The Coopers, Formerly of Lovejoy

Let’s dispense for a moment with the “it’s the people” canard about why Buffalo is great – the City of Good Neighbors. 

The reality is that some people are great and neighborly, and others aren’t. Buffalonians are no more or less great or neighborly than any other Americans. Sorry, but you’re not special. 

This comes into stark view as we find out about the violent racist harassment that drove a Black family out of Lovejoy last week. When you have a lost generation of people who can no longer rely on steady industrial work in now-dormant or departed facilities, you get anger and resentment. Young, angry, and resentful people develop irrational hatreds and sometimes act out on them. 

That socioeconomic fact is, however, no excuse. The Coopers of Lovejoy have every right to live wherever they please, without fear of constant harassment from small-minded racists. The Buffalo News stories (here and here) about the issue were well done and provided extraneous details, such as the muttering of racial epithets within a News photographer’s earshot. 

Neighbors thought the family was a “gang” because, well, the Coopers are a large Black family. 

We shouldn’t be tolerating pogroms in 2012 in Buffalo, and another matter comes into stark view. Where is our political leadership on this issue? Rich Fontana is the city councilman from Lovejoy, and he laid blame on the victims

“The family was originally harassed, but when they called in other family members for protection, they turned the situation upside down, and they became the aggressors by sending two Lovejoy youths to the hospital and robbing fast food delivery people,” Fontana said. “After that, I got involved and told both sides to stop the aggression. It was calm until 4:30 this morning.”

Cooper took issue with Fontana’s assessment.

She said that white youths and adults threw rocks and bricks at one of her sons and a nephew, prompting family members to fight back, adding that it occurred after months of racial slurs. “It wears on you,” she said.

As for the allegations of fast food thefts, Cooper said no one at her home ordered the pizza or Chinese food and that no one on her porch attempted to take it.

But the delivery workers filed police reports late Tuesday night, with one claiming an order of pizza and chicken wings was snatched from him and the other reporting that he managed to flee with the Chinese food before it could be taken.

So, the Coopers certainly didn’t find any help or sympathy from Fontana. It’s their fault someone pranked them by ordering food for them. It’s their fault they fought back against harassment. Yet that contradicts this: 

“I’m telling all the residents and every kid I can pull into my arms to stop the attacks, unless you’re attacked first. You do have the right to defend yourself, but don’t be the aggressor against anyone in the neighborhood,” [Fontana] said.

Well, too late. The Coopers moved away. Mayor Brown got briefly involved, but this was an opportunity for him to use his bully pulpit for good. Seeing no ribbons to cut, he has shown zero leadership on yet another critical issue facing the city. 

Good people are good, and bad people are bad – and they come in every hue, from every nation. One would have thought that, in 2012, we’d all be on the same page with that. And in Buffalo, we reserve our outrage for important matters, like footballers’ criticisms of our hotels and the giggles of a different Cooper – Anderson, of Manhattan. 

11 comments

  • If you ever want to see how “neighborly” this city is, check the comments section on the websites for the Buffalo News, or any of the local news stations.  Channel 2’s was so bad that they only allow comments via a Facebook connection now.  You would think Buffalo is a Klan hotbed.

  • Good thing the neighborhood didn’t have any volunteer neighborhood watch people lurking around.

  • After living in Boston, MA for 7 years and moving back home to Buffalo 8 years ago, I can  unequivocally say, the below statement that you made is a bullshit.  Maybe in your world Boston was a nice, friendly place, but definitely not in mine.”The reality is that some people are great and neighborly, and others
    aren’t. Buffalonians are no more or less great or neighborly than any
    other Americans. Sorry, but you’re not special. “

    •  I am pretty sure he never implied that Boston is a nice, friendly place either.

    • I never wrote that Boston was great. What I wrote was that Buffalo doesn’t hold some monopoly on nice (or bad) people. Empirically speaking, we aren’t any better or worse neighbors than, say, people from Fargo or Scottsdale. 

      • But Buffalonians are more authentic and real, right? We talk to people in line at supermarkets and stuff.

        /buffalorising

      •  No one is allowed to question how great the people of Buffalo are.  Buffalonians constantly bring up the “friendliness” of the people when defending attacks on Buffalo’s economy, politics or weather, usually to point to the single positive thing about Buffalo they can think of.  You can’t take that away too!

    • I lived in Boston for a few years and found people to be just as friendly as they are here, if not more so. I’ve also lived in several other cities and experienced really nice people who went out of their way to help their neighbors.

      Maybe you’re the problem and the only people you can get along with are Buffalonians.

  • I grew up in the Kensington neighborhood, and was there in the 1970s when blacks first started to move into the area.  There was nothing resembling this kind of hostility; no harassment, no violence, no vandalism, no muttering of racial slurs.   The response was mainly along the lines of  “I don’t have a problem with them as long as they keep up their lawns.”

    Why the lack of hostility in Kensington back in the day, versus what’s been experienced in Lovejoy over the past decade or so? 

    1)  At the time, Kensington was a largely lower-middle to middle-class, white- and blue-collar neighborhood.  It was a place inhabited by teachers, police officers and firefighters, low-level UB staff, skilled industrial workers, and young couples and families buying their first homes.   Blacks that moved into Kensington were in the same socioeconomic group.  There was very little culture clash; at least not until poorer blacks began to move in in the late 1980s and early 1990s, at which time both established white and black residents left. 

    Lovejoy is a predominantly working-class to lower-middle class neighborhood.  Blacks moving into Lovejoy generally aren’t in the same “aspirant class” as those who pioneered Kensington.  In integrating neighborhoods, there’s far more conflict when both the established and new group are in lower socioeconomic groups, or when the incoming group is much poorer than the established group. 

    2)  In the 1970s, Kensington was unusual in that it wasn’t an “ethnic” neighborhood.  There was a German plurality, but there was also a large Big Three presence, along with scattered Jews and Asians.  Residents were used to living in a community that was diverse by the standards of 1970s Buffalo.

    Lovejoy is a predominantly Italian neighborhood, and an physical and social enclave at that, surrounded by Polish and Black neighborhoods.

    Also, middle-income and wealthier neighborhoods in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions tend to have more success at maintaining successful long-term integration; see Parkside, Hyde Park in Chicago, or the Heights/Hillcrest communities east of Cleveland.   There are very few stably integrated working-class neighborhoods in the Great Lakes region; South Wedge in Rochester is one very rare example, and it’s gentrifying.

  • Alan is right. Buffalo is no more or less friendly than any other city in the country.

    When I lived in Black Rock, I don’t think I spoke to any of my neighbors once. If anything, I find most people in Buffalo keep their head down and avoid any kind of street interaction when possible.

  • I have no more than the various news media as my guide. But it did sadden me that theCooper family did get isolated in that neighborhood.

    It struck me that if people were driving up and down my street shouting racial slurs I would call “911,” and would expect response and I would have called Fontana that night as well.

    I didn’t see any mention of complaints.

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