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News of Otsego County

Black Lives Matter

OSTERHOUDT: Living With The ‘N-Word’

‘I’m certain that being called a ‘n—–‘ and experiencing hate many times in the past 47 years of my life has contributed greatly to my feelings of insecurity and lack of acceptance’

MICHELLE OSTERHOUDT
Principal, Former Oneonta Council member, NAACP vice president

Living With

The ‘N-Word’

Here’s a photo of Michelle Osterhoudt with her younger sister Tia at the apartment complex in Huntsville, Ala., where their family lived. “That represents the time in my life where I first heard the ‘N word,’” she said.

By MICHELLE OSTERHOUDT • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Many people seem to believe that if one supports the Black Lives Matter movement, they cannot also be pro police. I disagree. And I refuse to participate in the vitriol currently being spewed by both sides. As a person of color, I am all too familiar with being the victim of hate because of the color of my skin. As the relative of a police officer, I am all too familiar with the risk and danger of an often thankless job. The following article shares these views.

Michelle Osterhoudt, Oneonta, principal of Perry Browne Intermediate School in Norwich, is vice president of the Oneonta Area NAACP. She served four years on Common Council, representing the Fourth Ward, in 2016-2019

My first experience with racism occurred when I was just 5 years old while I was outside playing.  A little boy, about the same age, approached me and simply said, “I can’t play with you because you are a nigger.” At the time, I didn’t know what that word meant, but I understood it wasn’t meant to be kind. I did know right away that that little boy was not allowed to play with me because I was in some way different from him. I eventually learned that it had to do with the color of my skin.

Years later I was on a school bus — I was probably nine or ten years old at the time – when an upperclassman, cute and popular, walked by my sister and I on the bus. He mumbled something followed by the word, “niggers.” When he said it, my heart sank in my chest. I felt my face turn red and I looked in his direction. At that same moment, he looked at me. He appeared slightly embarrassed, averted his gaze, and laughed with his friends. My sister and I were the only people of color on the bus at the time and I never talked about that experience with anyone, not even my sister—who I am sure didn’t hear him. I remember not wanting to ride the bus after that. There were several incidents like that that I recall from childhood and my teen years. I never talked about them. This was the price of being the minority—not having anyone to talk to about those experiences.

As an adult, I was the target of racist remarks that took an even more hateful tone. I recall another experience in my late 30s –now married and a mom. I was on a leisurely jog with a friend when someone drove by us in a car and called me a “half breed nigger.” I was frightened, shaken, and incredibly saddened. Flash forward to summer 2020: I was in my car with my daughter having fun on a membership drive for our local NAACP. A truck drove past and a man yelled out, “nigger!” I was again shocked and hurt. I ignored it and tried to block it out of my mind. It wasn’t until the next day while on my way to work, that the weight of the experience overwhelmed me.

I pulled over and called my sister and my husband. I could barely tell my husband what happened before I broke down and sobbed over the phone. I felt foolish for crying. I felt foolish for letting someone make me feel so little. I shared my story at the Juneteenth celebration that summer. I wanted people to know that these types of things still occur. I wanted people to know that in my town where I’ve always felt relatively safe, that there were people who felt they could attack me and make me feel less than human.

I can tell by the reaction of some that they think I’m making a big deal out of “words.” But imagine, just imagine, being the victim of such hate talk from a young age up until you are almost 50 years old. Anyone who is educated or pays attention to history understands the hate behind the word “nigger.” I’m certain that being called a nigger and experiencing hate many times in the past 47 years of my life has contributed greatly to my feelings of insecurity and lack of acceptance. While I maintain that I’m pretty content with my beautiful family and the life my husband and I are creating for our children, I hustle to be the best I can be – always trying to prove I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and that I matter.

I share my experiences so that people can understand how frightening it is to watch the news and see young black men and women terrorized and killed over and over again on camera. I share my experiences so that people understand where I’m coming from when I worry about my children, particularly my son who is a young brown man. Know that my history shapes who I am, how I perceive what I see and hear in the media, and why I feel that there is a systemic problem in our country.

But also know that I have empathy for those who serve and protect us every day. I understand why Back the Blue exists. There are plenty of good cops out there. I share with you a personal story from a family member of mine who recently retired after serving 25 years as a police officer. His thoughts are below:

“On Black Lives Matter: My observations, dealings, and opinions on BLM are rather negative. I understand the meaning or initial intent, but it seems it’s been hijacked into a political hornet’s nest of misplaced anger and some vile rhetoric (I’ve had some thrown at me).  I think there’s a lot of misguidance and ignorance, I say to the public in general, on the dynamics of law enforcement, high stress incidents, and officers’ use of deadly force. I agree  and 99 % of cops I know agree  that reform is needed.  

“There have been and will be awful and malicious incidents of police misconduct, which is hurtful and needs appropriate dispositions. But law enforcement deserves due process just like everyone else. Please know that what you see in a 5 second video on your cell phone is not giving you the whole story, so to speak. I don’t think people understand that in a high stress situation, a cop can make a poor decision, not racially motivated or malicious in nature, but due to the dynamics of excited delirium or past history (we get shot at and assaulted, people fight or run, etc.). I’ve been in numerous deadly force and high stress situations – thank Christ I made it out and survived.

“What I do as a justified use of force, Joe or Jill Citizen may not, because they have probably never been in a high stress situation or confrontation, or been in my shoes. I see things now as one-sided in the media. I think the public needs to learn how to handle their behavior towards law enforcement, and both sides need to approach this with some civility and mutual respect. My experiences (as an officer) overall were positive, but the tension and disrespect towards police became elevated to the point that my heart couldn’t take it anymore.  

“The hardest thing for me to deal with over the past 2 decades was death. It’s the job I chose, so I’m not complaining, but to see people maimed and killed in various ways crushes one’s soul and can affect their empathy.”

-Retired Officer 

I feel very fortunate that I can see both sides. I feel very fortunate to be able to have these discussions with someone who lived the life of a police officer. I continue to have these discussions with current officers. I wish everyone could have the conversations that we have and understand that this isn’t “us” against them. If we listen – really listen – to each other, we can affect positive change together.

HAPPENIN’ OTSEGO: Art Exhibit Opening Reception 09-19-20
HAPPENIN’ OTSEGO for SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 19

Art Exhibit Opening Reception

14-19eventspage

OPENING RECEPTION – 5 – 8 p.m. Celebrate exhibit opening featuring Eileen Crowell’s ‘Plant Portraits,’ Ruben and Damian Salinas’s ‘The Spirit of Gesture,’ and Pooh Kaye. Free, open to public, masks required. Displayed through 9/27, by appointment only. Community Arts Network of Oneonta, Wilber Mansion, 11 Ford Ave., Oneonta. 607-432-2070 or visit www.canoneonta.org/event/art-kaye-crowell-salinas/

HAPPENIN’ OTSEGO: Celebrate Civil Rights, Learn How To Improve 06-19-20
HAPPENIN’ OTSEGO for  FRIDAY, JUNE 19

First Juneteenth, Celebrate

155 Years Since End Of Slavery

14-19eventspage

CELEBRATE – 5 – 8 p.m. Celebrate our progress since the official end of slavery with food, music and art. Also, learn about all the work that still needs to be done. Please wear a mask & practice social distancing. Includes speakers at 6 with candlelight vigil at 7:45 p.m. Neahwa Park, Oneonta. Visit www.facebook.com/events/275119526873479/ for info.

HAPPENIN’ OTSEGO: West Kortright Center Presents Afro-Cuban Concert By OKAN 06-13-20
HAPPENIN’ OTSEGO for  SATURDAY, JUNE 13

West Kortright Center Presents

Afro-Cuban Concert By OKAN

14-19eventspage

AFRO-CUBAN CONCERT – 8 – 9 p.m. Join the West Kortright Center for virtual concert by OKAN, fusing Afro-Cuban and other global rhythms with Jazz, Fold, and classical forms of music. Registration required. Visit westkc.org/eventbrite-event/virtual-afro-cuban-concert-okan/ for info.

After 500 Protest, 2nd One Planned

After 500 Protest,

2nd One Planned

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

The turnout surprised organizer Sadie Starr Lincoln, a Laurens resident. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

ONEONTA – When Sadie Starr Lincoln first created the invite for the Black Lives Matter rally in Muller Plaza on Sunday, May 31, she thought it might be she and some friends speaking out against police brutality.

“By Saturday, 100 people said they were going. By Sunday morning, 350 said they were going,” said Lincoln, who organized the rally after a black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis, died while an officer knelt on his neck for nine minutes during a May 25 arrest.

The turnout was even higher, filling the plaza and the sidewalk across the street with an estimated 500 peaceful protesters. “People just kept coming,” she said. “I was in shock.”

The Laurens Central School senior has been active in several protests since 2016, when she joined activists at Standing Rock protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“My family is of the Narragansett tribe in Rhode Island, and when I heard about the protests at Standing Rock, I wrote a song and put it on Facebook,” she said. “My father decided we should drive out there, so we spent a week with the protestors. I helped build a school, but it got plowed over.”

She also participated in the 2016 Women’s March in Oneonta, and the Climate Change Rally in Albany, and helped rally local support for the protest of Trump’s visit to Utica in 2018.

Her first priority for this rally, she said, was peace. “We made sure ‘Peaceful’ was the first word on all our flyers,” she said. “We wanted to make sure no one showed up with ill intentions.”

Though police pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed and shot live and rubber rounds into crowds at protests across the country, Oneonta Police Chief Doug Brenner declined to even send a police presence to the event.

“We felt it would be better to let demonstrators voice their opinion without distraction,” he said. “There was no damage, no injuries, and they left the plaza cleaner than they found it. It was a good example of the people of Oneonta. They care – they’re not looking to cause problems.”

He agreed with what the protesters stood for. “There is no excuse for what happened in Minneapolis,” he said. “There was no excuse for that officer to be holding him down like that, and no excuse for the officers who watched him do it.”

Nonetheless, protesters at the event did describe racially motivated run-ins with city police. Johnson Brown, a SUNY Oneonta student, told of man threatening to lynch him outside the Clinton Plaza hookah bar.

“We called the police,” said Brown. “And they escorted him home and yelled at me and my friends! When people are threatening us, you cannot tell us we cannot be mad.”

Rev. LaDana Clark also spoke: “As a former police officer, I do not hate the police, but right is right and wrong is wrong. There can be no peace as long as an officer can place his knee on the neck of a black man and take his life before our eyes!”

Brenner has reached out to Lee Fisher, president of the NAACP’s Oneonta chapter, to discuss how the OPD might assist the community. The chief is also looking into additional training for his officers.
Oneonta NAACP Vice President Michelle Osterhaudt, the former Common Council member, handed out membership forms at the rally, and said she’s had several emails and calls about where to send donations.

Following the rally, Lincoln said that she is in conversation with Rev. LaDana Clark and Wesley Lippitt, who was shot by another Cooperstown Central student in what some believe was a racially motivated attack on Good Friday in 2010.

A second rally is planned at 1 p.m. Sunday, June 7 in front of the Otsego County Courthouse in Cooperstown.

“We want to start a youth group for people of color and the people who support them,” she said. “When you speak out for the voiceless, you have so much power.”

‘Justice For George Floyd’ Rally Planned in Cooperstown

‘Justice For Floyd’ Rally

Planned in Cooperstown

MacGuire Benton, left, Cooperstown, participated in the “Justice for George Floyd” rally alongside Janet Sutta, Oneonta, in Muller Plaza on Sunday. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

COOPERSTOWN – Following the outpouring of support at the Oneonta “Justice for George Floyd” rally, a second such protest has been scheduled for Cooperstown at 1 p.m. Sunday, June 7 in front of the Otsego County Courthouse.

“I was approached by my friend Maria Noto to help organize the protest,” said Village Trustee MacGuire Benton, who was at Sunday’s protest. “And I never say no to social justice.”

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