In our nation and county, we have a moment of opportunity.
George Floyd’s death – and, in particular, the graphic video, 8 minutes and 46 seconds of it – caused every American of good will, black, white, Hispanic, even, yes, Indians, to say, enough is enough.
The mechanisms of reform are starting to turn on the question of the moment: How do we retool our police departments so it, finally, once and for all, won’t happen again? How do we retreat from the militarization of local, state and national law enforcement set in motion on Sept. 11, 2001, after terrorists brought the Twin Towers to the ground before every American’s very eyes?
At the state level, Governor Cuomo has ordered every local government with one of the state’s
500 police forces to review records for the past 10 years and “reinvent and modernize police strategies and programs” – BY APRIL 1! This is what’s called, not a wish, not a study, not a forum, but an action plan.
Subjects to be studied include use of force, crowd management, community policing, addressing “implicit bias,” de-escalation training, community-based outreach, citizen-complaint
procedures, and more.
County Rep. Dan Wilber, who chairs the Public Safety & Legislative Affairs Committee, Oneonta Common Council, at Mayor Herzig’s initiative, and the Cooperstown Village Board are already moving to meet the governor’s deadline.
Potentially, this will be George Floyd’s legacy. Let’s not threaten it.
It isn’t guaranteed.
The biggest threat to accomplishing Cuomo’s mandate and George Floyd’s legacy – at base, to create a more perfect union – is extremism and its silly stepchild, overreach.
Extremism? How about Black Lives Matter’s Hawk Newsome, who said the other day: “If this country doesn’t give us what we want, then we will burn down the system and replace it.” That’s
going to work out well.
Silly overreach? Last week’s action by the Cooperstown Village Board to remove the word “Indian”
from Historic Markers qualifies – and, presumably, eventually from such icons as the “Indian Hunter” in Lakefront Park.
It turns out, though, the word “Indian” is unobjectionable, even preferred, by many Indians themselves, local experts tell us. Some Indians specifically reject the alternative “Native Americans,” noting their ancestors crossed the Bering Strait – “Beringia” – from Asia 15,000 years before Amerigo Vespucci was born in 1454.
Let’s keep our eye on the ball.
The point is, there are “sensitive” experts out there – as compared to the “insensitive” rest of us, as characterized by Trustee MacGuire Benton – who would be contemptuous of the Village Board’s initiative, first raised by Benton and turned into a resolution by Trustee Richard Sternberg.
Thankfully, after knowledgeable instruction, Sternberg said he intends to at least revise his resolution to allow a period of study before approaching the state Education Department and asking for our local monuments to be defaced.
Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch now says that resolutions, like this one, shouldn’t be sprung on the Village Board at the 11th hour of a late-night meeting, as this one was. She’s considering asking that resolution be included in the packet trustees receive on the Friday before their Monday meetings, so they aren’t ambushed.
Look, folks, all of us have undergone severe personal challenges, going on four months now.
Some of us, or family and friends, have been stricken by coronavirus. Many of us have seen our livelihoods challenged. Most of us have been confined, for better or for worse. And all of us have been inconvenienced.
Then, just as things appeared to be improving – maybe, it turns out, in New York State; but in much of the rest of the nation, no – a match was thrown into a bucket of gasoline in Minneapolis, dramatizing a grievous flaw in OUR American society that can no longer go unaddressed.
In both crises – the pandemic and the protests – there has been extremism and overreach, and
they are eroding the consensus that will allow us to get anything out of this mess.
Again, let’s stay focused.
As we enter the Fourth of July weekend, let’s vow to stick to the business of being can-do Americans,
and get both crises behind us, to affirm our American system, that we don’t burn books, and
can read what we want. That we don’t deface monuments over ideology. That we remove statues by due process, not mob rule.
That we can burn flags if we want to – even our revered Stars & Stripes.
Except for very narrow exceptions – shouting fire in a crowded theater – we can say and write what we want. If we can stand the scolds, we can use whatever words we want. And certainly, we can think what we wish, as long as we don’t act on our felonious ruminations.
Let’s treasure these Constitutional guarantees. They’re called freedoms. And looking at most of the world, they’re American freedoms. Let’s cherish them. Let’s learn to appreciate them by practicing them – this Independence Day and going forward.