Seek justice through political action, education

Millicent Kastenbaum

I am not originally from Batavia and therefore have often been reticent to weigh too deeply into issues of local concern. It is not that I am uninvolved or disengaged in this community. I attend local political and community meetings and events, help out on local campaigns, etc. However, when at these events my approach is mostly to listen and support rather than voice my own opinion.

I believed that because I didn’t grow up here, I cannot speak to the concerns of your average Batavian. I have been cautious of imposing an outsider view on local issues.

This is a poor excuse for not doing the work. Not working harder to learn more about the community that I live, vote, and pay taxes in.

I have been visiting Batavia since I was a little girl. This is where my mother was born, and a lot of her family still lives.

I think part of the reason I have been hesitant to see myself as part of this community is that I have often felt uncomfortable here.

Growing up in Los Angeles, one of the largest and most diverse places in the world, I took for granted being a Jewish Asian American. I am not saying that I always felt welcome or that I found many people exactly like me in LA, but overall the city is very diverse in terms of race and religion.

When I visited Batavia, I was often hyper aware of being the only minority, certainly the only Jewish person and/or Asian American in many spaces. Once, while eating at one of the only Chinese restaurants in town with my grandparents, someone mistakenly thought I was the owners’ child. Outside of the only synagogue in town, after attending high holiday services with my parents, we were “Heil Hitlered” by those who lived next door. Most recently, while I was at the local Walmart a man snuck up behind me so he could let me know I wouldn’t find any of “my peoples’” food there. I was stunned and before I could even process what had happened the man was gone.

I relay these anecdotes because I can only imagine what it is like for minorities who grow up here. What they must feel now when they pass “Trump” or even Confederate flags. When they see bumper stickers on trucks that read “Don’t Think Twice Because I Won’t” with an image of a gun pointed at the viewer.

I can only speak to the uneasiness, anger, and fear I feel when confronted with these images.

In light of the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless other acts of violence and injustice against black Americans,I thought I’d take a closer look at what this community – my community – has and hasn’t done for people of color.

And as I am a firm believer in local politics and changes that can be made on this level, I first looked to any comments made by the Batavia City Council and Police Department. I was glad to see that the City had put out a statement and that Batavia Police Chief Shawn Heubusch gave a video interview. However, as of writing this I saw no public statement or release from Assemblyman Steve Hawley,nor from state Senator Michael Ranzenhofer. In fact, some of Ranzenhofer’s latest releases are about his opposition to New York State’s bail reform (one post has the graphic “Standing Up for Law Enforcement Not Criminals”).

As we all know, we currently have no representation in the House, as Chris Collins has been sentenced for insider trading, but I think I know where he would stand on this issue: right next to President Trump.

I cannot emphasize enough how important local, state, and federal elections are. Nate McMurray has posted almost daily about George Floyd and the protests that are going on throughout America. He attended a Black Lives Matter protest in Canandaigua. Chris Jacobs, meanwhile, has spent the past few days thanking his endorsers: President Trump and the NRA. Beth Parlato Tweet quoted Trump’s “I am your president of law and order,” which he stated before tear gassing peaceful protestors so he could take a photo-op.

There are three great, qualified, progressive candidates running in the Democratic primary for New York’s 61st State Senate District, one of whom will hopefully take Ranzenhofer’s seat (he’s retiring).

I wish I had more statistics about arrests, prosecutions, and verdicts made by the local justice system, for that information I do defer to others in the community, although I know anecdotally we can certainly do a lot better to achieve racial justice and equality on that front in Batavia and Genesee County.

I do suggest people listen to Chief Heubusch’s interview and take a close look at the City of Batavia Police Department’s “Use of Force” policy, which is on their website (shout out to my college town Mayor, Svante Myrick for recommending this and for promoting transparency on his city’s force policy and budget).

I am not a law enforcement officer, nor do I claim to be an expert on what is and isn’t needed to keep cities safe, but I am a huge proponent of transparency and knowledge as power.

Over the coming days, months, and years I promise to continue to educate myself on what we can all do better as a community and as a country to end systemic racism and make our justice system truly just.

I acknowledge and applaud those in Batavia, the GLOW region, New York State, and the country who have continually dedicated themselves to these things.

Millicent Kastenbaum is the daughter of Diana Kastenbaum and Hiram Kasten. Miss Kastenbaum is a 2016 graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University in Ithaca, where she majored in government. She also attended the University of Oxford (St. Anne’s College) in England.

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