A community meeting that was scheduled in the wake of a recent spate of publicized hate crimes in the city's Lovejoy neighborhood will not be held after all, according to Buffalo Police Department officials.
The meeting had been planned for 6:30 p.m. Monday in Hennepin Park Community Center. It was intended as a forum for citizens to speak with officials from the police department, U.S. attorney's office and local civil rights groups about the alleged racial bias incidents in Lovejoy and, perhaps, other areas of the city.
Deputy Police Commissioner Crystalea Burns Pelletier Thursday said a different tack is now being employed. It includes the recent formation of a task force of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies that would work in concert to pursue priority prosecution of individual hate crimes as they are reported; a new 24-hour toll-free hot line -- 1-800-894-1969 -- to report hate crimes, and monitoring and follow-up by the police commissioner of all such complaints.
Deputy Commissioner Pelletier said Monday's meeting, which was intended to be more or less informational, had been scheduled only on a tentative basis anyway. She denied that it was canceled upon consideration of the possibility that it could have lapsed into an unwieldy and rancorous affair.
"That didn't factor into (the decision) at all," she said. "Not everybody wants to speak in a public forum, where they would be fearful to stand up in public."
Instead, block clubs and other civic groups that might be interested in hearing from authorities on the subject are being encouraged to contact the Police Community Services Unit.
While lauding the effort by law enforcement, at least one local civil rights leader thinks much more is required.
"This is not something that should be left entirely up to law enforcement," said Frank B. Messiah of the Buffalo Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"Where are the religious leaders from the white community, the business leaders, the political leaders, and not just the council member from that district ?" Messiah said.
"There should be people from the bishop's office addressing what is happening. There needs to be a public meeting. Those priests need to be the ones to speak to those people directly about the immorality of this kind of behavior," he said.
The initial call for Monday's meeting was a result of recent reports of teen-age biracial siblings being physically attacked by some white teen-agers in the Lovejoy neighborhood they all share, and a mixed-race couple who were repeatedly harassed by neighborhood white youths.
"If these were white families that had been subjected to this kind of treatment in a predominantly black neighborhood, the white community would expect the leadership in the black community to condemn such behavior," Messiah said.
"I have yet to see the (Greater Buffalo) Partnership and its members come forward to condemn this kind of behavior," he continued. "The business community can set the tone. They should be using their resources to show we are committed to having a city where nondiscriminatory practices are a virtue.
"If the top leadership of this community, including the business leadership and the newspapers, say nothing or are passive on this, the people responsible will not get the message, because nobody is condemning their actions," he added.
Messiah also noted that announcing a public meeting in the first place "raised the expectations of some people that the city was beginning to deal with this issue."
"Instead, we keep putting the lid back on the barrel until it pops up again," he added.