Rochester activists attacked by police

October 12, 2009

ROCHESTER, N.Y.--Rochester Students for a Democratic Society’s “Funk the War 2: Revenge of the Funk”--a protest/dance party marking the eighth anniversary of the occupation of Afghanistan--was brutally attacked by Rochester police on October 7.

The protest drew 60 people and was especially significant because it is the first time the Rochester antiwar movement has observed the anniversary of the Afghanistan war. Demonstrators chanted, "Stop the war--yes we can! U.S. out of Afghanistan" and beat drums, eventually blocking two lanes of traffic on main street. As protesters approached an Army recruiting station, the Rochester police exploded--driving two cars in front of the march with approximately 12 cops on foot, charging at the protesters with clubs and pepper spray.

The first person arrested was one of the few African American students in the crowd. As protesters erupted into chants of "Let him go" and "Racists cops go home," police charged onto the sidewalk, tackling two student leaders to the ground. They wrestled a cameraman into the base of a light pole and slammed a young woman's face into the pavement. Over 30 police cars were on the scene in seconds, and police in riot gear ran around swinging clubs and intimidating demonstrators.

The march was completely dispersed, and police chased protesters all over downtown. In all, 12 people were arrested and three were injured. One student went to the hospital for cuts and bruises.

Following the demonstration and persistent hounding by march participants, the news of the brutality hit the local news, becoming the top story for two days. Police claimed protesters blocked a fire truck and assaulted officers. However, thanks to the presence of members of Rochester Indymedia and their cameras, the police attack was caught on video and was included in news broadcasts and shown to the city council for review.

A press conference two days later further exposed police and media lies about the incidents that day. Due to public pressure, a civilian investigation headed up by the Rochester City Council and a police internal investigation have begun. Organizers' demands include a formal apology from the police department.

This unprovoked brutality was only a taste of what many in the Black and Latino communities have faced for years, a lesson not lost on the participants. This shows the importance of continuing to oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as organizing against police violence here at home.

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