Rochester Police harass community space (again)
At approximately 8:47pm, Saturday, March 28, 2015, during a teen party event at the Flying Squirrel Community Space, nine Rochester Police Department officers, using bad intel and apparent racial profiling, confronted organizers, Squirrel members, and event security about the party. The reason why they showed up was not entirely clear.
RPD officer Justin Stewart explained that they came out because of a licensing issue. He said, "The problem is we don't have an event permit because they're [the organizers of the teen party] charging for patrons to come to use your facilities for a specific party."
The officer likened it to Jazz Fest. "I'm using a huge example--but like Jazz Fest--they have a permit for people to enter 'cause there is profit being made. It's similar. It's still a party," he said. "There's profit being made."
Later on in the conversation, officer Stewart announced that the reason they were there was because of a noise complaint. "Ok, I mean the issue is--the reason why we're out here now is because there was complaints about the music and the people hanging outside. So that's why we're here."
One of the seven people doing security took issue with the police explanation: "No, wasn't nobody hangin' outside. That's a lie."
An unknown RPD sergeant, that Rochester Indymedia is looking into identifying, then said, "We're not saying people were hanging out. The call that we got said that people were out here--yes, like you said, when we pulled up no one was out here."
A Squirrel member said they heard a dispatch for a noise complaint at 8:37pm. The video, also shot by a Squirrel member, started approximately 10 minutes later. Rochester Indymedia is looking into the noise complaint.
KW, who wished to be identified by her initials only, stated to the police that the door had been open as people were going up to the party, but no one was loitering outside.
Another reason the police might have come out in force was because of a Facebook listing, posted by someone not associated with the event. Supervising that night, Lieutenant Jason Elwood, showed members of the Squirrel the listing. "So you're talking about 375 people, charging ten bucks--can't do any of this."
The confrontation ended when Lt. Elwood felt that he had been heard and told organizers that, "A couple of my officers will be out here until this thing breaks down."
The Facebook listing had been shown to organizers and Squirrel members about a week before. Officer Vincent Agnone, from the southwest section, sent an email to Squirrel members informing them of the listing and that "at least 2 rival gangs that have been identified are attending." No other information was given. The members of the community space spoke with the promoter to go over the concerns. Both parties felt like they had a handle on the situation and were confident in going forward. Police indicated to the Squirrel that they wouldn't interfere unless something went wrong.
The event, which attracts teens of color, is promoted as a nonviolent space to congregate safely in and have fun. There is dancing, soda and snacks, and parents drop off and pick up their kids. The ages range from 13 to 17.
Flying Squirrel members met on Monday, March 30 to discuss the issues from the previous Saturday.
Al B., the current events coordinator for the Squirrel, called it what it was: racial profiling. "Had it been a music show that was mostly white, and this rarely happens, a few cops would stop by, ask for the music to be turned down, and drive away." When asked what he meant by "a few cops," he said, "Like one car with one or two officers who don't even get out of the car but politely ask that the music be turned down."
Other members who were there on Saturday night stated that before the white guy with the camera showed up to engage the police, the officers' demeanor was aggressive and demanding--almost like they wanted to start something. Members said that once the camera came out, the cops flipped from aggressive to more relaxed and willing to discuss the situation.
As the teens were leaving in small groups to get into their rides home, an idling police car flipped on its spot light and chased one set of teens with the light beam as they crossed the road. Also, toward the end of the night, police cars would do laps around the block turning on their flashers as they passed the front of the building and then turning them off as they turned down Troup Street or Waverly Place.
There was a lot of frustration at the RPD's lack of communication between sections. How is it that the downtown section had no idea about what the southwest section was doing? Further, why were police acting as tax and licensing advisors?
According to KW, she called the city to get to the bottom of the situation. In a voicemail she left on Monday, March 30, she said, "I actually called down to City Hall and I spoke to the licensing unit and they told me I was perfectly ok. They don't know why the officers told me that." She continued, "But I could definitely charge at the door as a promoter as long as the building I'm operating out of has an entertainment license."
Squirrel member Ted Forsyth reached out to officer David Minnick who handles licensing for events and entertainment on Tuesday, March 31 to ask some questions about licensing and to get a better sense of what happened on Saturday. Update: Officer Minnick returned the call on Friday, April 3 and confirmed what KW had heard from him regarding her ability to charge at the door after negotiating for space from the Squirrel--or any building with a valid entertainment license. He also said he would contact Lt. Wilson on Monday and respond with any new information if it came to light.
Not the first time...
Flying Squirrel members left the meeting feeling that the police arrived that night, based on bad intelligence, racial profiling, and a lack of intradepartmental communication, to harass and intimidate patrons, organizers, and Squirrel members. However, this wasn't the first time that the community space was visited by large numbers of police.
On October 8, 2009, police interrupted a community meeting that was addressing police violence against a nonviolent, anti-war demonstration that occurred the day before, landing 12 people in jail, with some having to get medical attention at local hospitals. Interestingly, then a command officer, now-Chief of Police Michael Ciminelli was also involved in the harassment from October 8.
Then, on June 23, 2011, during a public meeting to discuss support for Emily Good and issues of police accountability, the RPD appeared at the Flying Squirrel, again, to harass and intimidate attendees. Officers were not only seen doing open surveillance of the building as the meeting went on, but a number of officers ticketed three cars parked in front of the space claiming they had received complaints regarding cars parked too far from the curb. All three tickets were eventually dismissed. In this case, Patrol Division West commander, Samuel A. Farina Jr., was fired over the bungling of the eviction at 9 Ravenwood Ave., the arrest of Emily Good, and the pink ruler fiasco at the Flying Squirrel. Two years later, the Democrat & Chronicle reported that Mr. Farina was suing the city.
We're not sure where his lawsuit stands now, but we will continue to document these blatant cases of police misconduct.
The video above is courtesy Davy V. at davyv.blogspot.com.