Rochester’s Mayor Lovely Warren is being sued by Free the People Roc, an organization that describes themselves as a “movement focused on investing in [Rochester’s] community by defunding the police and abolishing the Prison Industrial Complex.”
Rochester’s chapter of the National Lawyer Guild (NLG), an organization that focuses on legal support for human rights violations, has also joined the lawsuit.
Both Free the People Roc and NLG Rochester are taking action against Mayor Warren’s emergency order enacted on July 15 that limited public gatherings of five or more and private gatherings of 10 or more individuals from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Breaking the curfew would lead to a misdemeanor charge. The order must be renewed every five days and is still in effect at the time of this article. According to Warren, this order will be continuously extended and renewed until the violence stops.
Although the order itself only points to concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Police Chief La’Ron Singletary, the order was put in place to reduce gun violence. From June 1 to July 16, 70 people were shot in Rochester — a near 46% increase from 2019 during the same time period. In the two weeks before the curfew started, twenty people had been either shot or stabbed.
Warren attributed this sharp spike in violence to “a combination of hopelessness from job losses, the confinement from the pandemic, and the weariness from the high heat,” adding that “many of these incidents were preceded by large parties.”
Soon after the emergency order was announced, Free the People Roc organized a protest in Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park, according to a City newspaper article. This demonstration began at 10 p.m. and ended around 2 a.m., when Rochester police officers began arresting the protestors for breaking the curfew. Thirty protestors were arrested that night.
In the complaint filed on July 24, NLG Rochester and Free the People Roc organizer and plaintiff Stanley Martin stated that Mayor Warren’s emergency order violated people’s First and Fourteenth Amendments — specifically, the right to peacefully assemble and the Equal Protection Clause — especially in Black and brown neighborhoods. Both plaintiffs also said there was no public health justification for Mayor Warren’s new curfew.
The complaint ends with Free the People Roc and NLG Rochester asking the city of Rochester and its police department to “refrain from interfering in or otherwise policing lawful and peaceful assemblies and protests in the City of Rochester,” to “cease enforcement of Mayor Warren’s Emergency Order,” and to “refrain from covering [the officers’] names and badge numbers when engaging in law enforcement activities.”
At the time of publication, the trial date remains uncertain.