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Accusations traded over police altercation 

click to enlarge Adam McFadden - PHOTO BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
  • PHOTO BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
  • Adam McFadden
A cell-phone video of a police altercation in northeast Rochester has many in the African-American community decrying what they say is another example of police using excessive force against people of color. But the way some members of City Council are trying to quell that outrage is irresponsible and is putting police officers at risk, says the head of the police union.

The conflict stems from an incident earlier this month at Avenue A and Hollenbeck Street, the site of a well-known open-air marijuana market. At the request of residents of the Avenue A-Hollenbeck area and Council member Mike Patterson, who represents the Northeast District, police have been making a special effort to disrupt drug sales there.

Police went to the area on September 15 after observing numerous drug transactions over a surveillance camera, says Mike Mazzeo, the head of the police union, the Locust Club.

Five arrests were made and seven dime bags of marijuana were recovered, police say

A portion of the police operation was recorded on a bystander’s cell phone and was posted on social media. Part of the video shows a police officer pursuing a woman, grabbing her from behind, and the two struggling and falling to the ground.

Outrage over the recording caused Council member Adam McFadden to hold a special meeting of Council’s public safety committee last week. McFadden chairs the committee and says that he held the meeting in public for transparency’s sake. Council members spent over an hour questioning Police Chief Mike Ciminelli and other members of the department about the incident and about police procedures overall.

But many key questions, such as why the woman was pursued in the first place, went unanswered due to the ongoing investigation into the incident. Frustrated audience members disrupted the meeting several times and eventually brought it to a premature close.

While acknowledging that he hadn’t seen all of the available video of the incident or read through all of the information, McFadden said at the meeting that the woman in the video didn’t appear to be disrupting the police on the scene. He also said that “any man who would attack a woman from behind is a punk.”

Incidents like the one at Avenue A and Hollenbeck are the unsurprising result of longstanding tension between law enforcement and the black community, McFadden said, as well as racist drug policies and institutional racism in police departments across the country.

And he said that he would look into forming a task force that would determine how the city should react when incidents such as the one at Hollenbeck and Avenue A occur.

But at a press conference on Monday, the Locust Club’s Mazzeo said it was a mistake to hold the meeting before all of the information could be made public. Releasing only bits of information creates misinterpretations and inflames tension, he said.

Additional video footage, including footage from police body cameras, was released Tuesday afternoon on YouTube. That footage can be viewed at: https://youtu.be/uR4Can2VK3o, https://youtu.be/jXEKm2IGJow, https://youtu.be/pchG6CRjUjM, https://youtu.be/8_OhtoqDuX0, and https://youtu.be/-wNspfhIWvU.

At the press conference, Mazzeo said the woman in the video was told that she was under arrest and was walking away to avoid it. She told police she would not cooperate, and the officer’s subsequent actions were justified, Mazzeo said.

The Council meeting and McFadden’s comments only serve to further poison some in the community against the police, Mazzeo said. Police officers are being threatened over the Avenue A-Hollenbeck incident, he said; officers’ names have been posted online with instructions to seek out their addresses.

The default position of some in the community and of some elected officials seems to be that the police are always at fault, Mazzeo said. He wants to work with City Council, local clergy, the police chief, and others on how to present information to the public when incidents like this one occur, he said, so that a fuller, more accurate picture emerges.

A portion of the police operation was recorded on a bystander’s cell phone and was posted on social media. Part of the video shows a police officer pursuing a woman, grabbing her from behind, and the two struggling and falling to the ground.

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