Famous locally as one of the most upscale communities in Monroe County, NY, the town of Pittsford has seemingly made an almost airtight bid to become recognized as the most racist town in the country. I’ll catalog the incidents that have made them nearly a lock for that category and talk a bit about certain personalities without whom the situation would likely not have been possible. When you win an award, there are almost always people to thank. Chief among those who deserve a shout-out is a particular class of politician—the race huckster—that has very effectively orchestrated Pittsford’s new and regrettable reputation.
There are at least four classes of observation to be cataloged to get at what’s been happening in Pittsford: First, there are a number of recent controversial incidents as covered by the legacy media, and there are the possible cracks—and more cracks—in the foundation of those stories, and there are other wholly independent storylines that, if they were better reported on, might have severely depreciated the value of the media’s prevailing narrative, and finally we have the long view courtesy of a Pittsford resident who has been observing the situation there for quite some time.
I’ll begin with legacy media’s preferred take on recent events:
A video was recorded earlier this year by a Pittsford high school student in which he tried to one-up a couple of classmates. They had a contest of who could be the most racially insensitive. The culmination of their weird competition featured the student as he held an airsoft gun and talked about how he’d like to kill blacks—an idiot moment, to be sure. The student body’s reaction at both Pittsford-Mendon and Pittsford-Sutherland high schools was to stage anti-racism walkouts. If only that could have been the end of the matter, but it was not. Remarkably, the offensive video was followed by a linked pair of new headline stories of racist incitement. Accusations were made that Pittsford-Mendon students had insulted two black athletes, a boy, and a girl, at two soccer games played against the suburban town of Greece, New York.
And next, the possible cracks in that version of events:
Pittsford School Superintendent Michael Pero discussed at a school board meeting the video with the airsoft gun. While Pero avoided breaking confidentiality about the students involved, he did say that they were only secondary students at the school. He also, while musing about the limits of what he could and couldn’t say without breaking confidentiality, made a cryptic aside [at 57.00 mark] which was:
“Not sharing that this is what happened in this case, but there are things— investigations—where things involve mental health that are very personal and private to a family. There are things that happen when there are special needs or students with IEPs or different disabilities that are tough to communicate.”
An impression you could easily be left with is that the students had some issues beyond the obvious.
A problem with accusations of racism at the soccer games, on the other hand, is that the rival school districts came to different conclusions about just what had happened. Pittsford sided with its own and said that its students may have been disruptive but did nothing racially motivated. The Greece School District said that they supported claims made by their own students. The two districts later agreed in a joint statement to allow an independent third-party investigator to investigate the matter.
And then there are even further cracks in the media narrative, including an ignored story of “a list.”
It is at this point that I bring up radio personality Bob Lonsberry. Lonsberry is something of a regional Andy Rooney where in Rochester, he’ll make biting political observations with a “golly-gee” folksiness which has earned him both fans and detractors. Regardless, considering the length of time Lonsberry’s covered area politics and had access to its major players, he’s uniquely positioned to unscramble puzzling evidence. He’s also one of the few in Rochester media whose shtick allows him to voice the occasional un-PC opinion.
Lonsberry interpreted the situation in Pittsford on air and in his related column. Among his observations, he alluded to the peculiar origin of reports of racism at the soccer games. He wrote:
“… a Democrat town board candidate from Greece went public with the claim that a black brother and sister pair from Greece Arcadia (High School), both soccer players, had, in separate incidents on consecutive days, been racially taunted at games hosted by Pittsford-Mendon High School.”
Lonsberry also noted of the politicians who were most vocal about the soccer games—a “Democrat Greece town board candidate” and “Democrat Pittsford town board candidates.”
“… If you watch them on the evening news, you get the impression that they and their towns get a lot of racism just before election time.”
None of those observations, perhaps remarkably, were Lonsberry’s capper. He also referred to a list that he seems to be the only person reporting as far as I can tell. The list was allegedly compiled by Pittsford students of their fellow classmates whom they consider to be racist. Next to each alleged racist’s name is a reason as to why they’re on the list. Some explanations, such as “says nword,” are obvious but still don’t explain why such a list would be compiled, but other reasons such as “pro-Trump”—a reason that appears on the list for three students and is their only charge—show only political bias. Lonsberry commented on the list and also tweeted out a photo of it.
Progressive students in the affluent Pittsford NY school district have circulated a list of classmates to target for harassment and ostracism. This occurs in the context of a contentious town election with alleged racism as a major theme. pic.twitter.com/5viawzTGwd
— Bob Lonsberry (@BobLonsberry) October 1, 2021
I contacted Pittsford School Superintendent Michael Pero’s office regarding the list to ask if the list did exist and if the students who compiled it had been disciplined. The person answering the phone in Pero’s office told me that a list did exist though she, of course, could not verify any image I might have seen. She said the school district was dealing with the issue.
And now on to the final aspect of the story, the long view:
I was contacted by a devoted observer of race politics in Pittsford as I started this story and put out the word I’d be interested in speaking to anyone who would know the inside story of the Pittsford schools. I want to thank Vicki Vetere for sharing what seems like research made possible only by her sincere desire to understand what was changing in her community. Vetere has seen things transform from a community-wide desire to address freak incidents of racism to the rise of a political class benefiting from a climate of stoked racial tension. Vetere recalled for me the origin of the current race-based politics in Pittsford:
“Back in 2016 was when I think was the first red flag. Pittsford was accused of not being racist, but there was a problem when this white supremacy group started handing out fliers, just on people’s lawns. [They] Just kind of showed up, and people woke up to these fliers. That was the first incident that put in motion what we are seeing heightened today. They did find the perpetrator from the group. Apparently, it happened in Brighton; both Brighton and Pittsford were targeted in 2016. Out of that came a group of people that put together an organization called PittsForward. I think those fliers kind of shocked the community; they were deeply offended. Key players in that group were Kevin Beckford and Kendra Evans, who’s running for (Pittsford) supervisor currently.”
Kendra Evans, incidentally, has been one of the politicians this month to enjoy some free publicity for her anti-racist commentary regarding the soccer games.
During our interview, Vetere seemed to me quite often to endeavor to show a fair hand to those that stood to benefit from racial tension in Pittsford. Still, evidence kept mounting for her that something more was afoot than honest actors endeavoring to live and let live. Vetere attended a community meeting held at Pittsford schools and hosted by a third party to address the issue of racial injustice. The meeting took place in 2019 before the current racially charged incidents, and the meeting seemed very controlled to Vetere, possibly to regulate speech. However, Vetere had only good things to say about a student she was seated near who had more or less acted as the spark for the meeting. The girl had been called a racist name on the playing field. Vetere recalled:
“She was a very brave young woman, [a] very well-spoken young lady who told her story. She was called something very offensive to her. But when I think about these type[s] of incidents, kids bullying, kids name-calling, these things have happened to every generation. It’s how you react to them, and in this particular case, the political push of the times behind it has escalated that one incident to snowball, so going forward now… It’s just being pushed at the school board meetings, this same group of people go to the school board meetings, and they are constantly pushing the school board and the superintendent, you know, diversity/inclusion/diversity/inclusion. ‘What are you going to do? You have to be held accountable. There has to be restorative justice.”
What was being built was a mechanism whereby rather than a student who has said something unconscionable, and as is traditional, being corrected, made to apologize, and all parties moving on from the event; instead, the offender would be tagged permanently as “racist,” tarred throughout the community, and positions and political careers would be built on the backs of teenage mistakes. I think it goes without saying that any politician who would benefit from this arrangement would fight tooth and nail their children or themselves being labeled in the community “racist,” “sexist,” or “homophobic” over something stupid said during their teen years. But children were now no longer off-limits to a new budding class of race hucksters. Vetere put it succinctly:
“Sometimes kids will say things in the heat of the moment. That is behavior that needs to be addressed, counseled, hopefully corrected, and remediated. You take one event, and it gets blown up as a tool to put forth an agenda.”
Additionally, the only restorative justice the town of Pittsford focused on during the current scandals puts teenagers under the gun. However, parents of the students accused of racism at the soccer games have suggested in an open letter to the community another kind of restorative justice, one which could put school administrators and budding politicians in the crosshairs. The parents, in their letter, called on Pittsford schools’ superintendent and board members to:
“Publicly state that, just as the District has no tolerance for racist behavior, it also has ZERO tolerance for false accusations, and state that these too will be punished when they are committed.”