Community leaders gathered at the Father Tracy Advocacy Center Friday to ask for help from police and the community for their own safety and the protection of the La Marketa International Plaza. The idea for the plaza goes back to the 1970’s. It was completed last year.
“Look at that field of life. We’re making progress here,” said Rudy Rivera CEO of the advocacy center, while pointing across the street to La Marketa. “It ain’t easy but we’re making progress. The line between life and death. That’s where we stand. In that middle divide. It's a lonely place to be but it's the right place to be.”
As of Friday, Rochester has had 19 homicides in 2021. That’s up from seven this time last year. Two of those homicides were in the North Clinton Avenue neighborhood in the last two weeks. Both deaths were within blocks of the recently finished plaza.
On Thursday, police say Jacob Wims was shot multiple times while sitting in his car on nearby Mead Street. Firefighters attempted to revive him, but were unsuccessful.
A few weeks earlier, Markese Estimable was shot in broad daylight. Estimable was robbed, and witnesses say people took selfies with him as he bled to death.
Rivera said he saw Estimable’s last minutes.
“People walked by him like he was a cigarette butt, that’s what his human life had come to at the hands of
his own people,” said Rivera. “The man reached out but nobody paid attention and that level of depravity, the people here should not have to endure.”
At a news conference in the advocacy center’s parking lot, Ida Perez, the leader of the nearby Scrantom Street block group, said her neighborhood has come far. She cited new housing developments on nearby Clifford Avenue and LaMarketa. But Perez said an 800 foot quadrant overshadows it.
Perez said she has seen tensions rise in the neighborhood in recent months. She said she saw open air drug dealing, and a growing group of people congregating between Kappel Place and Evergreen Street. Perez said she reached out to city officials and Rochester Police via email a week before the first homicide.
“I saw it coming.” said Perez. “I saw it coming. I had a deep feeling that something tragic was about to happen.”
She said the violence weighs on her but it does not make her or her neighbors numb.
“It is constantly on your mind, everytime you turn the corner, you’re looking to see who is out here, where that bullet could possibly be coming from,” continued Perez. “I’m worried everytime I come home and I have to turn on Scrantom (street) because I’m worried that I might be caught in the crossfire.”
City Councilmember Miguel Melendez, who is running for election this year, attended the press conference. He said the city, police, and stakeholders are expected to gather soon to discuss tactics to improve public safety in the area.
“In this specific area we have been doing more foot patrols,” said Melendez. “They are attempting to address some of the challenges that are happening at Clinton and Scrantom but what I would also say is we need to try some new strategies because we haven’t been able to prevent these homicides.”
Melendez, who sits on the board of the city’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative said he’d like to see a youth led effort for violence prevention developed.
“The community has the answers somewhere,” continued Melendez. “We just have to figure it out.”
Rivera agrees that police, especially foot and bike patrols, should play a major role in getting the violence under control in the area. He said he would also like to see the development of more community groups, and more cooperation between businesses and residents.
“What is the point of all this good work if you live in fear if you decide to take your kid to the park to have an ice cream over there?,” asked Rivera. “What we’re hoping is that people will come out and get active to create the wall of protection around this area.”
Rivera also underlined the silence from clergy and Black Lives Matter protesters on Rochester’s crime spike.
“If the police were killing us at the rate that we’re killing ourselves I suspect this town would be on fire,” said Rivera. “If anyone wants to say ‘you’re wrong Rudy’ then you don’t know what I’m referring to. But yet when we kill ourselves I say to myself, ‘Where are the protests lining the streets? Where are the people within our own community who know what’s going on here?’ And that’s the tragic part of this whole story.”
“The church needs to wake up in whatever fashion you believe in,” continued Rivera. “When I do outreach up and down Joseph and North Clinton I see more churches than corner stores and they’re all closed. What is your purpose?
“Why aren’t you here? Why aren’t you raising your voices to defend us? But at this point it's clear to us where folks feel their interest lies. But our interest doesn’t lie solely on the color of your skin, it's with the human condition on the avenue.”