ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — What started as a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally in downtown Rochester Saturday ended with vehicles on fire, tear gas deployed, police cars being vandalized, and more destruction.
“What you saw here today was chaos. Pure chaos, not a protest.” Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary said. “What happened today was sparked by anarchists.”
The event started peacefully around 1 p.m. at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park at Manhattan Square with prayer, song, and guided meditation. After that the group marched from the park to the Public Safety Building
The protest had a large turnout despite sporadic rain showers throughout the day.
Things remained peaceful for the first few hours, but became tense close to 5 p.m. when tear gas was deployed on the crowds.
Demonstrators then vandalized a few police cars, including flipping a few vehicles over in the parking lot across the street from the Public Safety Building.
Around 6 p.m. a vehicle was lit on fire outside the Public Safety Building.
A second vehicle had been set on fire around 6:30 p.m.
A viewer sent these photos to News 8 of reported looting on East Main Street.
Here’s a look at the aftermath a few hours later:
Irondequoit Town Supervisor Dave Seeley tweeted around 7 p.m. that looting had begun along East Ridge Road.
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren issued a curfew for the city at 9 p.m. and Monroe County Executive Adam Bello issued a state of emergency. They then addressed the media, saying the destruction was caused by “professional protesters” and not by people from the city.
Singletary said that RPD officers will be out, enforcing the curfew and picking up people who violate it.
At that press conference with Bello and Warren, Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter and Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary both said they believed the people responsible for Saturday’s chaos were “professional protesters” and came into the area for the event, and not citizens of Rochester.
“We are loaded with empathy, we are loaded with compassion,” Sheriff Baxter said. “Those people that were protesting earlier were seeking change in our community. What happened afterward was hijacked.”
Just before 11 p.m. Greece Police Chief Patrick Phelan said a small group of people were attempting to loot.
Rochester police officials say five people suffered non-life threatening injuries during the events that transpired Saturday.
“We got photos, we got license plate numbers,” Mayor Warren said. “If you’re at home thinking you got away with this, you didn’t.”
After a night of chaos, clean started the following morning, including hundreds of people showing up at Frontier Field where a community-wide effort was organized.
Special on-air coverage:
Elected officials were there for the demonstration, including Rep. Joe Morelle (D-25) and Monroe County Executive Adam Bello.
Also attending the rally Saturday in Rochester was Dr. Cephas Archie, City of Rochester Chief Equity Officer, and former Chief Diversity Officer of SUNY Brockport.
Statement from Rochester’s Police Accountability Board:
“The Rochester Police Accountability Board Alliance is deeply saddened and outraged by the recent escalation of police violence against Black people both across the nation and here in Rochester. In 2014, Eric Garner pleaded for mercy, and uttered the words, “I can’t breathe”. Years later, we find ourselves forced to relive the trauma and tragedy of seeing another Black man murdered by the police, uttering the same words, “I can’t breathe”.
We stand in solidarity with the family of George Floyd, with the family of Breonna Taylor, and with the families of all those who have been harmed and killed by police violence in Rochester and across the nation. We refuse to let these heinous murders of civilians by police be in vain, and are committed to holding police in our city accountable for all acts of violence and misconduct against civilians.
We unwaveringly stand with the family of the Black 10 year old child here in Rochester who was handcuffed by the Rochester Police Department (RPD) on May 17. Detaining a child in handcuffs is coercive, violent, traumatizing, and ultimately incompatible with public safety. This is especially so in the midst of a public health emergency. We therefore demand the abolition of any policies that allow for such unnecessary force; and we demand the accountability of any officers who commit or condone such violence.
Minneapolis, like Rochester, is deeply segregated and over 90% of officers in both cities do not live in the communities they patrol and occupy. Police must be held accountable by the communities they serve. The officer who murdered Floyd, Derek Chauvin, was himself the subject of at least 10 complaints on his record, demonstrating what happens when we do not hold police accountable swiftly and effectively. A Police Accountability Board (PAB) with effective disciplinary power, as established by 75% of city voters in the last election, would save lives and remove murderers like Chauvin before they cause further irreparable harm to the community.
Beyond the PAB, we call on our local elected officials to invest in social supports that address underlying factors that result in crime such as poverty and institutional racism instead of over-policing low income neighborhoods. While we can’t undo the harm committed against George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others both in Rochester and across the country, we have a duty to prevent it from happening again.”
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.