Remarkable unrest outside RPD headquarters, 9 p.m. countywide curfew ordered 

What began as a peaceful protest of hundreds of demonstrators winding their way through the streets of downtown Rochester on Saturday descended into chaos outside the Rochester Police Department, replete with flipped city cars, a police cruiser set ablaze, looting on East Main Street, and tear gas deployed.

The scene mirrored demonstrations around the country that have turned violent following the Monday slaying of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin.
City and Monroe County officials blamed the violence on "outsiders" and "outside anarchists" whom they said hijacked what they described as having been an orderly demonstration.

"What you saw here today wasn't a protest, it was chaos," Rochester Police Chief La'Ron Singletary said during an evening news conference after the crowds had dispersed and order had been largely restored.

He referred to those who spearheaded the hostility as "professional protesters."

The officials spoke outside the Public Safety Building on Exchange Boulevard that only hours earlier had been the scene of remarkable unrest.

"Today's actions on our streets show that the anger is real and it must be recognized and it has to be addressed," Mayor Lovely Warren said.

She emphatically thanked law enforcement officials for showing restraint and blamed "outsiders" for the disorder. "Those driving the violence are not of this city, are not of Rochester," she said.

It was not immediately clear what evidence officials had to back their claims that the violence was not provoked or carried out by local residents. 

The demonstration began early in the afternoon, when protesters gathered at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park to honor victims of police brutality and rally against racial discrimination at the hands of law enforcement.

But anger was palpable from the outset, as chants of, “No justice, no peace, fuck these racist ass police!” and “Black lives matter!” reverberated through the crowd and the park's concrete canyons.
click to enlarge PHOTO BY 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.”
click to enlarge PHOTO BY MAX SHULTE
Among the speakers were also relatives of local police brutality victims. Frank Simmons’s son, Silvon Simmons, survived being shot three times in the back by a Rochester police officer in 2016.

“They tried to kill him,” Frank Simmons said. “What I’m saying to you is all of our lives matter.”

The event was intended to be peaceful, but organizers seemed to recognize the likelihood that it could turn at any moment. At one point, Abid instructed protesters, specifically white protesters, to protect black protesters by forming barricades between them and the police.

“We have no plans to escalate, but we are prepared if they do,” Abid said.

The crowd eventually headed west down Broad Street, and tensions rose from there.

Along the route, protesters spray painted “ACAB” — an acronym for “All Cops Are Bastards” — on the sides of police cruisers. Police officers in riot gear responded by wielding pepper guns and, as if on cue, white protesters formed their first barricade between police and black protesters.
click to enlarge PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE

Shortly after 4 p.m., protesters encircled the Public Safety Building and some destroyed two police cruisers, lighting at least one on fire. Some protesters could be seen dancing atop a police car. Officers first deployed pepper balls to disperse the crowd, then tear gas.
click to enlarge PHOTO BY GINO FANELLI
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.

Protesters were eventually repelled and streets blocked off. The pavement where demonstrators had gathered was scarred with white streaks that appeared to have been caused by tear gas canisters.

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.  Near the Public Safety Building, traces of stinging tear gas hung in the air and firefighters tended to a still-smoldering car.

Warren ordered a 9 p.m. curfew for city residents that Monroe County Executive Adam Bello  later extended to the entire county until 7 a.m.  Regional Transit Service buses were taken off the road until 8 a.m. Sunday

Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter said his deputies would patrol city streets overnight.

“It is the people on the streets that are supposed to protect us, they are the ones killing us,” one protester, Simone Hardaway, said. “They are the ones that killed George Floyd, they are the ones that killed so many of us, for years, and I refuse to let it continue to happen.”

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at [email protected].

This article has been updated to correct an error in a quote.
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