Should the Rochester Police Locust Club and the Irondequoit Police Night Stick Club consider a name change?

Should the Rochester Police Locust Club and the Irondequoit Police Night Stick Club consider a name change?

[Photo: David Kramer, 6/5/20. The Monroe County Office Building on West Main Street from A Black Lives Matter solidarity rally with commentary from Kholaa and a walk down Joseph Avenue]

Submitted to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle by David Kramer

Now located at 1425 Lexington Ave, the Locust Club headquarters were once in the Third Ward.  Democrat and Chronicle, Sep 10, 1939 From top, pictures show: Locust Club’s historic old clubhouse at Spring and South Washington streets, built 109 years ago by Thomas Hart Rochester; two of the club’s officers, Secretary Leo V. Davis (seated) and Treasurer Earl B. Krebs: an Interior stairway, showing the splendid architecture which Is characteristic of the building. [Image added by David Kramer]

Recently, I submitted a letter to the  Rochester Democrat and Chronicle  suggesting a name change for the Rochester Police Locust Club.¹ The D & C did not publish the letter. While that decision is entirely within the discretion of the newspaper, it is disappointing that the D & C only prints letters once a week, and last Sunday printed zero.

The proposal originated in conversations with Michael J. Nighan.

From the Club website, Michael learned that “The name ‘Locust Club’ actually refers to the kind of wood that all Rochester police nightsticks were once made from.” Given that the locust club is a precursor to the contemporary police night stick, Michael wonders if a name change would be desirable. First, Michael contacted Mike Mazzeo, Locust Club president.

After the Club did not respond to his inquiry, Michael sent the letter to the Minority Reporter where it was published on Feb 4th, 2021.

Open Letter to Mike Mazzeo: Has Locust Club Considered a Name Change?

Michael Nighan recently sent a letter to the Locust Club president. Nighan lived in Rochester for more than 20 years. He now lives in Irondequoit. He shared the letter with Minority Reporter.

Michael Nighan

Until recently, like 99% of the Rochester community, I was unaware that the inspiration for the Locust Club name was just that, a club made of locust wood. Given the current state of public-police relations, that discovery led to the obvious question, has the Locust Club considered a name change? If not, it would seem to be time to do so.

Obviously, it would be unfair to deny that the negative view of a club wielded by a phalanx of cops charging into crowds of rioters/protestors is far from an equitable appraisal of the club’s use given that, during most of their careers the average police officer probably has to draw it from his/her belt in anger only on rare occasions.

But it would be equally unfair to deny that there are a significant number of cases over the years in which innocent people throughout the country have been the victims of excessive force and even brutality perpetrated by officers using their clubs to apprehend a suspect.

The question of whether those clubs are used to oppress or protect is almost irrelevant. It’s public perception that counts. And rightly or wrongly there can be no doubt that to many in the Rochester community, that club is a symbol of violence. For the local police union to continue to name their organization after such a symbol is at best a ticking bomb of bad public relations, and at worst a case of glaring insensitivity.

Surely, the Locust Club can have no emotional or cultural investment in the name. It holds no local significance or honors an event or individual. In short, to me at least, there’s no apparent or overriding reason to retain the name except a century of inertia and dusty tradition. Events in 2020 have put the relations between the Rochester Police Department and a large percentage of the city’s population, never particularly good at the best of times, at a very low ebb. Distrust, suspicion and even fear of the police, justified or not, is everywhere on our city streets.

Merely changing a name obviously won’t solve these deep-rooted problems. But as an acknowledgement that the imagery of a locust club  is not the image that Rochester’s 21st century police officers should want to present to the community, and as a show of good will offered from out-of-the-blue, who knows what such a change might lead to?

Early 20th Century police equipment (French’s Illustrated Catalogue) [Provided by Michael Nighan]

UNREST: Police officers in Rochester, New York, react after flares go off during a September 4th, 2020 protest over the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died after cops put a spit hood over his head and pressed his face into the pavement during an arrest. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

¹NOTE

Not mentioned in our letters is the Irondequoit Night Stick Club. Unlike the Locust Club, the Night Stick Club is not an obscure term from the 19th century but an immediately recognizable symbol of force.

In “What does the future of policing look like in Irondequoit? More guardians, fewer warriors” (D & C, 2/18/21), Will Cleveland reports the Irondequoit Police Department has vowed to focus on “rebuilding the trust and confidence of the community” by having, as the headline says, more guardians and fewer warriors. Changing the name of the Night Stick Club could be part of the new image of the department.

2 Vintage 1982 Milk Glass Mug Cup Lot Irondequoit Police NY Nightstick Club PBA (ebay)

Fairport-Perinton Herald-Mail, July 3rd, 1991

Also, I learned there was a Fairport Police Billy Club that dissolved sometime in the early 1990s.

SEE ALSO 

Democrat and Chronicle prints “Chilling to think Trump could run for a federal office again”

The D & C does not publish our letter on its sexist use of language

CITY publishes “Picking up the slack”

 

About The Author

dkramer3@naz.edu

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY and Lake Affect Magazine.  My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.

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