Bob Lonsberry

Bob Lonsberry

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Lonsberry: WHAT I SAW FRIDAY ON MY RUN

 On my run Friday, I went up Hudson to Norton, cut over to Clinton, and came back downtown.

 

              At my age, weight and pace, “run” might be an exaggeration. I do 10- or 11-minute miles on a good day, though I often stop to take pictures or talk to people or buy some takeout somewhere. But I set out and I come back and I tell myself I’m getting exercise.

 

               And Friday I went up Hudson to Norton, cut over to Clinton, and came back downtown. I went that way because I wanted to go past Franklin High, where the three kids almost got killed Thursday morning. For years I would run up that way, past St. Stan’s and the abandoned library, and there would always be a blue-and-white parked in the circle by the big front door of the school. Then the cop haters got on the school board and the resource officers got kicked out and the police weren’t allowed to go there anymore.

 

               And it was right by where that blue-and-white used to park that the 16-year-old kid sprinted Thursday morning. Some other kid was on his ass with a gun and there was already lead flying. The kid had been walking to school, which is reasonable, but he was doing so on Hudson Avenue, which is not reasonable. Hudson is a no-man’s land, abandoned by one mayor after another, lawless and dangerous and typically squalid. If I get on the air and bitch enough, they’ll send out crews to pick up the garbage and filth, but I haven’t figured out yet how to get them to actually police the streets and protect the people.

 

               And so it was that a kid walking to school on Hudson Avenue ends up in a footrace for his life. The other two were just in the wrong place at the wrong time; with “Rochester” being the wrong place and “during their childhood” being the wrong time. Two girls, ninth-graders, in the alcove at the door waiting to be buzzed in. It’s all on video. They’re there at the door, about 14 years old, and all of a sudden it’s the fleeing 16-year-old and then the guy with the gun. Point blank range, the 16-year-old cowering against the base of the door, the community member bending down to pop him in the head, the girls trapped a couple of feet away in the corner of the alcove.

 

               Maybe it was Tomasz Kaczowka who saved them.

 

               He’s in stained glass now, looking out from St. Stan’s, a teen-aged firefighter struck down by a gunman a few years back.

 

               Maybe it was Tomasz who saved them. Because the gun went off and nobody went down, not the boy and not the girls. From inches away it missed somehow and the gunman ran back to no-man’s land never to be heard from again, or maybe to lurk in the shadows of the streets and the mind.

 

               That’s what I went up to see on my run.

 

               North on Hudson, past the busiest firehouse in the city, the home of Engine 16 and Truck 6, past Dayton Street where Officer DiPonzio was shot, past Ernst Street where Officer Pierson was killed, past Sobieski Street where Sergeant Strassner was shot, one block over from Bauman Street where Officer Mazurkiewicz was killed, past the old Andy’s Candys where I used to get Easter chocolate for my kids, past the abandoned library and the tower of St. Stan’s and there I saw, parked out front by special permission of the school board, a police car.

 

               Not near the school, to actually do something, but closer to the intersection of Hudson and Norton, in case the TV cameras came by, I guess.

 

         It was the school and the token cop car and another day of reporters stopping parents to ask what they think. What they think is that they want their children safe and the resource officers back in the schools and they can’t understand why the cops were taken out in the first place. At about the same time, at a press conference at district headquarters, the school board president was doing her F12 routine, talking about cops brutalizing black people in and out of school, and promising she wouldn’t let them in.

 

               When the gunfire went off, the school security director immediately ordered a lockdown, but was countermanded by school administration, which imposed a brief shelter in place, which teachers said was lifted after 10 minutes with the rest of the day going on like normal.

 

               On Norton, a block or so west of Hudson, there is a sign on a utility pole. THOU SHALL NOT KILL it says. It is angled toward the street, facing the school in the distance. I ran past that, past where Silver Stadium used to be, turned south on North Clinton, making the slight rise at Hickey-Freeman and then the slight decline toward Clifford.

 

               As I ran past the narrow storefront office of Latino Youth Development, I saw that the metal gate was unlocked and there were people inside, in folding chairs. Mercedes Vasquez-Simmons came out and waved me over and I went inside to a long table of mostly elderly people. They wore their coats because either there’s no heat in the place or there’s no money to pay for the heat.

 

               One of them was Sister Grace, a nun in her 80s who started the House of Mercy homeless shelter in 1985. Another was Sister Rita, a then novitiate who came to work in the shelter in 1987. They both were kicked out recently as the board decided to bring in a paid staff and professionalize.

 

               On the wall was a sheet of yellow legal paper with a handwritten Mission Statement they had been working on.

 

               “Radical compassion – reaching out to the person most in need, and going to every extent to … care for the vulnerable, mentally ill, addicted and homeless outcast nobody wants.”

 

               It spoke of caring for people “the world don’t want. – God loves everyone, no exceptions.

 

               “No judging, safe haven, all is welcome.

 

               “Hope for the hopeless.”

 

               These were their working points, planning a new ministry – for homeless teens.

 

               That’s how things are now. The growth in the homeless population is people who aren’t even adults yet. They don’t have homes, they mostly don’t have families, and they seldom have hope. And these old people in their coats want to do something about that.

 

               I went back out into the cold and continued south, passing what was last summer’s most dangerous stretch of street, saying hello to the crossing guards at School 9 and Upper Falls, and running back toward the tall, empty buildings of downtown.

        The heart of a city long since dead. 


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