Editor’s note (9/14/20): This article is part of our continued efforts to cover the protests in Rochester. As we are students first, we are unable to capture everything, every night. For all of our News coverage on these events search the tag “Daniel Prude.”
For the past several nights, Rochester residents have marched through the city in the face of tear gas, water cannons, pepper spray, fireworks, K9 units, and the national guard to protest the events that led up to the March killing of Daniel Prude at the hands of the Rochester Police Department (RPD). The graphic video of Prude’s death was not released until Sept. 2.
On Thursday night, lead member of Free the People ROC and Black Lives Matter organizer Jaeylon Johnson stood in the golden light of the sunset as protesters began to march towards Jefferson Ave — the site where Prude was killed.
Clad in motorcycle crash pads, he was joined by a group of cyclists who formed a front line, shielding protesters from both traffic and police. “The police,” Johnson said, “will do whatever is within their power basically to hurt me, to hurt Black people in general.”
According to Rochester resident Anthony Hall, RPD has been abusing its power for the last 60 years. “When we talk about defund[ing] the police […], we [are] talking about [how] that money can go to real resources to build up help for mental illnesses to help build this community,” Hall said. Prude, who suffered from severe mental health issues, was in the middle of an episode when the police got involved.
For Community Justice Initiative member Sophia Shalonda, change is overdue. “What’s breaking my heart is I don’t see enough people our age using young voices. I got a 3-year-old; she can’t grow up in a world like this,” Shalonda said. “[UR] — it’s time to open your eyes, to come out and unite with us [and] march with us, because you are the community, too.”
New York Civil Liberties Union Lead Organizer Ashley Gantt addressed the crowd on Jefferson Avenue — the same place where Daniel Prude was murdered. She addressed the non-Black members of the crowd: “As you stand here, I want you to stand here with purpose and think about why we’re here and prepare your hearts and prepare your minds to sacrifice something. Allyship means nothing without sacrifice.”
Alexa Guzman — founder of Project A.I.R., a non-profit organization that advocates for the racial equality of Black and brown people through protest art — told protesters that people shouldn’t support the Black Lives Matter movement for convenience.
“Everybody watching at home — you need to collectivize […] you cannot be for Black Lives Matter when it’s convenient for you. You need to be for […] gay Black lives, queer Black lives, trans Black lives […], Black lives with drug dependency issues, Black lives with mental health issues,” Guzman said. “You can’t pick and choose who deserves justice.”
Black Panther Party member Asa Adams, who lost his voice shouting himself hoarse on Saturday night, encouraged students to take their activism one step further. “University of Rochester, if you really want to make change – come out here to the real classroom, you’ll learn a lot more,” he told the Campus Times on Thursday. “Then take it back to your classes and discuss there […] in order to make change, we have to educate. And it’s going to change before I die.”
Abdul Bounds, who carried a homemade Black Lives Matter flag during the protest, had a similar message regarding dedication — one that came with a warning that justice will not be denied. “I advise all students of color, students of all races [to] come out and support,” Bounds said. “If not, the community will burn the fuck down. Until the officers have been arrested, we will not rest. There will be no rest.”
By the time the march progressed to the Public Safety building, the protesters had become a unified front. Protest chants of “Say his name,” “Daniel Prude,” and “Who shut shit down? We shut shit down” had evolved from the ragged call of many into a single, roaring cry. Police barricades and armed officers blocked the entrance to the building.
UR Senior Amanda Liang reported seeing at least 12 but no more than 25 students at the protest — something that did not go unnoticed by the protesters.
Some felt taken advantage of by the University and its students. “Thanks for the gentrification,” Rashida Price and Reginald White both said as their message to the students. White, an educator in the Rochester community, went on to explain that he wanted students to “be involved, be knowledgeable, be aware, ask questions, and understand the poverty in the city of Rochester.”
Other protesters, however, despite fearing for the safety of their own children, had nothing but concern for the students at Rochester. Myia Bell, a mother of two, had only this to say to the students: “Pray, I hope they stay alive in a world full of violence and murderers.”
By 10:30 p.m. police began to open fire on protesters with pepper balls and tear gas. Johnson led the crowd, organizing protesters into walls against the police fire. At one point, Johnson stood alone in front of the Public Safety building doors, holding two shields and being fired on from all sides. He was struck 14 times between the plates of his armor and was left covered in welts.
According to the Free the People ROC’s Instagram account, @ftp_roc, Johnson was later arrested by Federal Marshals at his grandmother’s home on Sept. 4 and has now been released. Before his arrest, however, he texted a message to the CT for UR students: “If you are a student in Rochester New York, your energy. Your voices need to be hurd. We have power. We are all Kings and queens in our own right. We will not be oppressed by this system. It’s time to stop surviving, and thrive for a better world, for peace and harmony.”
For students who want to stay updated on protests and look for ways to help, Guzman suggested following @airtheproject on Instagram and @FTProc on Twitter. Students can also donate to the Community Justice Initiative through its Venmo at CJI585.
Two days later, marchers attempted to reach the Public Safety Building again. However, they were halted at the intersection of Exchange Boulevard and Broad Street by a barricade and were repeatedly asked to disperse as the “gathering [had] been deemed unlawful.” The barricade consisted of police armed with pepper ball guns, tear gas launchers, batons, several K9 units, a truck mounted with spotlights and an LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device), several police vans, several green armored trucks, and troopers in camo uniforms carrying live fire rifles.
At around 10:20 p.m., police began firing pepper balls at protesters after a water bottle was thrown towards RPD officers. Several fireworks were fired at police by protesters. By 10:51, protesters had been pushed a block north on Exchange Boulevard to Main Street, stuck in a cloud of tear gas, unable to see without goggles or masks on.
The police informed the crowd that since they refused to leave the road, they are now subject to arrest. A few dozen feet north of Broad Street, ahead of the crowd, City Council member Michael Patterson stood in front of the line of police officers on Exchange Boulevard, despite repeated orders to disperse. At around 11, Patterson was joined by Adams and Bounds who stood with him, their backs to the police line.
A few minutes later, several officers broke off from the main police line to arrest Patterson, who did not resist.
Before his arrest, when asked if he’d like to make a statement to CT, Patterson replied: “I’m standing, that’s [my statement].”