Staten Island. Ferguson. Cleveland.
Again and again, in city after city, police officers have used deadly force against people of color under, at best, questionable circumstances.
Garner died after an officer put him in a chokehold, a tactic that was prohibited by his police department; Brown was unarmed when a white officer shot and killed him; Rice, a 12-year-old boy, was playing with a pellet gun in a park.
Public outrage and protest followed each death, as did calls for change in the way that law enforcement and the courts treat black people.
- PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
- What has to happen for people to realize that police treat black people differently and that something needs to change? activists ask.
So last week, when police again killed two black men under questionable circumstances, public outcry was inevitable. In Rochester, activist Frederick Douglass and other members of B.L.A.C.K., a black leadership and activism group, organized a Black Lives Matter rally and march that started on Friday night.
"We can't just not say anything anymore," said Ricardo Adams, who acted as a media liaison during the rally, which started at the Liberty Pole. "We need to confront it, confront the people in power."
In Baton Rouge, police pinned Alton Sterling to the ground and repeatedly shot him at point-blank range. Philando Castile was shot and killed by police during a traffic stop in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota. Both deaths were captured on video and widely circulated on social media; Castile's girlfriend was in the car and livestreamed the immediate aftermath of the shooting.
But it wasn't just the images that drove the protests; it was a pervasive sense of injustice.
Police keep using deadly force against people of color and are not held accountable, says Adrian Elim, a head organizer for B.L.A.C.K. The departments investigate themselves, only to conclude that the officers didn't do anything wrong, he says. When prosecutors -- local and federal -- present the cases to grand juries, the jurors often decline to indict the officers.
People are hurting, they are fed up, and they running out of patience with a system they don't believe in anymore, Elim says.
"It doesn't matter with black people, we could have our hands up, they shoot us; we could be pinned to the ground, they shoot us; we're walking down the street, they will shoot us; we'll be playing in the park, they will shoot us; calling for help, they will shoot us," Elim says. "It doesn't matter if we're 5 years old, 12 years old, 80 years old, or 22 years old, nothing seems to stop them. However, they always seem to, they manage not to kill white people every day."Elim's point was reinforced early Saturday morning by incidents in Texas and North Carolina.
Houston police say that two officers spotted Alva Braziel, a black man, waving a revolver in the air. They say that he ignored commands to put the gun down and pointed it at the officers several times, which led to police shooting him. Some witnesses, however, say that Braziel did not point the gun at officers, according to media reports.
And then in Wake County, North Carolina, a deputy was alerted to a man pointing a shotgun at traffic. He found the man, William Bruce Ray, and wrestled the shotgun from him, according to Raleigh TV station WNCN. Ray, who is white, then pulled out a handgun, shot at the deputy, and missed. The deputy arrested Ray, who will probably face an attempted murder charge, says WNCN.
Rochester police say that they've tried to build trust between officers and the communities they serve, including predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods.
A big reason for the department's recent reorganization is so officers can strengthen ties to the neighborhoods and engage in more proactive policing. The department is also rolling out body cameras for officers in response to public demand and as a way to be more transparent.
Rochester Police Chief Michael Ciminelli said last week that lack of community trust is discouraging. People don't see all the time and effort that police put into trying to build camaraderie with the community, he said, and many times, those efforts do pay off.
"It's very, very troubling to hear people say they don't trust the police," he said.
Currently, complaints against Rochester police officers are handled by the department's Professional Standards Section. If the complaints involve the use of force or potential criminal behavior by a police officer, the PSS investigations are then reviewed by a Civilian Review Board, which is run by the Center for Dispute Settlement.
But many critics say that the process isn't good enough because in the end, the police chief can overrule the board's decisions. Critics such as the Rev. Lewis Stewart, president of United Christian Leadership Ministry of Western New York, instead want an independent civilian review board. The board would investigate complaints and would have subpoena power.
"That is not a panacea that's going to address everything, but also it's one of the tools in the toolkit to help address that situation, to repair what's broken," Stewart says.
The RPD is also under scrutiny for the way it ended Friday's Black Lives Matter rally and march.
From the outset, rally organizers were adamant that protestors needed to remain peaceful, even while they moved around the city shutting down intersections. They blocked off the downtown bus station during the evening commute, but the station had closed in anticipation of the march.
Later, however, the group blocked off roads in the East End. Ciminelli said that he and his command staff decided to break up the demonstration for several reasons: the group was blocking a busy intersection, the department had deployed so many officers that patrols weren't available to respond to other calls, and people coming out of the bars were starting verbal confrontations with the protestors.
Organizers decided to block roads for a couple of reasons. Partly, it was to make people pay attention and to show them that the demonstrators will not accept continued use of undue force by police against people of color. They also wanted to show people that they have power.
"We need consciousness sparked," said Douglass, one of the organizers. "We need ideas sparked.
Police ultimately arrested 76 people -- not all were protesters, reportedly -- and charged them with disorderly conduct; three of those people were also charged with resisting arrest. But police also detained two black WHAM reporters, Carlet Cleare and Justin Carter.
Cleare and Carter were part of a group of journalists recording a woman loudly voicing her concerns about the police response, says a WHAM statement. Police arrested the woman and the reporters all moved to the sidewalk. Cleare and Carter, who were the only black journalists in the group, were suddenly and without warning handcuffed and led away, WHAM says.
Ciminelli ordered their release when he learned what happened. And he and Mayor Lovely Warren apologized to the journalists.
"Once we understand what happened, we will try to reach out and see if we can prevent that from happening again," Ciminelli said.
RPD and WHAM representatives met Monday and had an "honest and productive discussion," according to a tweet from the station's general manager, Chuck Samuels.