Race relations became a top issue on the minds of many around Central New York with local protests after the killing of George Floyd and police treatment of people of color. In WAER’s Your Election Blueprint project, it was among the top interests of people heading into the election.
“I'm like scared of here," said Deneka Delee. "I have to watch my back and I wish all the shooting and and all this
(stuff) has to stop. We have kids.”
You don't have to listen hard to hear their voices; You don't have to look hard to see their struggle
“You’re walking down the street, all the young generations on drugs hanging out, they need something to do, they need jobs," says Monica Gunn. "So yeah, I'm upset because I got four sons out here.”
But for some, it's harder to see why.
“It's kind of hard to see systemic racism unless you're looking for it… if you're white, and black people deal with it every day,” adds Gene Aikens.
In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, this election has put race relations front and center, perhaps more than at any point since 1968. Systemic racism in Syracuse, though, goes far beyond relations with police. Nearly a third of Syracuse residents live below the poverty line, and nearly half of children. But it wasn't always this way.
“It was a community," notes Corre Williams. "We had kids playing together outside not worrying about gunfire.”
After the 15th Ward was razed in the 1950s to build it I-81, minority residents, many of whom lived in this area, were left out to dry. After manufacturing jobs left to Central New York, the situation got worse.
“You had the Chrysler, the General Motors, Miller, Carrier, GE, Bristol Myers, Nestle a lot of those those manufacturers have gone, and a lot of people was out of work," adds Williams.
Today, minorities are disproportionately affected by the pandemic and have been more likely to lose their health care this year. But the issue of race in this election has not come with uplifting ideas, but with fear and division over violence. 24th district congressman John Katko released an ad earlier this year depicting a man in a hoodie lurking the streets at night with this message.
“Do you support releasing violent criminals into our streets?”
While the man in the ad was never revealed as being of any race, some Syracuse residents saw the ad as racist.
“How many depictions of white people in hoodies that are presenting themselves in a bad character have you ever seen? Every time you see that it's usually pointed at a black person, says Aikens.”
At the syracuse.com debate, Katko touted his work with the House problem solvers caucus on a bipartisan bill which would address racism in policing.
“Problem solvers caucus crafted a bill that I'm pretty confident after the election is going to pass, that addresses race relations in United States with respect to law enforcement.”
Katko voted against the George Floyd Justice in Policing act earlier this year, which would make sweeping changes to policing, including requiring body cameras, banning chokeholds, and increasing accountability levels for police officers. Katko has criticized President Trump for his rhetoric on race, including after the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally in 2017.
His Democratic opponent, Dana Balter, focused on the wider aspects of systemic racism.
“We have to tackle systemic racism in the legal system, sure, also in education and in housing and in health care. The legacy of racism that our country has carried forward affects outcomes and policies in all of these areas.”
She supports the Justice in Policing act, and accuses Katko of being in the pocket of President Trump, who has stoked racial tensions with his comments on white supremacist groups, including at the first presidential debate.
“Proud boys, stand back and stand by,” said Trump.
But through all of the division and rhetoric, Syracuse's minority community remains vigilant.
“We can't let the politicians or anything to divide us. If we was together in the beginning there should be nobody to cause division," says Jarvis Richardson.
Corre Williams also has ideas.
“I think the only thing we can do is to educate people. Once people have dialogue and talk and communicate with one another, they understand that there's no need to fear me. Like I don't need to fear you.”
“I'm not afraid because I've been through too much to be scared,” adds Josephine Wagner.
This election more than anything else. They want to be seen as more than statistics viewed as more than pawns. And heard as more than just voices.