Home > Essays > Syracuse Pool is for White People Only

Syracuse Pool is for White People Only

Apparently the appearance of brown or poor people having fun keeping cool was too much for the largely white business owners in downtown Syracuse, who have called the police on city residents trying to cope with the near-90 degree heat. According to the article Clinton Square fountain is not a pool in the Post-Standard:

After people showed up with beach towels and coolers on 85-degree days this week, Syracuse Police launched an education campaign to remind people that the fountain in Clinton Square is not a water park. Police officers rode bicycles and drove cars around the square today to shoo people out of the water.

Police will give friendly warnings for a few days, said Sgt. Gary Bulinski. By the end of the week, police could start writing tickets to people 16 and older and parents of those under 16 who are found in the fountain.

Syracuse Parks Commissioner Pat Driscoll said he and other city officials saw the crowd Tuesday and heard enough complaints to start enforcing the law.

Just to be clear: Clinton Square is a city park, and the “fountain” actually is a pool… it’s officially called a “reflecting pool” on the city parks website, though the fountains do tend to make the reflections kinda wiggly. This same non-pool pool is also used as an ice skating rink in the winter.

The comments after the Post-Standard article feature some of the worst kind of close-minded, racist and classist remarks which I won’t repeat. Suffice to say, there are some people here who feel that it’s better to spend city tax dollars to provide attractive views from office windows rather than make the city livable. That the response has been “call the cops” — even polite, bicycle-riding cops who are giving people a few days’ warning — says a lot about the city’s attitude towards its poor and brown people. Remember this is the city that once tore up its most racially diverse neighborhood to build an interstate.

Now, it’s fair to say that there are safety concerns — insufficient chlorination and possibly dangerous fixtures — that were clearly missed by the pool’s designers who, hello! didn’t anticipate people actually using it for cooling off in the summer. But sending in the police rather than address a clearly defined civic need seems pretty wrongheaded to me.

So, to recap. Here are some OK and not-OK uses of the Syracuse’s city park’s reflecting pool in Clinton Square:

OK: white people's wedding
(photo: Michelle Breidenbach/The Post-Standard)

OK: White people ice skating
(photo: Preservation Association of Central New York)

Not OK: Brown boy cooling off
(photo: Bill Wingell)

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Categories: Essays Tags: ,
  1. Maria
    May 27, 2010 at 9:27 am

    Good for you for calling out racism where you see it! I particularly like the contrast between it being okay to use the Clinton Square pool as a wading pool for a white people’s wedding versus it not being okay to use it for a brown child’s cooling off. The reflecting pool at Clinton Square and the pool at Everson Museum should both be adequately maintained to provide safety for residents of Syracuse who need to use them to cool off when our local weather goes through these record-breaking spells of heat and humidity. Especially when these hot days happen before the city pools are officially opened on Memorial Day weekend.

    • May 27, 2010 at 9:40 am

      Thanks for the comment, Maria! It’s so easy to fall back on “well that’s the law” without bothering to examine the privilege which underlies it.

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