In the aftermath of a series of peaceful protests against police brutality and racial injustice, Falls Mayor Robert Restaino has announced that the city will establish a social justice commission.
The mayor said he hoped to announce the members of what he expects will be a seven-member commission soon and said he hoped they would provide him with recommendations by the end of August.
“The issues that confront us go beyond just the police,” Restaino said during a news conference on Monday. “They include health care, unemployment, economic opportunity and education.”
Restaino said he had spent time talking with the leaders of the Falls protest rallies and wanted to take “the next steps” to bring about change.
“I am proud of the residents of Niagara Falls,” the mayor said. “They have conducted their demonstrations and their voices have been heard.”
With District Attorney Caroline Wojtaszek and Falls Police Superintendent Thomas Licata looking on, Restaino also praised the “professionalism” of Cataract City cops in handling the rallies and interacting with the demonstrators. The mayor noted that city police are operating under a consent decree with the New York Attorney General’s Office that requires a number of actions to improve relations with the community.
Noting that the department has met the requirements for change contained in the consent decree, Restaino said there was still room for improvements.
“Any healthy organization needs to continue to evaluate itself,” the mayor said. “I believe our law enforcement personnel are ready to have that discussion.”
Restaino, a former president of the Niagara Falls Board of Education, said he has already reached out to Falls Schools Superintendent Mark Laurrie to discuss the role of education in improving social justice in the city.
“I think the first role schools can play is to help keep the conversation (about social justice) going,” Laurrie said. “I think it’s our obligation to listen to the students. I think we have to listen to the student’s voices. We have to examine our practices.”
The superintendent said like other institutions, the schools need to increase their engagement with the minority communities and become more like the communities they serve.
“Our school population is 60 percent minority,” Laurrie said. “we need to continue to hire professionals who are not only the best at what they do, but who look like the students they’re teaching.”
ON TO PHASE 3
Niagara Falls officials announced Monday morning they will not be opening city pools this summer as a cost-saving measure prompted by revenue reductions as a result of the shutdown of business caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The news came as officials discussed Western New York’s Phase 3 re-opening of business on Tuesday.
The announcement means that indoor restaurants, nail salons, tattoo parlors and spas can re-open with appropriate safety precautions. Gov. Andrew Cuomo also announced that pools and playgrounds can reopen at the discretion of local governments.
Under Phase 3, indoor dining is permitted at 50 percent of seating capacity. Tables must be separated by a minimum of six feet in all directions and patrons must wear face coverings except while seated.
Cuomo has cautioned that restaurants could lose their liquor licenses if they do not comply with the guidelines and all establishments could be fined as much as $10,000 if they fail to comply.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who has overseen the Western New York re-opening, said gatherings of up to 25 people are also permitted now.
“We must remember that this is not a return to normal as this virus is still in our communities,” Hochul said. “Throughout each phase, I have visited small businesses across Western New York. I have seen such a spirit of optimism and hope – our businesses are ready to take the necessary steps to keep their customers and workers safe.”
At a Monday morning news conference, anticipating the governor’s announcement, Restaino invited reporters to return to the city on Tuesday to “enjoy the Falls’ many fine restaurants.”
“For me, this is a sigh of relief,” the mayor said. “The nightlife for our residents and tourists is built on our bars and restaurants. I hope we’ll really begin to see things working back to normal.”
Like Hochul, Restaino also urged that as businesses begin to come back, that patrons don’t lose “their focus on what got us here.”
“The last thing we want is what some of the southern states have faced,” he said. “We don’t want to have to shutdown again and regroup.”