RPD clears City Hall of protesters, pastor calls for day of peace, meeting with Free the People Roc

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — At 8 o’clock Wednesday morning, Rochester Police moved protesters away from City Hall. At one point the line of police and protesters came very close together.

Tuesday, City Hall closed because no one could get in. Every entrance was blocked by protesters.

That’s why the police moved in.

This was the announcement over the RPD loudspeaker:

"This is the Rochester Police Department. Employees and citizens need to access City Hall. You are blocking vehicular and pedestrian traffic to City Hall. You are hereby ordered to clear the street and sidewalk. Failure to clear the street and sidewalk immediately will result in your arrest."

The police started moving forward holding batons, wearing helmets and face shields and chanting "move back."

The protesters formed a wall.

Police cleared debris that was blocking the street.

News10NBC’s Lynette Adams was in the middle of it.

"Police officers are now moving the items out of the middle of the street," she said standing on the corner of Fitzhugh and Church Streets.

Then, Adams spoke to one of the leaders of Free the People Roc, Ashley Gantt.

"We have a right to protest. We have a right to protest," Gantt said. "They’re worried about access to City Hall. A man is dead quite literally because of the Rochester Police Department."

Lynette Adams: "So what now? Will you re-group and come back?"

Ashley Gantt, Free the People Roc: "Of course. We’re going to continue to be here every single day. Period. Police or not."

I asked City Council Vice President Willie Lightfoot about the police removal of protesters.

Brean: "Where do you stand on that?"

Willie Lightfoot, Vice President Rochester City Council: "I think we have to have a balance between individuals being able to peaceful protest which they have been allowed to do. They were there all night long. But we also have citizens who are employees who are working in that building. They have families. We have citizens who are trying to pay their bills and take care of their business on a day to day basis."

When police and protester lines were a few feet apart, Pastor Myra Brown from Spiritus Christi Church walked in between them. Our camera caught her talking to the police. She says she was trying to find a compromise.

"What I introduced was: Do they really need to go away?" Pastor Brown said. "Because they actually do have a legal right to protest in public spaces and isn’t the sidewalk a public space?"

RPD arrested 16 people for disorderly conduct.

"We still have the issue of those folks who were arrested who really need to be released," Pastor Brown said. "We cannot punish people for making statements and calling our city and world to justice. We have to think of a better tool than to punish them with the power of the criminal justice system."

After Pastor Brown’s conversation with the police, it appeared that the police push stopped. They put up metal fencing and packed the protesters’ sleeping bags and tents into a flatbed truck and took them to Pastor’s Brown’s church around the corner from City Hall. City crews also pulled down posters covering the doors and walls of City Hall stamped with words like "resign" and "murderers."

At a news conference Wednesday morning, Reverend Lewis Stewart of United Christian Leadership Ministries acknowledged the perseverance of the protests.

"However calling for the resignation of this official and that official is not a goal," Rev. Stewart said.

Rev. Stewart publicly asked for a meeting with the protest leaders like Free the People Roc’s Ashley Gantt.

"If we are to build a non-racist society then we must hear each other and speak respectfully to each other without yelling and berating others who have a different opinion," Stewart said.

News10NBC asked Free the People Roc if they accepted Rev. Stewart’s invitation.

Rev. Stewart also said he is talking with Rev. Jesse Jackson and says Rev. Jackson is planning a visit to Rochester as early as next week.

News10NBC emailed Rev. Jackson’s organization and asked if there is a specific day for his visit.