Peaceful march in Rochester protests national police brutality
With the Christmas lights of the Peace Plaza in the background, dozens of protesters shouting "I can't breathe" dropped to the ground Saturday afternoon in a demonstration against recent incidents of alleged police brutality nationwide.
It was the culmination of a march by about 125 people, including Rochester Police Chief Roger Peterson, from the parking lot of the Kmart store on Ninth Street Southeast, along Broadway and to the Peace Plaza.
"I think this is great," Kamau Wilkins, one of the organizers of the march, said afterward. "It's hugely diverse and I think that's important. We've got people of all colors and cultures here, we've got clergy here, even the police chief."
The march, intended to be a peaceful protest, is similar to others that have taken place across the country following a wave of deaths of black people at the hands of white police officers. In the most recent case, a black man with asthma was put in a choke hold by an officer. Despite saying "I can't breathe" several times he was wrestled to the ground, and died.
Wilkins and others participating in the march made it a point to say they were not protesting against the Rochester Police Department. In fact, Wilkins told the marchers before they started walking, "the police department has been very helpful" in plans for the march. "They told me this is about having our constitutional right protected." Wilkins' announcement that Peterson had joined the march was greeted with applause and shouts of support.
"We take justice for all seriously," Peterson said when asked why he was taking part in the march. "In this community there is a desire to work together."
Carrying signs reading "Black Lives Matter," the marchers chanted "Hands up — Don't shoot" as they walked, a reference to the now-infamous shooting of a black man by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. Car horns occasionally tooted in support.
When the march reached Broadway and Second Street Southwest, the busiest intersection in downtown Rochester, police blocked traffic to allow the crowd to gather and chant in the middle of the street. The march then proceeded to the Peace Plaza.
Wilkins said he organized the march to start a dialogue locally. "I decided it was time," he said. "Public discourse has been pretty deep all across the nation. The most important part for me is creating dialogue, to engender a conversation about race."
It is important for voices to be heard, Wilkins said. "From my perspective, if you remain silent, you take the side of the perpetrators."
Among those participating in the march was Tameka Coleman, of Rochester. "This is an issue that overwhelmingly impacts communities of color," she said. "We shouldn't be afraid of the people who are here to protect us."
At the end of the rally, participants were urged to stay in touch via social media to continue discussing the issues.
"This is a long job," Coleman told the crowd. "It doesn't stop here."