Editor’s note (9/21/20): 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.”
Since Sept. 3, people in Rochester have taken over the streets to protest the murder and cover-up of Daniel Prude by Rochester’s Mayor Lovely Warren and the Rochester Police Department (RPD).
On the morning of Sept. 15, protesters gathered in front of City Hall to fight for and reiterate the movement’s demands. Despite RPD’s arrest of several protesters on Sept. 16 for sleeping on the sidewalk and in the streets, demonstrators continued to occupy City Hall even after the RPD left.
Protesters split into groups and sat in front of each entrance to the building to block any form of entry or exit, while others posted wanted posters for the resignation and arrest of the various figures involved in Prude’s death and subsequent cover-up. Members of Project Air, an art-based protest movement, hung several art pieces of Daniel Prude’s face on the doors of City Hall. On the building and the street, people drew messages demanding justice in chalk.
“We encourage people to leave when they feel like they need to, but tap a friend in,” a protestor said. In addition, organizers had food regularly arrive.
As music played, people drew messages demanding justice in chalk, dancing, and chatting.
At 10 a.m., a man arrived and began harassing the crowd. He called them “phony” and “anarchists,” and described the loss of his two brothers at the hands of his “own people” as his reason for opposing the crowd. He continuously targeted organizers such as Ashley Gantt, trying to put his face up to hers and raising his voice. Members of the crowd placed themselves between him and his targets to prevent conflict.
Shortly after the man arrived, Gantt grabbed a megaphone and asked the gathered crowd to “leave him be.” Another woman took the megaphone and spoke about how this is evidence of the need for mental health support in the Rochester community. “The police killed two of his brothers and he may not have had the support we have doing this and we feel bad […] We need to try and support him and get him help,” she said, while the man continued to shout at the protestors, calling them “puppets.”
Not long after, Gantt and several others pulled the man aside for a passionate but calm conversation. He didn’t bother the crowd again after.
Shortly after 11:30 a.m., several men demanded that the American flag be raised back up in front of City Hall, as it had been replaced with the “Free To Be Me” Black pride flag. 70-year-old Black Panther Party member Asa Adams, who had attended most of the protests since they began, was among them.
“We’re fighting for [the American] flag,” Adams said. The other men identified themselves as veterans.
Protestors blocked the men as they tried to move towards the flagpole. Quickly, both sides began to shout.
When asked whose side they supported, the veterans said that all Black lives matter, and claimed they were “not against anybody.”
“We don’t want the flag up,” one of the protestors said to a veteran. “It doesn’t represent us — that’s what it is.”
“[The flag] does represent you,” the veteran responded.
“No, it doesn’t.”
“It represents all of us.”
“No, it’s not about all of us,” the protestor said. “This is about Black people […] America has oppressed us since we’ve gotten here. We are not underneath that flag [because] it’s not for us. What has America done for Black people for us to be united underneath that flag? Nothing. We’re not putting the flag up.”
When one of the veterans said that he was here to support the Black Lives Matter movement, another protestor replied that “[…] You gotta ask me what my support looks like before you come over here and stand and say this is yours. Fuck that flag.”
“No, not fuck the flag, because I didn’t fight next to people for you to say fuck the flag,” the veteran said.
Another protester came to diffuse the situation.
“Even though people may not agree with it, if you [were] in the military, you have a right to be angry, ‘cause you protect[ed] us for that flag,” the protestor said. “Whether you feel like it’s right or wrong now that that flag is down […] we know what they want [and] they know what we want. That’s how we come together. But right now, that flag will remain down until it covers everyone, so we don’t feel like ‘Oh, that flag [doesn’t] represent Black people.’”
The discussion continued for a short amount of time before both sides began to disperse, and organizers walked around to ensure everyone was de-escalated. People returned to dancing, chanting, and food as volunteers walked around offering cups of coffee and snacks to those who didn’t have any. Volunteers with orange armbands — who, according to Gantt, are trained to help with mental health issues — sat with protesters and helped them through their feelings surrounding the protests, and the Black Lives Matter movement at large.
As the occupation of City Hall shifted into its 33rd hour, some protestors became anxious at a new sight:, a lifted gray pickup truck and six men, with at least one who appeared to be armed.
“We [have] armed supremacists coming to a peaceful protest,” one protestor said. “And we ain’t doing nothing wrong.”
The men refused to comment to the Campus Times as a group, but one of the men, who wished to be referred to as Sean, agreed to speak as an individual. He explained that he supported the movement, but took issue with the American flag being taken down. “What happened here is tragic and I hate that it happened here,” Sean said. “I completely stand up with them and I believe in what they are standing for — everyone has a right to stand for something. To me, [however,] it’s just the American flag.”
After coming to an agreement with the protestors, Sean and one of the other men left. Protestors and the remaining men stayed at a distance until around 7 p.m. when individual protestors moved to talk to the men.
One of the men was retired New York City firefighter Craig Carr, who advocated for the American flag to be raised again in front of City Hall. “I feel like that flag meant so much to everyone on 9/11 and 9/12,” Carr said. “I feel like that flag could pull us all back together again.”
Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Rashida Price said to Carr that the flag was just a representation. “We are Americans; […] we [are] the people here,” Price said. “That flag is not flying until all of us have the same civil liberties.”
As night fell, the men left, and protesters congregated along Church and Fitzhugh Streets to sleep for the night. Some set up tents and sleeping bags, some slept on the stairs, and others were on the street itself.
The next morning at 8:09 a.m., RPD arrived at City Hall. According to UR protestors juniors Les Johnson and Lyrica Yanaway, officers quickly drove back protesters, most of whom had been asleep. Between 10 and 20 protesters — Yanaway among them — were arrested by the officers and charged with disorderly conduct. The remaining protesters continued to standoff against the police until Spiritus Christi Church Reverend Myra Brown, who has been involved in protests at Warren’s request since Sept. 6 — helped Police Chief Dearcop and Gantt to negotiate.
After removing protest artwork and posters, the RPD officers collected and delivered all the protestors’ belongings to Spiritus Christi Church. They allowed the occupation of City Hall to continue on the conditions that tents would not be set back up and that protesters would not block the street.
During the stand-off between the protestors and the police officers, a young, white man wearing a shirt that read “Defend the Police” chanted “blue lives matter” to the protesters. When he attempted to cross the police line, he was handcuffed and walked around the corner towards Allen Street. According to Chris from Spiritus Christi said that “[the officers] let him go” after they witnessed a man wearing the same shirt walk away unattended by police.
Free the People Roc said that their occupation of City Hall was only possible due to the food they were able to provide. The organizations that are helping feed protesters are listed below:
- 999 Market, located at 709 S Clinton Ave
- Big Boy Catering
- B+Healthy Fresh Food Market, located at 442 Genesee St
- “1942” AMBITIONS, located at 1324 N Clinton Ave
- The Red Fern, located at 283 Oxford St
- Food Not Bombs ROC
- Owl House (vegan friendly), located at 75 Marshall St
- R Pizzeria, located at 695 North St
- Jamaican Soul, located at 211 Genesee St
- Munchies, located at 154 N Clinton Ave
- Fuego Coffee Roasters, located at 1 Woodbury Blvd.