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Protest organizers: Outsiders didn’t loot our city 

click to enlarge Protesters packed downtown Rochester for the May 30 Black Lives Matter demonstration. - FILE PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • FILE PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • Protesters packed downtown Rochester for the May 30 Black Lives Matter demonstration.
The organizers of Saturday’s Black Lives Matter rally are rejecting the narrative advanced by city and county officials that the chaos and looting that followed the otherwise peaceful protest was instigated by outsiders.

The mayhem was carried out in part, they said, by protesters from Rochester who are fed up with systemic racial discrimination here and across the country.

“The events that took place that evening in different parts of the city are the inevitable consequence of the exploitation of our labor, the extraction of our wealth, and a disregard for our basic humanity,” said Ashley Gantt, an organizer of the demonstration.

click to enlarge Ashley Gantt, an organizer of the the May 30 Black Lives Matter rally, speaks during a press conference on Tuesday, June 2. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • Ashley Gantt, an organizer of the the May 30 Black Lives Matter rally, speaks during a press conference on Tuesday, June 2.
Gantt and other organizers addressed reporters Tuesday outside the Rochester Police Locust Club headquarters on Lexington Avenue. They thanked protesters as well as people who have donated to their cause, money which they said is now being used to help demonstrators who were arrested. Thirteen people were arrested, according to police, and all of them were from Rochester or surrounding communities.  Three were charged with first-degree riot, a felony, while the others were charged with a mix of misdemeanors and violations, including disorderly conduct.

Officials, including Mayor Lovely Warren and police Chief La’Ron Singletary, have blamed “outsiders” and “outside agitators” and “outside anarchists” for the unrest — a common theme among elected officials in other cities where peaceful demonstrations devolved into mayhem.

"The anger and the pain at the root of Saturday's events is real,” organizer Stanley Martin said. “It is caused by a racist system that does not value black lives and encourages police across the country to terrorize our communities. Until that system is changed, the pain will remain and so will the anger."

click to enlarge "The anger and the pain at the root of Saturday's events is real," said Stanley Martin, an organizer of  the May 30 Black Lives Matter protest. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • "The anger and the pain at the root of Saturday's events is real," said Stanley Martin, an organizer of the May 30 Black Lives Matter protest.
During a news conference Saturday night in which Warren and other officials fingered outsiders for the destruction, Warren led her remarks by calling for change across Rochester and society at large. She said the country was built on a history of inequality and racism, and that recent events show those historic and systemic inequalities continue today.

“Today’s actions on our streets show that the anger is real and it must be recognized and it has to be addressed,” Warren said. “I, too, am very angry. I share the pain as a black woman, as a wife of a black man, and as a mother of a black child.”

She praised the protest organizers for a demonstration that peacefully brought together people of different races, cultures, and ethnicities to “express their anger and call for change.”

“Unfortunately, after this group of people left, outsiders — and I do mean outsiders, not from our community — decided to set police cars on fire,” Warren said, shortly before announcing a 9 p.m. curfew.

“Look at the videos. Show those pictures. Their actions set other events into motion and effectively overshadowed the meaningful moment that the organizers of today’s earlier event worked collectively to create,” Warren went on. “Those that are driving this violence are not of this city, they are not of Rochester.”

The mayor sought to clarify her remarks the following day, saying that by “outsiders” she meant people not associated with the Black Lives Matter movement.

But the organizers on Tuesday did not disavow the destruction and looting that grew out of the protest. They argued that laying blame on outsiders ignored the pain and suffering felt by people of color in the community, and said the only “outside agitators” were the police, whom they said used tear gas and pepper spray on protesters without warning.

"Members of our community were safe, they were nonviolent,” Martin said. “And if even if they weren’t, it comes from years of suffering oppression. The only outside agitators were the police. That's what we believe and that's what we stand by."

When asked about the police response, Rochester Police Locust Club President Mike Mazzeo said none of the officers chose to be at the protest and they were only following orders.

“They don’t make any decisions...They have to take every command and order that’s given to them,” Mazzeo said.

In other developments, the protest organizers called on elected and police officials to make several major changes in practice, policy, and law.

They urged officials to spend less on policing and pull school resource officers in Rochester city schools. Instead, they said, officials should invest in school nurses and social workers, community-based alternatives to incarceration, and restorative justice efforts.

“When we talk about police brutality and what our community experiences, we need to address the harm that it does when we introduce police into our school systems,” especially through arrests that criminalize black children, organizer Stevie Vargas said.
click to enlarge Stevie Vargas, an organizer of the the May 30 Black Lives Matter rally, speaks during a press conference on Tuesday, June 2. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • Stevie Vargas, an organizer of the the May 30 Black Lives Matter rally, speaks during a press conference on Tuesday, June 2.
The organizers also called on elected officials to donate political contributions they have received from law enforcement groups to bail funds for protesters or community organizations that address racial inequalities.

Lastly, they called for a repeal of section 50-A of the state’s Civil Service Law, which many government and police officials invoke to withhold details about officer misconduct and disciplinary actions.

That lack of transparency leads to a lack of faith in police departments, said organizer Iman Abid, executive director of the Genesee Valley Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

“Often, we have no idea what happens to cops when we see brutalized black lives,” Abid said.

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

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