Photo: Barcroft Media via Getty Images

 If you can’t protect the Lilac Festival, maybe you shouldn’t be police chief.


               If you can’t safeguard your city’s signature event, maybe you should be a one-term mayor.


               If a known location with a known event and a known vulnerability is beyond your capability to control, maybe your clown circus has been on stage too long. Maybe the second year of Malik is starting to look as bad as the first.


               If it’s the week before the PGA Championship comes to town, and a surging crowd of 300 takes over the Lilac Festival, fighting and throwing rocks at the police, you’ve got to thank God that Oak Hill is a six-mile walk from Highland Park.


               It was a staggering disappointment Friday night as dusk settled on what was otherwise a perfect first day of the 125th-annual Rochester Lilac Festival. The weather had been warm, the flowers were at peak, the county had the Pansy Bed exactly right, and it looked like Rochester was back. The covid and the supply chain and the worker shortage, all those things were forgotten and overcome, and people reveled in the beauty of nature, the expanse of the lilac collection and the return of festival fellowship.


               It was all great.


               And then, like locusts in a biblical plague, people in their teens and early 20s took over. Not to listen to music, not to eat, not to hang out and enjoy one another’s company, but to disrupt and run and fight, rampaging. And that’s when it hit the fan. The radio call came in for every available police car, two entire police sections sent every officer they had, and a skirmish line was set up to push the crowd. But the crowd wouldn’t stay pushed and there was talk of pepper spray and then the rocks started flying, at the cops and at passersby and at the heart of Rochester’s pretended peace.


               In a city that can’t protect its schools, where three months into 2023 teenagers have already stolen more cars than were stolen in all of last year, where the newly released city budget doesn’t do a thing to rebuild a defunded and dispirited police department. On a Friday in May, when Rochester had a chance to believe everything was alright, reality punched it in the throat.


               On the first day of a festival whose success depends on the belief of hundreds of thousands of people that they will be safe, the pictures on social media showed that they weren’t. The pictures on social media said that this wasn’t a place that you wanted to bring your kids or your mother.


               And the mayor and his police chief let that happen.


               And, in the context of the city’s criminal-justice collapse, you have to wonder how many of those several hundred disorderly folks carried illegal guns, or got there in a stolen Kia, or had been released from earlier criminality with an appearance ticket for Family Court. In a world without consequences, this is the consequence. You can’t even have a Lilac Festival.


               And you can’t even count on City Hall to protect the Lilac Festival.


               The symbolism and significance of safeguarding what was once the city’s hallmark event had to be obvious even to Malik Evans. As he preens at press conferences, with his backdrops and pocket squares, or poses with giant scissors at ribbon cuttings for sidewalks, even he has to realize that if you crap on the brand, the brand dies.


               This was the big game, and City Hall and the Sixth Floor lost. They weren’t wide right, they couldn’t even find their helmet. They were asleep at the switch.


               But I guess after you’ve had toddlers shot in the head and teenagers killed getting off the school bus you kind of get in a daze. Or, more graphically, you get your head so far up your ass that you can’t do anything right.


I wonder who Malik will sue now?


I wonder when he’ll hold a press conference and blame anybody and anything but the failed culture of his city’s neighborhoods and the incompetence and misdirection of his own administration.


And I wonder when Rochester will have a leadership structure comprised of people capable of doing the job.


Because Friday night the job didn’t get done.


And nobody spouting statistics at press conferences saw it coming. Which gets back to my point.


If you can’t protect the Lilac Festival, maybe you shouldn’t be police chief.

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