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