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Violence in Roc

Janaa Smith

The City of Rochester is a beautiful place that is extremely rich in history. It has housed some of the most influential people in our society such as Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, George Eastman, Walter Cooper, etc., and was a mecca in manufacturing in the 1830s-1900s. In 2023, Rochester was ranked as the 5th poorest city in America and is known for its increasing violent crime rates. These statistics are not only interesting because of the horrific number of crimes, but because of the age of most perpetrators and victims. According to the Rochester Police Department’s Data Portal, in 2021 60 shooting victims were under 18. From 2020 to 2023 there were about 5,000 shootings in the city of Rochester. 268 of those shootings involved people from the ages 0 to 20 years old. 12.3% of those were homicides.

It is not just gun violence that is on the rise. In 2023, there were 66 motor vehicle thefts in which a juvenile was arrested. That does not even count the 32 cases where the perpetrator was “exceptionally cleared” most likely due to state law S04051A/A04982-A, which stops police from arresting or prosecuting anyone 12 and younger. While this law was signed by Governor Kathy Hochul with the intent of combating the incarceration of young minorities, it is being taken advantage of by young children who involve themselves in illegal activities and have no legal consequences. Crime, explicitly involving youth, is out of control in this city.

The YMCA of Greater Rochester Carlson Metrocenter on East Main Street was one of the city's best gyms for youth. It has an indoor track that surrounds a large basketball court, cardio equipment, and circuit machines. On top of these amenities, it has many racquetball courts, a large pool, and even a sauna. My family and I attended this gym. I would practice basketball in the gym or perfect my volleyball serve on a racquetball court. I was surrounded by other local athletes and in a space that supported success in sports. This environment would eventually lead me to become a section v champion and play at the New York State Volleyball Championships in high school. Currently, I am a NCAA Division II volleyball player at Lincoln University of Pennsylvania and was recently named the Newcomer of the Year. This YMCA had a significant impact on a lot of my and other local athletes’ accomplishments today. It also greatly benefitted my diabetic-prone family.

In the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, gyms closed down but soon opened again as covid numbers decreased and Governor Cuomo lifted restrictions. The YMCAs in Monroe County fully opened back up except for the Carlson Metrocenter. This was the loss of a good quality, easily accessible, and safe place for young, mainly black and brown children. The closing of this facility was just one of the factors that have led to a spike in youth crime since 2020.

Currently, there are only 22 gyms in the actual city of Rochester and most of them do not allow people under the age of 16 to enter by themselves. They also do not hold the same amount of options for people as the Carlson Metrocenter did. What about the other city YMCAs? The Thurston and Maplewood locations do not even compare to the Carlson Metrocenter and lack the same resources as the newer and updated suburban facilities in Pittsford, Webster, and Gates.

Even though they claim to be conscious of the inequities inner-city residents face, it seems that the YMCA continues to emphasize those inequities by leaving them with the worse facilities.

The city of Rochester is already not a place made for black people to be healthy. While the predominantly black neighborhoods may not be rich with gyms, grocery stores, or safe spaces for children, they are rich with smoke shops, corner stores filled with unhealthy food options, and liquor stores, which all contribute to black health disparities. For black kids ages 1-19, the top ten leading causes of death are homicide, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory disease, suicide, cancer, birth defects, heart disease, anemia, diabetes, and stroke.

While I may not be in Rochester as often due to my pursuit of a college education, my heart yearns for the young people of my city. City officials and suburban residents constantly sight the city for its abundant violence but do nothing to combat the systemic issues that cause it. The locally infamous “Kia boys” are casualties of systemic racism in the black community and are doing precisely what the system and environment of the city are set up for them to do: die and/or become criminals. Yet the city of Rochester officials view them as the city's largest pest rather than children that need much better guidance. While my siblings and I were growing up we had places to safely be children and I notice now that the kids of today do not have that. We need places for kids to be kids. I only grow more concerned and worried for the youth of Rochester as time goes on and as buildings like the Carlson Metrocenter sit without all of its resources being used. I pray for systems to change and eyes to be opened.

~ Janaa Smith is a Rochester native, a graduate of Our Lady of Mercy High School, and a current student-athlete at Lincoln University of Pennsylvania. While at Mercy Janaa co-founded the Mosaic Civic Equality Club and served as the activity coordinator and charter member of the Black Student Union. She also sat on Mercy’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. Currently, Janaa is a sophomore studying Political Science and plays volleyball at the first degree-granting Historically Black University, Lincoln University of Pennsylvania. She is a Transformative Justice Coalition Fellow and a 2021 Bank of America Student Leader. She is extremely passionate about social justice and anti-racism. She is completely invested in bringing change to the Rochester community.


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