Pin It
.
Favorites

Coronavirus and civil unrest are forever linked 

click to enlarge One of many Black Lives Matter marches that took place in the Rochester area during the course of the pandemic - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • One of many Black Lives Matter marches that took place in the Rochester area during the course of the pandemic
Before May 25, the pandemic and the economic free-fall it had precipitated dominated headlines. But that day, a police officer kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds on a Minneapolis street and killed him.

Floyd’s killing ignited nationwide civil unrest. People took to the streets in cities across the country to protest not only his death, but the systemic and structural racism that his death — and later that of Daniel Prude — came to represent.

In that sense, the pandemic and the mass racial justice demonstrations were intrinsically linked. Just as people of color were at disproportionate risk of arrest, incarceration, and police violence, so too were they at greater risk than whites of contracting COVID-19.

On May 30, Black Lives Matter organizers in Rochester put together a protest in response to Floyd’s killing. By some estimates, more than 1,000 people marched through downtown, chanting, singing, and denouncing the Rochester Police Department.

Around 4 p.m., the crowd encircled the city Public Safety Building on Exchange Street. There, two patrol cars were destroyed, city vehicles were flipped over, and demonstrators danced on a police cruiser.

Officers quashed the protest by firing PepperBalls and tear gas canisters into the crowd. By 7 p.m. the crowd had dispersed, but looting had begun in some areas of the city and adjacent suburbs, and both the city and county called a 9 p.m. curfew. Similar scenes had played out in cities across the country.

Protests, organized by Free the People Roc, continued on a regular basis throughout the summer. As the crowds repeatedly called on city government to “defund the police,” officers working crowd control generally kept their distance.

click to enlarge Protesters display signs at one of the several demonstrations which occurred at the city's Public Safety Building. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • Protesters display signs at one of the several demonstrations which occurred at the city's Public Safety Building.
They took on a renewed sense of urgency by September, however, when Prude’s death at the hands of Rochester police officers was made public. The nightly demonstrations that followed were met with higher levels of force from the police, especially as protesters neared the Public Safety Building. The officers fired indiscriminate volleys of tear gas and PepperBalls into the crowds, the latter striking some protesters in the head and chest. The Democrat and Chronicle reported that officers fired over 6,000 PepperBalls during the first three nights of protests.

The pressure generated by activists and demonstrators ultimately led the city and county to make changes to the ways they handle people in mental distress, as Prude was the night he was suffocated.

County Executive Adam Bello pledged to bulk up an Office of Mental Health program that pairs mental health clinicians with police officers responding to calls in which a person is experiencing a crisis.

Mayor Lovely Warren’s administration created a Person in Crisis team staffed by 14 workers who are to respond to some mental health or substance abuse calls instead of police.

Both the city and county efforts are still under development.

Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at jmoule@rochester-citynews.com.

click to enlarge champion-story-banner.gif

In This Guide...

Browse Listings

Submit an event

Tweets @RocCityNews

Website powered by Foundation     |     © 2021 CITY News