ROCHESTER — “Basta ya con las drogas!” “Enough with the drugs!”
This phrase was repeatedly shouted in both English and Spanish by neighbors and parishioners of Our Lady of the Angels Parish as they marched around several streets near St. Michael Church Sept. 2 to demand an end to drug activity in the area.
“We want to educate folks that they’re making bad choices in their lives,” Deacon Dan Hurley, Our Lady of the Angels’ pastoral administrator, said of people who use or sell drugs. “We love the sinner but we hate the sin.”
The march — which was the second of three such anti-drug protests that have been planned — featured a group of about 40 people who carried banners and stopped in front of houses where known drug activity has taken place. They pleaded for people at those houses to stop selling or using drugs, and various speakers used bullhorns to ensure that their message was heard. Three officers from the Rochester Police Department, including Commander Jeffrey Clark who oversees Patrol Division East, accompanied the marchers throughout the entire walk.
“If you need help getting rehab, we’ll help you,” said Father Laurence Tracy, a longtime advocate for Hispanics in the city. “But you are destroying our youth.”
Some of the neighbors — many of who were children — waved from inside and outside their homes. Residents sitting on porches also applauded or expressed their thanks to the marchers. Others just stared at the protesters or ignored their pleas.
Miguel Mel√©ndez, coordinator of Project HOPE (Health Outcomes through Participation, Education and Empowerment), also walked with the group. Project HOPE is an initiative funded by the Greater Rochester Health Foundation in collaboration with Ibero-American Development Corp. and strives to improve the overall health of several of the city’s northeast neighborhoods. In order to accomplish that goal, neighbors have told project staff members that the drug activity on their streets must cease, Mel√©ndez noted.
“The big issues are drugs and youth development, and they all tie into each other,” Mel√©ndez said. “It’s natural for us to work with the church who have a vested interest in this community.”
In light of that, he said that he began discussions with Our Lady of the Angels and Rochester police officials to bring the community together for an Aug. 19 meeting, which is when the group decided to hold the series of marches to send a message to area drug dealers.
Two drug-related arrests that occurred before and during the first march on Aug. 25 illustrate the challenge of eradicating the local drug problem, Mel√©ndez remarked. During the Sept. 2 march, two of the officers accompanying the group left to briefly search for drugs in bushes near a house on Evergreen Street. Bushes are often where dealers will hide their stash, said Mayo Cortes Rodr√≠guez, who remembers when the streets surrounding St. Michael Church were bustling with businesses and beautiful homes.
Today, some of those beautiful homes remain but often are situated between condemned properties that have holes in the roofs and boarded-up windows. Vacant lots also dot the streets.
During the march, Cortes Rodr√≠guez spoke in front of a known drug house and asked the men standing outside of it to join the protest.
“This is a peaceful march against drugs,” she said. “We want our neighborhood clean. We need your help.”
The young men did not move.
Officer Mark Rohr said that the group’s effort is a good one.
“There are so many drugs in the area,” he said. “Anything will help.”