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Event celebrates Black excellence in law enforcement

Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado celebrates Black law enforcement
Jasmin Singer
Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado stands on a stage with Wayne Harris behind him

A celebration this weekend honored those who have paved the way for Black law enforcers.

New York Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado and Rochester Mayor Malik Evans were among those at Saturday’s event organized by the Western New York chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, or NOBLE.

Evans spoke about the importance of Black representation in law enforcement, though he also recognized the challenges that can bring.

“The law enforcement profession is not easy, but it is even harder when you're African American, when you're Black, and you're putting on that uniform,” he said. “And now more than ever, organizations like NOBLE have taken on a greater level of importance.”

Evans said there are shortages of police officers and law enforcement officials across the country. He said the job is extremely difficult, and people simply don’t want to do it.

“So the celebration of trailblazers who have paved the way serve as role models for others that might be thinking about the profession,” he told those gathered at Edison Career & Technology High School.

Carolyn Lewis, the president of the Western New York chapter of NOBLE, said one of the organization’s goals is to encourage young people to pursue law enforcement.

“We try to connect the community and law enforcement together to bring a more peaceful and more productive partnership,” Lewis said.

In light of the violence in Rochester, Lewis said this is an organization whose time has come. But she believes that any progress in addressing the city’s violence must be multi-faceted.

“It's not gonna work if we're not all involved,” she said. “And that's from the top down to the very bottom, from the governor down to the everyday person that walks around.”

Wayne Harris, the legislative adviser for the chapter, agreed, and said one way to reduce violence in the city is to focus on wealth-building.

“If we can get people above that poverty line and get them to the point where the educational system is working well for them, that they're productive to society, that will thereby lessen the level of violence that's occurring in our communities,” he said.

That violence led to the death of retired Rochester police Officer William Keith Booker last September after he was shot in his car on Jefferson Avenue. At Saturday’s event, Evans expressed sympathy for Booker’s family and honored his legacy, which included being a school resource officer for the Rochester City School District.

“There are no words that I can say to you as mayor that can ease your grief, but I want you to know that the seeds that he planted while he was here transformed so many lives,” he said. “Because to be a school resource officer, that's ground zero for the connections that you make with so many young people.”

Delgado, who also paid tribute to Booker, tied Saturday’s event back to Black History Month, stating that Black excellence has never wavered.

“Going back to slavery, to the Three-Fifths Compromise, the Black codes, Jim Crow redlining, mass incarceration — through it all, Black excellence has sustained itself,” he said.

For the dozens of active and retired Black law enforcers in the audience on Saturday, Delgado offered words of hope.

“I know the work is hard. But if you need inspiration, if you need motivation, never forget how far back the legacy of Black excellence stretches,” he said. “Never forget from whence we came, and draw strength from our history and knowledge of what we've already overcome.”

Western New York NOBLE hopes to make the Celebration of Black Excellence in Law Enforcement an annual event.

Jasmin Singer (she/they) is WXXI's Weekend Edition host. She's also the author of "The VegNews Guide to Being a Fabulous Vegan" and "Always Too Much and Never Enough." She's the co-host of the "Our Hen House" podcast. After living in New York City for nearly 20 years, then trying out West Hollywood for size, Jasmin and her wife are climate refugees who found their way to Rochester.