The part of the Jerrod Jones lawsuit about me isn’t true.
He’s a Rochester firefighter, out on full-pay sick leave since an incident last summer at which some rich white people at an East Avenue mansion seemed to mock Juneteenth and some liberal Democrat politicians.
Jerrod Jones is black, and he is suing the city, the fire department, and his former captain for $5 million, alleging that he faced racism at that gathering and through the length of his fire career.
I don’t know about his claims. I wasn’t at the party, and I don’t know about his career.
But he included me in his lawsuit, and he made some claims about me, and they aren’t true.
I’m in paragraph 24 of his filing in federal court:
“In the firehouse, right-wing radio and news stations played all day. Local conservative radio host Bob Lonsberry was invited to the station and treated like a VIP. He regularly eats lunch with the firefighters as an honored guest. Several Black firefighters, including Plaintiff, expressed that they objected to Losnberry’s (sic) presence, but to this day Lonsberry continues to be invited to meals. No left-wing or progressive public figures are extended the same opportunity.”
In the 35 years I have been a newsman in Rochester, I have eaten two meals in Rochester firehouses – one lunch and one dinner. The lunch was at the House on the Hill, on South Avenue across from St. John’s Home, at the invitation of a senior officer. The dinner was at Engine 5 at Lyell and Child. That was the result of an invite from a firefighter I consider a personal friend who had me out so that my then 8-year-old son could see the firehouse and eat with the firefighters.
To the best of my recollection, in both instances, I subsequently dropped off food at the firehouses involved in order to show my appreciation.
Beyond those two meals, I only recall being in Rochester firehouses two other times in those same 35 years – once at the Hudson Avenue house in company with the spokesman of the Rochester Police Department, and another time at Engine 5 when I was running through the neighborhood and desperately needed to use a restroom.
Additionally, I have visited the quarters of the Rochester Protectives twice, while doing a story about a member of that volunteer agency. The second visit was primarily to introduce that member of the Protectives to a current city employee who was at that time a reporter for the Democrat and Chronicle.
Other than these instances, I do not eat with Rochester firefighters and I do not visit their firehouses.
As to black firefighters not wanting me around, I don’t know. That would certainly be any firefighter's prerogative, and I respect that. But, again, I am not around. I do not go to firehouses and I do not hang around with firefighters. I wave when I run by or when they pass in trucks – that’s it. As to “left-wing or progressive public figures” I really don’t know. But in a city that hasn’t elected a Republican in almost 50 years, I’ve got to think pretty much every public official visiting a firehouse is a progressive. Further, I know that Congressman Joe Morelle and former City Councilman Adam McFadden – both progressives – have been invited to visit Rochester firehouses.
But, again, I avoid city firehouses and city firefighters. And there’s a reason for that. I do not want to get Rochester firefighters (or police officers) in trouble with City Hall. For the last two mayoral administrations, city firefighters and police officers have been ordered not to have contact with me, and when they have been suspected of doing so they have come under punitive scrutiny.
Politicians and chiefs like to control information. But I’m not in the business of worrying about the likes of politicians and chiefs, so I report what needs to be reported. And I try to avoid getting firefighters and police officers in trouble as I do so.
Not because of what I do, but because of what they do.
I personally stand in awe of the Rochester Fire Department and its members, and don't want to do anything to be a distraction. These men and women are Rochester’s best friends and City Hall’s best ambassadors. They are true heroes. There is a spirit and a bond between them, and a noble purpose to their lives, that I will never know but can admiringly imagine.
Which is why this suit bothers me.
It threatens to destroy the reputation and brotherhood of the Rochester Fire Department. It takes the best thing the city does and alleges it is tainted by the worst of human evils. The suit depicts the fire department as a hotbed of bigotry and racism.
And I just don’t see it.
I recognize I’m not a member of the fire department, and that I’m white, and that I have no particular insight into the hearts and minds of city firefighters. But I am now in my fourth decade of watching the incredible, loving, tireless, brave service of these men and women with their various races, languages, and backgrounds. And what I’ve seen is the best of humankind, not the worst. I have seen giants. Nothing but giants.
I do know that things have not always been good, and that stories linger from before my time, but I honestly don’t believe we live in that time anymore. Jerrod Jones deserves his day in court, and if he has been wronged, he deserves to be made right. I have no criticisms of him. He chose a noble life, and he belongs to a profession and a department I admire.
But paragraph 24 is wrong.
And if one paragraph is wrong, it makes you wonder about the others.