Hard places, hard choices

Until a few weeks ago, Kingston mayor Steve Noble seemed blissfully unaware of the level of “institutional repression” (his phrase) of African-Americans in his hometown or that emergency measures were necessary to deal with it. This despite that a special committee of the Common Council had been working on those issues for some two years.

Declaring a “racial emergency,” Noble last week pledged in his weekly message to constituents to sign any reform legislation the Council might forward him.

Aldermen, frustrated with the mayor’s foot-dragging, not to mention their own, welcomed the news. “Finally,” (a telling word), said an alderman, Hizzoner appears willing to act.

By “institutional repression” (something deep, malignant and pervasive) and calling it a “racial emergency,” the mayor seems to be speaking to most systemic issues of long-standing neglect. There have been a number of incidents, most notably the controversial confrontation between a young black man and police on central Broadway a few years ago that touched off the aldermanic probe.

Noble indicated in his message that it was the horrific killing of a black man by white police in Minneapolis last month and the subsequent mass demonstrations and riots in major cities that roused him to action.  But while thousands have protested in Kingston, there have been no reports of clashes between police and demonstrators much less rioting and looting. I think we locals can be proud, and grateful, for that.

So where is the evidence of institutional repression, meaning white police officers habitually abusing black residents and the need for emergency action? Had that been the case, Kingston would have exploded in violence like so many other places. It did not.

It is Nobel’s first duty to assure that it does not. And that does not mean offering a blank check to a group of part-time aldermen.  “Sign anything?” He can’t be serious.

In his defense, the mayor has been between rocks and hard places in attempting to deal with these problems for the better part of two years. Rank and file cops are none too enthusiastic about some of his progressive ideas, like declaring Kingston a sanctuary city. Contract negotiations between city police and the administration have gone to arbitration which, if history is a teacher, will cost taxpayers dearly. Citizen action groups like Rise Up Kingston! are calling for radical action. Now. Remedial measures taken by the administration are seen more like Band-Aids than radical surgery.

Despite heightened emotions and sharp division, there is middle ground where reasonable people can agree. Alarmist declarations -to what purpose? – will not serve that purpose.

Badges of honor – I can’t help but recall that back in the day, next to an easy “seldom show” job in city government, the most coveted mayoral appointment was a seat on the police commission. It came with a badge with “police commissioner” embossed.  Oh, the inherent privilege! No more. Rise Up Kingston is suggesting three police commissioners in every ward, 27 in all, a gaggle not unlike the United Nations. There are currently five commissioners, including the mayor. He might have problems filling even that roster.

Media notes – Ulster Publishing’s HV-1 (Hudson Valley-1), replacing former “Times” weekly papers in Kingston, Woodstock, New Paltz and Saugerties, debuted last week with a healthy 36 pages and lots of advertising. These are hard times for print journalism (pun intended) and I hope they make it.