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Buyback Time

Troy pastor was instrumental in drawing $25,000 in state aid to combat gun violence—now he would like to see it used


T he Rev. Willie Bacote makes an impressive plea: “We want to see the guns off the streets! We want to see the violence out of here! What is gonna happen if, God forbid, in a week or two, we are sitting here, and we are dragging our feet and our legs and our butts, and another gun goes off and another young child’s life is taken? And we been sitting here, twiddling our fingers?”

Clearly frustrated, he asked, “How many articles do we need?”

Bacote pastors the Missing Link Street Ministry in North Troy, and has been involved in the Troy nonprofit community for more than a decade, including working at the Lansingburgh Girls & Boys Club. But you can’t ask for “Rev. Bacote” in the community that knows him best; you have to ask for Rev. Willie.

Bacote has been pushing since May to begin a gun buyback program in Troy, similar to the ones started in Schenectady and Albany, even catching former Sen. Joe Bruno during his end-of-career spending spree and securing $25,000 for the program.

The motivation for Bacote’s program came in the most tragic form: He stood in front of 250 members of his community, many of them children, and eulogized a young man allegedly gunned down over an argument about a cell phone. The alleged shooter was the victim’s cousin. “They ate at the same table, man. They grew up together. I never want to conduct a funeral like that again,” Bacote said of the service for Dustin Smith.

The program, as Bacote envisions it, would give anyone who brings in a gun a $150 gift certificate to businesses in Troy. The guns would be accepted, no questions asked. But, even with $25,000 from the former senator, Bacote lacks the ability to get the program under way. For that, he needs to partner with members of the law-enforcement community. He has spoken with Rensselaer County District Attorney Richard McNally, Troy Police Chief Nicholas Kaiser, and others, “and for some reason they are saying to me, ‘I am not too adamant about this. But come on, man, who cares about your adamancy? We need to do something.”

McNally said that he supports initiatives that could help curb violence in North Central, but pointed out that it takes time to establish effective programs. His counterpart in Schenectady County, Robert Carney, spent nearly a year planning with community members, religious leaders, and members of the police force.

Plus, McNally said, he wants to explore other programs that could help curb gun violence, beyond the simple buyback program. Chief Kaiser agreed. The police department is not yet wedded to any possible use of the funds, but intends to use the money to “enhance our existing crime-reduction initiatives.” He and his senior staff, he said, “are currently working on identifying effective strategies and determining who we will ultimately partner with in this effort.”

Although secured by Bacote, the money will be administered by the police, and any program must have the chief’s approval.

Members of the Fallon Apartment Community Center, on 5th Avenue in North Central Troy, express doubt that a gun-buyback program that relies on kids bringing guns to the police will have much success.

“It’s a tough sell to the kids,” a woman who works with the free meals program at the center said. The children worry that if they bring a gun to the police, they will be associated with guns after that, and targeted for harassment in the future.

There is, she said, a serious distrust of the police in this neighborhood, and cops have long memories.

Further, there are vocal critics inside the law-enforcement community who doubt the success of gun-buyback programs. According to a 1996 review by the Police Executive Research Forum, guns turned in during gun buyback programs tend to be old and malfunctioning or owned by individuals who have little use for them.

Bacote has said that he understands the need for planning before the instituting a gun-buyback program, but he is getting impatient. He said that he has yet to be contacted by anyone to discuss the possibility of the program.

“We ain’t trying to be law officials, but if we can help you by bringing you one of these guns, that is a detriment to our community, then we are gonna do it,” Bacote said. “But they have the audacity to say to me that they will see what they will do with that money. And I say, ‘See what you’ll do with what money? You’ll do what Sen. Bruno earmarked that money for.’ You’ll give that money to my ministry, ’cause I don’t wanna see another child die. It’s not necessary. They have got the power to stop this, so why won’t they? It’s time to stop this. Or you gonna wait until they kill all my little brothers and sisters?”

—Chet Hardin

What a Week

Parting Gifts. Joe Bruno wrapped up his 32-year state Senate career this week by doing what he always did best: handing out millions of dollars in taxpayer cash. The former majority leader directed $6 million to Saratoga Springs for the expansion of Saratoga Springs City Center. He secured $6 million for Troy to raze its current city hall and build a parking garage and riverfront park in its place. And he promised $90 million to expand the nanotechnology center at SUNY Albany, according to Times Union’s Rick Karlin. Over the past seven months, Karlin reported, Bruno has pledged $153.5 million dollars of state money for Capital Region businesses and projects, which breaks down to $13.60 from every taxpayer.

Tinseltown Is a Conservative Town, Too. Driven, they claim, by their belligerent hard-left colleagues, a relatively small cadre of actors, screenwriters, producers, and so on, have formed Friends of Abe, a Hollywood-based support group for the conservatively minded. “There’s a kind of . . . intellectual terror in this town,” writer David Horowitz lamented to The Washington Times. “To provide aid and comfort” to the victims of this terror, Horowitz continued, actor and director Gary Sinise has spent months quietly organizing Friends of Abe meetings in exclusive restaurants and billionaires’ mansions, where like-minded Hollywood conservatives can discuss methods to extend, protect, and promote their ideology.

We Own Your ASs Democracy Now! reported that Coca-Cola, Motorola, Google, Comcast, AT&T, and other corporations are spending millions of dollars sponsoring both the Republican and Democratic national conventions. The exact dollar amount that each of the 146 corporate sponsors have donated is unknowable, due to a loophole in campaign-finance law that allows for the money to be funneled into the committees that manage the conventions. This exemption, which was created in the 1990s, Democracy Now! explained, allows for these donations to be uncapped. At the DNC, conventiongoers (perhaps as a sign of camaraderie in the wake of the Democrats acquiescence on the FISA amendment vote) will be able to tote around an AT&T-emblazoned “welcome bag.”

Burning Issue

New York state farmers express concern over proposed open-burning ban, but enviromentalists say it will reduce pollution

We all share the air we breathe, and we all have to work together to keep it clean,” said Michael Seilback, the vice president of public policy and communications for the American Lung Association of New York. The Department of Environmental Conservation agrees; it has proposed a statewide ban on all open burning in an attempt to reduce cancer-causing contaminants, such as dioxins, and other air pollutants.

Open burning is typically done in a barrel or pit, and current regulation prohibits open burning in cities with 20,000 or more residents. The new regulation would extend to all of New York, with some exceptions, prohibiting the burning of household garbage, paper, plastics, rubber, metal foils, and organic waste.

The proposed ban has raised some concerns among farmers who regularly burn agricultural waste, such as brush and hay-bale wrappings.

“None of us are in love with open burning,” said Peter Gregg, spokesman for the New York Farm Bureau, which represents roughly 35,000 individuals, but it is a practice that most farmers rely on. Farming can produce vast quantities of waste, and few transfer stations will accept these materials. “There needs to be a viable alternative in place to dispose of agricultural materials, and until there is, there should not be a ban.”

If the ban is instituted, he continued, many of the farmers are concerned with the extra cost of garbage disposal.

The ban also would affect people living in more rural communities who opt to burn household waste, lawn clippings and brush, and so on, instead of paying to have that material hauled to a landfill. The DEC estimates that the increase in disposal costs for individual households could average anywhere between $104 and $412 per year, and anticipates that communities will raise taxes in order to pay for increased disposal, said DEC representative Lori O’Connell.

According to the Division of Solid and Hazardous Materials, a community with a population of 1,000 will see an increase in the cost of disposal by as much as $12,155 per year.

There would be some exceptions to the ban, said O’Connell. These exceptions include grills, small fires, fire training, the burning of flags or religious items, ceremonial fires, and some agricultural waste burning. Farms larger than five acres will be allowed to burn natural agricultural waste, such as brush and leaves, as long as it is done burning within 24 hours.

There are 815 towns in New York that do not fall under the current ban, she continued. If the ban does become a law, the DEC likely will need to rely more on complaints by citizens then enforcement by DEC officers. The general fines for breaking the proposed ban range from $375 to $15,000 for the first offense, depending on severity.

“This ban is such a benefit to the farmers because it’ll keep their products healthy,” insisted Donald Hassig, an activist and director of Cancer Action NY. The pollution released from open burning contains dioxins, which can contaminate the area where farm animals feed.

Dioxins are a well-documented carcinogen, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, created due to poor or incomplete combustion, usually caused by lack of oxygen or low temperatures, which is common during open burning. Dioxins can be released from materials such as bleached paper, treated wood, plastics, and pesticide wastes.

The EPA reported that open burning was responsible for the release of 57 percent of dioxins in the United States from 2002 to 2004, making open burning the largest producer of dioxins nationwide.

After being released into the air, dioxins—as well as arsenic, lead, nickel, and chromium—settle on nearby land and into bodies of water. Livestock and fish can then ingest them, leading to the buildup of the pollutants in the fat of these animals, which causes the contamination of meat and dairy products, according to the EPA and DEC.

“People are learning about the open-burning dioxin source, and if people keep doing so, consumers will start avoiding [unprotected] foods,” Hassig warned. “The farmers need to spend the money to have a healthy product for the consumers.”

The New York State Environmental Board ultimately will decide if the ban will be enacted. However, the public-comment period for the proposed ban has been extended to Aug. 14, said O’Connell. “The public comments are looked at very carefully before deciding on whether or not there should be a ban.”

—Chris Mueller

Photo: Shannon DeCelle

And All We Got Was This Photo

Anheuser Busch merged with InBev after a takeover in which the Belgian company offered $70 a share for the St. Louis-based American beverage company. The total InBev spent to purchase the 150-year-old brewery was $49.9 billion, rewarding the company’s stockholders with profits 11 times higher than the predicted 2009 earnings. This week, the Budwesier Clydesdales toured the Northeast in a marketing campaign, making stops throughout the Capital Region. Many analysts see the selling of Budweiser to a European company as the unavoidable consequence of a stricken dollar, which is currently worth 60 cents on the Euro.

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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