Image: Dollar signs falling out of the sky; overlayed with prison bars. Text: Building Playgrounds for the Rich & Jails for the Poor

Building Playgrounds for the Rich and Jails for the Poor

Building Playgrounds for the Rich and Jails for the Poor*

by Gregory Lebens-Higgins

Who says that government can’t give us nice things? Just this week, Monroe County approved $4.3 million in tax exemptions for the latest sports fad, Topgolf, to come to CityGate. While its proponents tout jobs, tourism, and reinvestment in the local economy, without a doubt there exist more beneficial means of achieving these goals. This is just the latest insult by a political class demonstrating who they work for—not the working class, but the idle rich.

The end game is best exemplified by the aborted business improvement district (or “BID”) planned for downtown. County Executive Adam Bello and his cronies presented the BID as an opportunity to revitalize downtown. But in reality this would have been a playground for the rich, coming in from outer suburbs or riding down the elevators of their luxury condos to enjoy boat rides on the Genesee River overseen by a certified harbormaster, concerts on a floating stage, other shows and high-end shopping. The BID would be operated by and for property owners, passing inflated costs on to consumers and renters, and enhancing police presence to limit the access of “undesirables” into the space.

Thankfully, the BID was halted by a group of dedicated organizers. But the political class continues its efforts to secure its position alongside their rich donors. For them, power exists only for its own propagation, cementing lives of luxury paid for by the labor of the poor. Government, to them, is not about providing for and protecting the community, but a tool to enforce order and guarantee profit.

This status quo is protected by the unrestrained violence of the state. While there is never enough money to fully fund social services, there is always more room in the budget for police. Last May, the Monroe County Sheriff received $7 million from the County for more positions. This month, the state directed another $24 million toward police departments across the County. This is on top of the Sheriff’s $197 million allotted for 2024, up $20.5 million from 2023. Police are employed to maintain order by occupying poor neighborhoods and securing white spaces—the sanitized playgrounds of the rich. Anyone who does not fit in with their vision is slated for exile behind the prison walls.

We must organize to change this status quo. These are our dollars being invested in these hare-brained schemes and failing police policies. We demand accountability, transparency, and equity in funding decisions. These public dollars must be made available to all, rather than being funneled into increasingly privatized spaces. We need public squares where everyone can comfortably congregate, and entertainment venues that are open to all. We need housing, healthcare, education—and relief from predatory utilities like RG&E. We must be free of the burdens of our toil, so that we can play and enjoy life too.

*Acknowledgement to Political Organizer and Professor Sekou Franklin, whose use of this phrase in reference to Nashville, I came upon after writing the piece:

“Nashville is being built like a playground for the rich and a prison for the poor.”

One thought on “Building Playgrounds for the Rich and Jails for the Poor

  1. This munificence toward a private company promoting a boring sport, while denying us decent, affordable power in place of RG&E shows clearly which side Bello et al. are on! The only decent legislator was Rachel Barnhart, who was our voice in the wilderness.

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