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A tale of two cities: Activists present their 'State of Our City' address

City of Buffalo

Mayor Byron Brown may see Buffalo as a city on the move, but local activists presented quite a different view in their virtual "State of Our City" address Thursday. The two-hour-long virtual session described a badly policed city, where schools have serious problems, housing is rising in price beyond the ability of many to pay and problems of climate change aren't being addressed. Activists cited problems in most areas, with COVID exacerbating everything from transportation to racism.

Some of the issues are beyond Brown’s mayoral powers, but presenters said he could make changes benefitting housing, like building inspection practices to deal with rising rents and gentrification.

Fruit Belt activist Dennice Barr said Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority cuts in service because of COVID are unfair to poor people.

"Transportation is a human right and we value people. If you want people to work, then you have to be able to give them access so that they can travel from one point to another," Barr said. "But, apparently in the City of Buffalo, we don’t think that poor people need access and we don’t think that they need to work. We don’t think that they need to have the things that everybody else is supposed to have."

Former police officer Cariol Horne was there to talk about changing policing and society in Buffalo, far beyond what she said the mayor has done.

"With Cariol’s Law, we can now call the good police on the bad police," she said. "But we need a Cariol’s Law in all professions, because you may have a racist doctor, you may have a racist lawyer, you may have a racist judge. So we have to basically use common sense, have to let those who are going to look out for us. So we have to vote."

School Board Member Jen Mecozzi was on the forum to talk about the need to do better for the city’s kids. Mecozzi also called for some constructive engagement.

"Stop with the fingerpointing, because if you come to us and say, 'Hey, how come this? Maybe we should do this,' that’s a conversation. And it’s like, 'You people and this and that and I can’t take it and then you walk away.' You might be better gone. You might be better gone because you’re not helping anybody with that," Mencozzi said. "Let’s start really turning around how we talk to each other. The silos need to come down, people."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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