Rochester SDS Statement [10-09-09]
Rochester Students for a Democratic Society Statement about the October 7th Protest and October 8th Police Surveillance October 9, 2009
On Wednesday October 7, 2009 Rochester Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) called for a protest of 8 years of war and occupation in Afghanistan. We made three demands: 1) U.S. out of Afghanistan and Iraq, 2) demilitarize our schools, and 3) money for education not warâ€”stop the budget cuts! (see the Appendix for more details on these demands). This protest was coordinated in conjunction with other chapters of SDS throughout the country as a national day of action. According the Time Magazine, 25 campuses across the country held protests Wednesday against the war in Afghanistan. At 5:30 pm the Rochester SDS march called â€œFunk the War IIâ€â€”styled as a dance party in the streets with drums and hula-hoops--left from Washington Square Park and made its way to Main Street in downtown Rochester. At Main Street, the march headed west taking up most of the two westbound lanes.
At about 5:45 pm the peaceful march was disrupted by, according to police reports, approximately forty police cars. The police made their first arrest by wading through the group of protesters to pick out the only African-American student in the vicinity. This is a blatant example of the kind of racism and discrimination carried out daily by the Rochester Police Department but rarely caught on camera. A press videographer who was filming the arrest said he was attacked by police, wrestled to the ground, and arrested. He was able to pass the camera off to another member of his news organization while he was taken down and before he was handcuffed for â€œunlawful assemblyâ€ and â€œobstructing government administration.â€ This police action was a blatant violation of the right to a free press and is all too common when the press calls into question racism and excessive police force. Without this video it is unlikely the greater Rochester community would have trusted the studentsâ€™ accounts of excessive police force since the media tends to, as a default, report events from the position of authority. While the some officers were arresting the first individual, another police began to move on the crowd visibly outraged by police actions, chanting â€œlet him go.â€ The police then attacked, beat, and arrested multiple students and community members, nearly all of whom were already on the sidewalk. During this stage of the action police shoved and hit people with clubs, used pepper spray, slammed people into the ground, slammed one womanâ€™s face into a light post, and punched at least one protester. At least three protesters sustained injuries; two were hospitalized and received stitches. A woman with a three year old girl on her back was shoved by a police officer who was pursuing a student chanting on the sidewalk. Another alarming result of the police actions was that a small number of protesters were nearly pushed off the Main Street Bridge by police. In all, twelve were arrested. One of the arrested was released without charge with the officer claiming, â€œI was just trying to make an example out of you.â€
The police escalation which included the injuries and arrests all happened in a time span that was probably less than three minutes. If an order to disperse was given before arrests were made, it was not heard by a majority of the protesters present (if anyone). Certainly no announcements were made on a loud speaker. While the police were beating and apprehending people, many individuals asked the police why they were the taking actions they chose. While the situation was quickly escalating there were no police present who were trying to calmly discuss and deescalate the situation. The typical response from the police was aggressive yelling and in some cases protesters were met with clubs. The remaining protesters headed back to Washington Square Park on the sidewalk. When they arrived to convene a meeting they were ordered by a police offer to disperse. This officer threatened to arrest everyone present for unlawful assembly even though the protesters were in a public park and the protest was clearly over. The protestersâ€™ right to free speech and peaceful assembly was brazenly violated on multiple occasions over the course of the October 7th events.
Given the way the police reacted on October 7th, it is extremely important that all us of, as members of the Rochester community, take a sober look at
1) how extreme police tactics are used to escalate nonthreatening situations and put peaceful civilians in harms way,
2) how racism plays a prominent role (consciously or unconsciously) in the way law enforcement interacts with people of color,
3) how the first amendment right to freedom of the press is blatantly not protected, but instead violated by law enforcement when the cameras are turned on them
4) how the first amendment right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly is often not protected, but violated by law enforcement. Whether people have a peaceful assembly spontaneously or ask for permission weeks in advance, they should be protected, not attacked or intimidated by law enforcement
The Rochester Police Department has since been harassing members of SDS and sympathetic community members with a series of intimidating tactics, surveillance, and pulling over arrestees for seemingly random traffic stops. During a meeting to discuss an October 9th press conference up to five police cars surrounded the meeting and one police officer attempted to tape the meeting from his car. This police harassment and surveillance was filmed and we would be happy to release it to members of the media and city council.
Given the way the police reacted on October 8, it is extremely important that we take good look at police intimidation and harassment of people who openly question police tactics and actions.
We call on the Rochester City Council to commence a special meeting to discuss the police tactics of October 7th and the police intimidation and surveillance of October 8th. In this special meeting, we demand those involved in the October 7th and October 8th events (police and civilians) be able to address the council. We do not think the city council can come to any real conclusions if they only hear from the perpetrators of violence and not the victims.
In addition, we are calling for a civilian review board to investigate the police actions on October 7th and October 8th.
Police and Media Misinformation
From the beginning, the police have flooded the media with misinformation and unfortunately, the media have often reported police accusations as if they were facts, not simply police allegations. It is especially alarming to see the media taking the police line as the default truth in situation where unarmed civilians were seriously injured by police and not one police officer claimed a scratch. Although there are many inaccurate police statements floating around in the current media reports, here we address just three of the more serious misreports.
False statement #1: Protesters blocked a fire truck.
This has become one of the most popular attempts of the police and media to discredit the protesters and give the public an impression that the peaceful protesters endangered other people.
Indeed, at about 5:40 pm, a fire truck did come down St. Paul Street. When protesters at the corner of St. Paul and Main saw the fire truck they halted their march, stopped chanting, and voluntarily backed completely off St. Paul and allowed the fire truck to pass. When the fire truck passed, the marching and chanting resumed. This event was filmed by Rochester Indymedia.
[video coming soon]
Although all the media have access to this clip, it seems the media that report this police allegation fail to show the clip that falsifies police allegations. Interesting, when the entire Rochester Indymedia clip was shown to all those present at the city council meeting, the deputy police chief Marketer dropped the accusation of protesters blocking a fire truck (presumably because the claim would have questioned his credibility in front of the entire city council).
False statement #2: The policeâ€™s extreme use of force was a response to the use of force by protesters.
The police and the media have often portrayed the protesters as somehow being the source of violence, thereby implying the police response was justified. There is a very disturbing trend since the media is well aware the police were fully armed with guns, pepper spray, and clubs and that the protesters were unarmed. Although many protesters had signs, hula-hoops, and drums, they were for used for recreational, not aggressive purposes.
This is not a simple case of â€œour word against theirs.â€ We believe a careful investigation of the facts calls into the question the entire police narrative the media has, for the most part, taken up and perpetuated to the public. As all records show that the first arrest was of a student marching in the street and charged with unlawful assembly. Not only did this student act nonviolently, he was not charged with or accused of using force by the police. The second arrest of was of a videographer filming the arrest of this student. He was tackled and restrained. Despite the heavy handed tactics of the police, he was again nonviolent. From there, the police attacked many individuals. When police officers were questioned on the scene why they had beaten and arrested protesters they had said protesters were arrested because of â€œunlawful assemblyâ€ and â€œswearing.â€ Only after RPD surveyed the entire situation and realized that had overacted with approximately 40 police cars, injured many protesters, and failed to confiscate media tape did they claim that the protesters instigated violence. Although the case for protester-initiated violence has never added up from the beginning, most of the media ran instinctively with the police narrative as their default without questioning the facts and records on the ground.
False statement #3: The October 7 protesters acted significantly different from previous protests and that is why the police used harsh tactics
The general character of the protest called on October 7th protest was almost identical to protest, â€œFunk the War I,â€ called of March 19th, 2009--the sixth anniversary of the United States military invasion of Iraq. The main difference between the two events was that on October 7th the police responded an excessive presence (40 police cars) and excessive force (beating nonviolent protesters). On March 19th Rochester SDS called for an unpermitted march to protest the war in Iraq. Rochester SDS and supporters took an almost identical route down Main Street and entered the street twice on Main Street for multiple blocks going first west then later going east to the liberty pole. Just as on October 7th, the protesters were peaceful. However, unlike October 7th no protesters were attacked by police and no one was arrested. As the recent March 19th protest demonstrates, it is simply untrue that the police acted with extraordinary force because the October 7th protest was unpermitted or that the Rochester Police Department was not used to this type of march.
As horrible as the police brutality was on October 7th, these actions are small compared to what people of color experience from the police everyday in the city of Rochester and minuscule compared what the Afghani people have had to suffer for 8 years by U.S. military bombing and occupation. We hope the irony isnâ€™t lost on observers that a march for peace was attacked violently by police. Our protest was about U.S. state violence abroad and unfortunately the Rochester Police tried to bring the war home on October 7th. Fortunately slices of the violence were captured for the world to see. We hope this is a catalyst for future organizing to come. Advocates for peace and social justice need not be intimidated by police repression. Instead we must strengthened our resolve and link arms in our struggles against ALL forms of oppression. We call on all concerned citizens that are affected by police misconduct on a day-to-day basis to contact Rochester SDS and other social justice organizations so we can create a sustained community of struggle around these all issues.
THE PEOPLE ARE UNSTOPPABLE, ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE
Ryan Acuff (585-455-0961)
Rochester Students for a Democratic Society
University of Rochester Students for a Democratic Society
Appendix: Full Original Demands of Rochester Students for Democratic Society for the October 7th Antiwar Protest
WE DEMAND: U.S. OUT OF AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ!
We thoroughly reject the idea that the occupation of Afghanistan is "the good war" or in any way better or more necessary than the war in Iraq. Neither make us any safer from the "terrorist threat" and both are unjust wars for profit in which thousands of people die, including soldiers and civilians. We demand the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops and private contractors from Afghanistan and Iraq
DEMILITARIZE OUR SCHOOLS!
A school is a place of learning and should be completely free of all military influence. We find military recruitment in our schools to be offensive. Specifically, we demand the reversal of the disgusting Opt-Out Policy just adopted by the Rochester City School District that requires the release of students' private information to military recruiters without the consent or knowledge of students or their parents.
MONEY FOR EDUCATION, NOT WAR! STOP BUDGET CUTS!
We recognize the most recent budget cuts to devastate the Rochester City School District to be part of a growing national trend toward cutting society's money from education in order to pay for the costs of war and corporate greed. We demand that these cuts be fought tooth and nail at every turn! We the students refuse to pay for these wars with our education!