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Rochester mayor responds to backlash over public vigil

Mayor Lovely Warren. Mayor Lovely Warren.

Jennifer Lewke
Updated: April 15, 2020 06:10 PM
Created: April 15, 2020 04:44 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — There’s more to the story. That’s the message from Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren Wednesday after she failed to break up a group of more than 100 people who gathered over the weekend on a city street to mourn the death of a shooting victim. 

Police responded to the gathering, but at the direction of the mayor, it was allowed to continue despite the social distancing rules she and other public officials have been strongly urging the public to follow during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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On Wednesday, News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke sat down for a one-on-one interview with Warren. 

Jennifer Lewke (News10NBC): I want to start with the vigil from over the weekend. We’re a couple of days removed now, and I’m wondering in hindsight whether you would’ve made any different decisions? 

Mayor Lovely Warren: Well, let’s be very clear about something here, and this whole thing of “allowed," it is technically both yellow journalism and simply not true. What happened was the vigil had started happening already, there were already 100-and-something people there. Nobody called and asked for permission to do this. It was something that was already occurring. I got a call from the chief saying that this was occurring and should he send officers in to break this up.

As you all know, we have been working for the past three to four weeks now to provide a message of social distancing, so we’re not going to contradict what the message from our healthcare officials was, which was to social distance. So, for anybody to think that we gave permission is just simply not true. It’s untrue. What happened was, it was already occurring… I got a call and I said well, I live around the corner, let me go out here and assess the situation to see what if anything that we can do.

Upon arrival and seeing what was taking place, seeing people crying, seeing people mourn, I contacted Pathways to Peace who also sent out a couple of people who talked and realized and recognized that, at that point in time, people were not in the state of mind to be educated on the coronavirus. They were mourning the loss of a loved one, and they were not in the right state of mind.

The chief and I reconnected and knew that the only thing you could do was go in with force and send officers in there and put possibly the community and our officers in harm’s way. We knew that because emotions were running high. We were just going to put a powder keg in the middle of this and light it up — no, that was not what we were going to do. 

Lewke: We've taken dozens of phone calls and emails since this happened, and many of those phone calls and emails are coming from folks who lost someone during this pandemic whether from COVID-19 or some other illness and weren't allowed to have a funeral, weren't allowed to gather to mourn like those folks were over the weekend. What would be your message to them? 

Warren: And that's why I'm saying Jennifer, that when you say allowed to do that… nobody asked for permission. This was something that was already happening. So if those people would have gathered their family in their home, do you expect the police officers to go in and break it up, or if they were outside in their front yard and go in and break them up and say, oh well you can't do this? 

Lewke: I think in the middle of this pandemic, most people might think that could happen. 

Warren: Well, I'm telling you that in the situation, and let me be clear, I lost an uncle to this, my cousins are nurses that are in nursing homes and in hospitals. I understand. We don't condone, it's not that this is condoned, this wasn't permission asked. It was something that was already occurring and happening… We could have made a decision to do more harm to cause more friction especially given the relationship that many people in this challenged community have with the police officers, or we could have allowed or let this situation play out the way that it did. 

Lewke: So, you're saying that there was a threat of violence, like you felt like that the situation was heightened? 

Warren: No, I'm not gonna say that there was a threat of violence. The fact of the matter is that you just don't know.

Lewke: Do you worry that people will see, and I know you keep saying you didn't use the word allowed, but there was a conversation between you and the chief about whether to use force. So, do you worry that if there is a similar situation not at that corner but if there's another death of some sort, we had another shooting yesterday, that people will think, "the mayor let it go this time, she'll let it go this time, too?"

Warren: No, because then you're in a different position, right? So the thing about it is we had investigators and police officers that were out there all throughout the morning doing the investigation. This particular vigil happened, people started to gather, there was no warning of this taking place. So, now we understand, and we know that okay, we need to have our Pathways to Peace folks out there early to do that education.

Once it’s already started, once you have hundreds of people gathered, that is not going to be a great situation to go in and use force and round people up. And you may not have heard people say that, but let me tell you what I’ve heard. I’ve heard round them up, I’ve heard them called N-words. I’ve heard the despicable things and the racist things that have been said about our young people in this city.

Watch the full interview below. 


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