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Attorneys rally to condemn George Floyd’s killing and systemic racism

Jun 4, 2020

Attorneys with the Monroe County Bar Association, the Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys, and others protested police brutality and systemic racism Thursday outside the Public Safety Building in downtown Rochester.

The Public Safety Building was the site of protests last Saturday in the wake of George Floyd’s death on May 25 while in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd's death after a police officer knelt on his neck sparked protests across the country.

A woman wears a shirt reading "Black Lawyers Matter" at the demonstration Thursday afternoon outside the Public Safety Building in Rochester.
Credit Max Schulte | WXXI News

About 100 people wearing masks marched Thursday from the Telesca Center for Justice to the Public Safety Building, where speakers addressed the crowd. A moment of silence was held in honor of Floyd just hours before his memorial service in Minneapolis. 

Attorney Duwaine Bascoe, former president of the Rochester Black Bar Association, spoke at the rally. 

“Racist cops and civilians have killed an untold number of George Floyds from 1619 to today,” he said by phone earlier Thursday. “If we allow the voices telling us to entertain some kind of bastardized notion of peace which they refer to as the absence of struggle, then there’s going to be a George Floyd tomorrow.”

Systemic racism is evident in school curriculum, in hiring practices, and in other facets of life, Bascoe said, adding that allies cannot afford to be silent because that only furthers racial oppression.

Attorney Duwaine Bascoe addresses the crowd of demonstrators Thursday afternoon.
Credit Max Schulte | WXXI News

Monroe County Bar Association president-elect Jill Paperno said that the organization's members are looking internally at their own flaws.

“We too must change and move forward and do more to recognize issues of racism and to incorporate anti-racism in our work and in our lives,” said Paperno.

As a public defender, Paperno said that she’s seen firsthand how black clients are treated more harshly than white clients in the judicial system, whether it’s being charged for not having a bell on their bicycle, or having a higher bail set.

“There are too many times that many people of privilege have tried to say, 'OK, let’s make peace,’ and tried not to have the hard conversations and do the difficult work.”

She said now it’s time to have those conversations and do the challenging work to undo systemic racism.