Marchers chanted themselves hoarse, pumped fists, burned sage, and danced to drums this past Saturday, May 30, as they protested in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

In between treks through E Main St and other parts of central downtown, crowds gathered in front of the Rochester Police Station and the public library to bring local context to the national crisis of police brutality. 

Speakers included a 10-year-old girl who, two weeks prior to the event, was handcuffed during a routine traffic stop.

A protestor holds up a sign referencing the 10-year-old getting handcuffed.

Her father, who was arrested in the same incident added that the criminal injustice happening in other states is “the same injustice we’re going through here in Rochester.” 

A member of Rochester’s volunteer-run Police Accountability Board, founded in January, also called for the reinstatement of disciplinary powers to the board. Also in January, a state judge ruled that the board would be unable to discipline officers or meaningfully investigate complaints of misconduct against them, as this would violate the police union’s agreement with the city. 

At every stop, the peaceful protestors climbed whatever they could — statues, cars, ledges — as NWA’s “Fuck the police” played in the background. Marchers stopped traffic, and were met with honks of solidarity.

During another speech, protest organizer Ashley Gantt read out a list of women who had lost their lives at the hands of the police, and praised women who are racial justice activists for their often underrecognized efforts. When she found herself unable to continue, tears streaming down her face, another speaker continued the list until she could speak again.

Gantt (center) sharing her message through a megaphone during the protest.

While the afternoon protest remained peaceful, stores downtown were looted that evening, leading Mayor Lovely Warren to impose a countywide night curfew. Though Warren initially attributed the destruction to people “not of Rochester,” protest organizers have since responded that rioters and looters are not outsiders, and that their actions are a legitimate response to the devaluation of black lives by racist institutions. 

Another peaceful protest is scheduled for Friday, June 5.

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