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‘Righteous rally’ overshadowed by violence, Stewart says

The Rev. Lewis Stewart speaks on recent interactions between the community and police.
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The Rev. Lewis Stewart speaks on recent interactions between the community and police.

The Rev. Lewis Stewart and the United Christian Leadership Ministry spoke Monday in support of this weekend’s Black Lives Matter rally -- but said the rioting and looting that followed do not honor the memory of George Floyd. 

Floyd's death on May 25 in Minneapolis after a police officer knelt on his neck sparked protests across the country, including in Rochester. 

“What has overshadowed a righteous rally for justice against racism is the criminal violence and vandalism which transpired on Monroe Avenue, West Main Street and other places in the city and even in Irondequoit,” said Stewart.

During a news conference, Stewart said the public should channel this energy into criminal justice reform efforts in hopes of preventing future deaths at the hands of police. 

He also repeated a claim made Saturday by Mayor Lovely Warren and others that “outside agitators” instigated the violence. He condemned those who joined in on the violence, saying that they should be prosecuted. 

“I urge peaceful protesters to not allow these people with another agenda to hijack your protest demonstration,” Stewart said. 

He said he fears that violence could make these protests less effective.

Stewart also expressed concerns about the breadth and depth of the violence in the African American community after the rally and on a day-to-day basis. 

“We need a Ten Commandments in our community,” said Stewart. “You shall not commit violence, you shall not loot and steal, you shall not stab and kill each other, This is what we need, a moral code. We need a moral standard that does not exist.”

Stewart said these actions speak to a "moral decay" of some members of the community and argued that African Americans need to “get our house in order.”

“Now if we say that a police officer has taken a black life and we want to raise the mantra that black lives matter,” Stewart continued, “then we need to raise that mantra in our own community and say that black lives matter among our own people.”

He also continued his push for police reform locally, highlighting an incident in May when Rochester Police handcuffed a 10-year-old girl during a traffic stop while her parents were arrested.

Police Chief La'Ron Singletary said it was for her own safety because they thought the girl would run into traffic. But Stewart said that’s not a good enough excuse.

“That was not a good way of restraining her,” said Stewart. “There should have been something else in place and not handcuffs.”

After an investigation, Singletary said that no rules or procedures were broken during the stop. 

Warren, City Council President Loretta Scott and Council Vice President Willie Lightfoot have all spoken out against handcuffing children. Scott and Lightfoot are asking for those procedures to be changed.

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.