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Thousands march through Rochester in anti-racism rally

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People turned out Saturday for a massive demonstration in downtown Rochester in even greater numbers than the previous weekend, which saw a peaceful afternoon protest devolve into violence and looting.

Protesters began gathering at two locations — the Liberty Pole on East Main Street around noon and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park around 1 p.m. — before converging at Parcel 5 and later marching east along East Avenue.

At one point, a police drone hovered over protesters, hundreds of whom looked skyward and flipped a middle finger at the device.
The electricity of the demonstration acquiesced to a powerful calm at Parcel 5 as protesters took a knee and sat silently for nearly nine minutes — the length of time that Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin fatally knelt on the neck of George Floyd.

Soon after, the chants of "Black lives matter!" and "No justice, no peace, fuck these racist ass police!" punctuated the silence and echoed through the streets.

Hostilities were not only reserved for police. Protesters on occasion angrily questioned news reporters covering the event, asking them their affiliation and "whose side" they were on.

An 8 minute 46 second long moment of silence for George Floyd. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • An 8 minute 46 second long moment of silence for George Floyd.
Free the People Roc, a group that grew out of the previous weekend's rally and helped organizer's Saturday's demonstration, issued a statement earlier in the week on its Facebook page criticizing media outlets for reporting the names of people who were arrested last weekend.

"Furthermore," the statement read in part, "media outlets who are posting names of people arrested and images of them are acting as an extension of the Police department. They should not be trusted and are actively participating in the violence against Black people."

The demonstration came on the heels of a much smaller rally outside the Monroe County Office Building on Friday that lasted a few hours, and coincided with protests around the country and the globe.
As the afternoon wore on, it seemed that every corner of the East End was hosting pocket demonstrations, in which people sat, or chanted, or spoke through a loudspeaker, listing their frustrations and demands.

At Park and Oxford, protesters sat in the street while organizers spoke. Roughly 20 minutes later they'd advanced to Park and Berkeley, sat in the street, and held a moment of silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Diners seated at tables outside were mostly still and silent, diverting their attention from their food  and drinks.

Rochester police cruisers followed behind the last of the marchers. Officers kept their distance from the marchers throughout the day.

Earlier in the day at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park, one of the staging areas, organizers took to the microphone with a list of demands that included pulling funding from police, dropping charges against the people arrested at the previous weekend's rally, and urging elected officials who have accepted political donations from police organizations to donate it to other causes.

"If we could defund the police, we could pay everybody's rent," organizer Adrian Elim said. 
A memorial for black lives lost to police brutality was scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park. As that event's start approached, the front of the crowd was nearing Monroe and Alexander, while the tail end has just cleared the intersection of Monroe and South Goodman.

As the crowd neared its starting point at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park, protesters surrounded a few New York State Police cars that were parked on the nearby I-490 on-ramp. The troopers reversed the cars and moved far back, while Elim directed the crowd not to engage with the police. They urged the protesters to be deliberate and critical in their actions.

"This is chess, not checkers," Elim said.

There were other rallies and demonstrations around the region as well, including in Brighton at Buckland Park.