The city of Rochester and Monroe County were put under a curfew Saturday night after what began as a peaceful protest of hundreds of demonstrators descended into chaos outside the Rochester Police Department, replete with flipped city cars, a police cruiser set ablaze, and tear gas.
Hundreds of people participated in Saturday's rally to protest the death of George Floyd, the man killed after Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck. Similar demonstrations were held across the country.
In the city, Mayor Lovely Warren issued the curfew from 9 p.m. Saturday to 7 a.m. Sunday, limiting pedestrian and vehicle traffic except for essential emergency vehicles and personnel. County Executive Adam Bello tweeted that he "declared a State of Emergency and signed an order declaring a curfew to go into effect at 9:00pm tonight, Saturday, May 30, 2020. For the safety of our community I’m asking everyone to stay home." The curfew is in effect until 6 a.m. Sunday.
Mayor Warren has declared a curfew to go into effect at 9:00pm tonight, Saturday, May 30, 2020. pic.twitter.com/bQ3ySpJBiO
— City of Rochester NY (@CityRochesterNY) May 30, 2020
The protest started in Martin Luther King Jr. Park at Manhattan Square. As they marched to the public safety building, organizers led familiar rallying chants of “no justice, no peace,” and “black lives matter.”
The protesters confronted police standing outside of the public safety building. The demonstration remained peaceful for a while.
A video of events earlier on Saturday afternoon from WXXI photojournalist Max Schulte.
“We are here today to tell the police that black lives matter, and we will not accept another black person killed,” said Iman Abid, director of the Genesee Valley Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union and an organizer of the event, “Black Lives Matter, Don’t Shoot Us.”
The protest began with several speakers, each echoing a similar sentiment of exhaustion.
“I’m sick and tired,” organizer Stanley Martin said. “I’m sick of being enraged, I’m sick of seeing black bodies dead on the floor by police.”
The event was intended to be peaceful, but organizers recognized the likelihood that it could turn at any moment. At one point, Abid instructed protesters, specifically white protesters, to protect black protesters, including by forming barricades between them and the police.
“We have no plans to escalate, but we are prepared if they do,” Abid said.
Protesters splintered off into different groups, some remaining at the public safety building, shouting at officers. Others marched back toward MLK Park, blocking Broad Street and in one case burning a confederate flag.
Shortly after 4 p.m., protesters encircled the Public Safety Building on Exchange Street and some destroyed two police cruisers, lighting at least one on fire. Officers first deployed pepper balls to disperse the crowd, then tear gas.
The crowd was pushed back in waves that seemed to rebound back to the glass doors of the building. Some demonstrators picked up the tear gas canisters and launched them back at police, along with fireworks and bottles.
Three hours later, sirens could be heard blaring throughout the city and a helicopter hovered over Martin Luther King Jr. Park, where scores of people had gathered.Police agencies from around the area joined Rochester Police to try to keep a lid on the situation, along with State Police, who also had a helicopter over the downtown area.
There was vandalism and looting, including at a shoe store near the Liberty Pole. There were numerous reports of vandalism and looting in different parts of the city include parts of West Main Street.
Irondequoit Police also were warning business owners along East Ridge Road to close up shop, with concerns about possible vandalism or looting.
Area police had a heavy presence Saturday night, sealing off the entrances to Greece Ridge Mall, after reports that authorities were concerned about looters coming to the mall.
Rochester Police say it may be a few days before they have numbers on just how many people were arrested.
In an email sent around 8:45 p.m. Saturday, Regional Transit Service said it was shutting down service for the night. Then on Sunday, it canceled service for the day, saying, "To help ensure the safety of employees and customers, Regional Transit Service will shut down service for Sunday, May 31, 2020. We will resume normal service Monday, June 1, 2020."
Also, a spokesperson for Wegmans said in response to the 9 p.m. countywide curfew, it would close all Monroe County stores at that time on Saturday.
Warren said in a Saturday night news conference at the Public Safety Building that, "Today’s actions on our streets show that the anger is real and it must be recognized." But she and Rochester Police chief La'Ron Singletary and Sheriff Todd Baxter blamed a lot of the trouble on people who they described as "outsiders" who came to the city just to cause problems.
Mayor Warren and City Officials are managing community recovery and cleanup efforts this morning. The Rochester Fire Department, Department of Environmental Services and Neighborhood and Business Development are assessing the damage from last night’s activities, engaging City resources and outside contractors to secure buildings, remove trash and debris and ensure the safety of our community’s buildings and infrastructure.
A community cleanup effort is being organized. Interested residents are encouraged to come to Frontier Field VIP Parking Lot beginning at 10:00am Sunday. City DES will be providing garbage bags, PPE and other cleaning materials to encourage residents to help clean up areas affected by the vandalism. The City will direct volunteers to the areas most in need of support.