(Editor’s note: This is Geneva Mayor Valentino’s reflection on anti-police statements written in chalk during a protest at the Public Safety Building on April 25; the rally was held to protest the April 20 death of Ma’Khia Bryant, 16, fatally shot by a Columbus, Ohio, police officer.)

While I can respect a different point of view and determination to make a difference, I find it difficult to see how the actions taken to make a statement on Sunday, April 25, made any substantial impact.

The overall negative tone and disrespect only creates division and moves this city further from making progress on important issues. The same respect I normally give has slowly deteriorated to an understanding that these actions are only to create animosity and stir anger. I realize it is only a small group of individuals causing this. I also realize that those who have protested for social justice and police reform that will improve citizen-police relations are now separating themselves from these activists that have other intentions that are harmful to this City. This would not have been an issue if the focus was on supporting the Black Lives Matter movement to eliminate police brutality and racial profiling, which I give my continued support.

It is unfortunate that these activists are hiding under the pretense that they support change that will improve relations, bring people to the table for productive dialogue and implement sustainable changes. The need to draw national issues into our small city is only another example of an attempt to magnify their cause. Focusing on City issues isn’t enough to raise to the level of extreme emotion, thus the need to reach for anything that will cause disruption.

This City Council condoning one of its member’s actions has provided permission not only to continue but to escalate those inflammatory actions. The review of ethics violations was conducted professionally and within the guidelines provided. Yet this Council found a way to denounce the results based on their limited involvement.

The support that those on Council find compelled to provide could better be spent on doing their elected responsibilities and representing those who elected them and whom they represent.

It comes down to common courtesy and respect. Something that almost everyone on Council has and believes in. Our focus should be on moving forward in a positive manner to create the changes needed and keeping Geneva on a successful path to reaching its full potential. Instead we are caught up in the division and spinning our wheels making no progress. In fact we are regressing in the movements that previous councils and staff have laid the groundwork for. We are under the microscope of the community and the surrounding areas, becoming a spectacle of “what not to do.” At least we set that standard. If anyone thinks the actions of this Council are historical or will be used as a role model for other communities, you are correct. Unfortunately, the actions and memories of this Council will be looked on negatively for years to come.

I firmly believe that our Geneva Police Department does not deserve this disrespect nor does any person, business or city department for that manner. My only hope is that they understand the root cause of these actions and how little impact they have. That they have standards well above these activists creating division and will forge through these times to show the community that they do understand and support changes. That they all agree that what is happening nationally is unacceptable and will not take place here in Geneva. We seem to expect the GPD to be hardened to verbal abuse, social media, chalking or other attacks to disrupt them and then in turn expect them to be compassionate in handling every situation as they interact with the public. This double standard is not providing good direction and support for change. The responsibility does not rest solely on the GPD but on our community as a whole. Geneva deserves the chance to continue becoming one of the best places in the Finger Lakes to live, work, play and visit.

Steve Valentino is the mayor of the City of Geneva. Contact him at svalentino@geneva.ny.us.

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