if my client, who doesn’t have the resources or capabilities to download programs, fails to virtually appear.”  
Where’s the support system?
Recently Maloney attempted to reach out to the Black community to offer assistance with the federal Paycheck Protection Program. It was an eye-opening experience when he got “zero feedback or help.” “I thought, hell, I’ll reach out to Black business groups, chambers of commerce, etc.,” he recalls. “There are NONE out there! Think about that; every town has a chamber of commerce, so you would think the Black Community would have something to help them. Nothing! It’s all controlled by government and government funded programs! My efforts have fallen on deaf ears.”
The takeaway
Labeling people carries risks. It’s a handy tool for dehumanizing the “other.” And while labeling every conservative a racist is convenient, it’s not fair. I’ve made it my business to get to know people I don’t agree with politically. I can almost always find something that I like about the person. Conservatives think liberals suffer from naivete—stupidity of the good heart. Liberals think conservatives are soulless and evil. But people don’t fall into simple political stereotypes. The real world is not black and white. In the real world, there are conservatives who are not racists. And a few liberals who will talk to them.

And turn the damn music off too

If you leave your car running unattended in the driveway or in the 7-Eleven parking lot, it happens to be illegal. And here’s why: this past Tuesday there were seven vehicles stolen because they were left running with the key in it. Seven in one day! In fact, eighty-five percent of recent car thefts in town involved a running car with the keys inside. Why should thieves work at it, when you make it so easy? You want to warm your car up? Here’s how we do it in Buffalo. Get in and start the car. Put the defrosters on. Search for your scraper/brush combination. Start scraping and brushing as the heater warms. By the time you’re done, the car will be warm, and so will you. Or keep taking your chances, but, beware, it’s unlikely your insurance will cover the theft.

December premiere

Nightmare Alley, the Movie by Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro, which was partly filmed in Buffalo, has been given a December 3 release date. There are two reasons why that’s a good date. One, the pandemic will likely be past, with theaters open again. Two, films that open late in the year are usually thought of as Oscar contenders. This is very exciting news for movie buffs.

RIP Kris

Santa died. Well, not really. But a very sweet man named Daniel Smolinski, who played Santa for twenty-years at various sites and events around the Southtowns, died suddenly in Mercy Hospital from COVID-19. He was intubated on Christmas day. His wife, who played Mrs. Claus, also tested positive, and was sent to Erie County Medical Center, where she recovered.  

What’s in a name?

So you think you know where the name Buffalo came from, do you? Do you go around telling everyone how there were really no buffalo in Buffalo, and anyway they are actually American bison? Let’s clear that up first. Early French explorers reported an abundance of buffalo on the eastern shore of Lake Erie, but their presence on the banks of Buffalo Creek is still a matter of debate, although American bison did range into WNY at one time. According to the National Park Service, when early explorers came to North America—at which point there may have been as many as 60 million bison on the continent—the explorers thought the animals resembled old world buffalo, and theycalled them that. As a result, bison are called buffalo much like Native Americans are called Indians. Both names are based on misunderstandings, but they stuck. Some people just call bison American buffalo. And it’s all okay.
From the Teton Science School: “In the early years of modern science, one species of animal or plant could have many different names, not only from language to language, but region to region and even neighborhood to neighborhood. Likewise, one common name could be used for two very different species. This made communication between scientists difficult. The binomial nomenclature system–known today as “scientific name” or “Latin name”–assigned genus (close family of related species) and species to all plants and animals. This allowed, for example, botanists from around the world to understand the name Achillea millefolium, when the common names included common yarrow, gordaldo, plumajillo, nosebleed plant, old man’s pepper, devil’s nettle, sanguinary, milfoil, soldier’s woundwort, and thousand-leaf. A lot less confusing if you ask us! So what does the binomial nomenclature system have to do with the buffalo vs. bison debate? Well, both buffalo and bison are common names for the shaggy bovine that roams Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks and neither are incorrect. 
Now everyone can get off their high horses and stop correcting people when they call our namesake animal a buffalo! Regarding our city’s name. It’s important to understand that the creek had the name first. And no, the city didn’t get its name as a misunderstanding of the French beau fleuve (“beautiful river”), in reference to the local Buffalo Creek. That’s too cute, and has been discredited. Here’s another explanation that may or may not be true, but it’s full of history. Buffalo Creek was used as a boundary by Native Americans, who gave it the designation “Tehoseroron,” which meant “Place of Basswoods” in the Seneca Language.
Over many years, French and British soldiers occupied Fort Niagara at various times. In the eighteenth century, a French soldier and engineer, Captain Pierre Pouchot entered the area and was put in charge of rebuilding and maintaining the fort, eventually becoming the commandant. Pouchot kept a journal and also drew a map of the area and sent it to his superiors in the Spring of 1758. On the map, he drew a waterway entering the Niagara from the east and labeled it the Riviere of Bois Blanc, which translates to “river of white wood” or “river of basswood.” Around the same time, Michel Crevecoeur, a surveyor and geographer, also traveled through the area. In a 1787 French edition of his bestselling book Letters of An American Farmer is a map that specifically shows the Riviere du Bois Blanc at the location where our present Buffalo Creek lies. Few maps from that time show labeled waterways on the Niagara Frontier, but two give a designation of “Bois Blanc” to our present day Buffalo Creek.
Now for the fun part. In French, the pronunciation of Bois Blanc sounds like Bob-Low or Boblo. Today there’s an island in Michigan named Bois Blanc and that’s how it’s pronounced. Presumably, some soldier heard some derivation of the French, Bois Blanc, that sounded like Boblo or Bob Low, and he put on a map “Buffeloe” which would change in just a few years to Buffalo. Believe it or not.

A big nothing

I got my COVID-19 vaccination. It was Moderna, the Cadillac of pandemic vaccines,  the same one the president got. There are perks to having cancer, and cutting to the front of the COVID-vaccine line is one of them. You also get to cut to the front of lines at Disney World. Unfortunately, Disney World is locked down right now, so cancer has lost its value there.
Across from Roswell, there’s a building where the cancer patients and staff go for their shots. Enter through the door, and a pleasant greeter directs you to table number one, where you give your name and date of birth. You are given a question sheet to fill out, mostly listing diseases you might have had at some point. Yes or no for each. When that’s done, you take it to table two where it appears no one reads it. The main function of table two seems to be to point to table three, in the adjoining room, and give you a number. You are told to sit and wait at the appropriately spaced tables and chairs. My number was 62.
It’s at table 3 that you will eventually get your vaccine shot. They didn’t start with ticket number one, because it only took a couple minutes for my number to be called. At table 3, they confirm your name and date of birth again. You are given your choice of arms to be injected. Then it’s time for the big event. A pinprick. That’s all it is.
They tell you about the possible side effects, which usually come later, but some might come right away, so they ask you to sit and wait fifteen minutes in case. Soreness on the injection site, mild fever, and other flu-like symptoms are what you might expect the next day. Me? I had nothing: no pain, no fever, not even redness around the injection site.
As you probably already know, you have to go back in twenty-one days to get the second shot, so I suppose I still could experience some side effects then. But I have to say—overall, getting a COVID-19 shot is pretty humdrum stuff.

Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.

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