Outrage and violence in Rochester: How it happened, what we know

Updated: May 31, 2020 12:23 AM
Created: May 30, 2020 10:57 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — What began as a peaceful protest about police treatment of African-Americans later fell into anarchy that led to a county-wide curfew and one of the worst cases of civil unrest in Monroe County in years.

In order to better inform our viewership and readership, we have compiled what we know about the protest in this article. Note that the situation in Rochester, Monroe County, and the entire nation is extremely fluid and subject to change and we will try to update this article as often as possible. 


What happened:

The initial protest, which began around 1 p.m. at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park, had been organized by a local Black Lives Matter group in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The incident, which showed Floyd begging for help as a now-former Minneapolis policeman pinned his neck to the ground with his knee, has spurred protests and riots across the country

The rally and a subsequent march to the Public Safety Building were almost entirely peaceful, with only some scattered reports of graffiti tagging marring the proceedings. After a group of people spoke outside the Public Safety Building, the group of hundreds of people dispersed into smaller groups heading to various locations, including Washington Square Park. 

Eventually, some groups again converged on the Public Safety Building. Some members of the group began to damage a Rochester Police Department vehicles, eventually setting them aflame. Mayor Lovely Warren later said that people from outside the community had set the cars on fire, which set into motion further events. Rochester Police Chief La'Ron Singletary characterized those who set the cars on fire as "anarchists." 

What came next is still not entirely clear, as the area in and around the Public Safety Building fell into chaos. As groups of people continued to vandalize and damage property of RPD and the City of Rochester, police began to employ measures including tear gas, pepper spray, and pepper ball ammunition. 

During the chaos, News10NBC's own Andrew Hyman and photographer Jack Diamond were attacked, with Hyman's earpiece stolen and Diamond getting tackled. Both are okay and were able to continue to help bring the story throughout the day. 

Reports of further trouble soon arrived from other areas emanating from the Public Safety Building. Crews from News10NBC saw vehicles turned over and set aflame near the Attorney General's office around 6 p.m., and then later scenes of looting were captured on Franklin and East Main Street, not far from the Liberty Pole. 

There were also some reports from the suburbs, including reports from Irondequoit, where Town Supervisor Dave Seeley claimed there had been reports of looting. The Monroe County Sheriff's Office was seen stationed outside a Target on East Ridge Road to protect from potential looting. An armed vehicle was also seen outside Greece Ridge Mall to protect from potential looting. 

As reports of violence and looting increased Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren issued a curfew order shortly before 7:30 p.m. Monroe County Executive Adam Bello soon issued a similar order for the entirety of Monroe County. Both orders went into effect at 9 p.m. and forbid non-essential travel. Other businesses and services, including RTS and Wegmans, have closed for the curfew.  

Despite the curfew, reports have continued to come in of looting (including in Goodman Plaza), arson, and violence in some areas of the city. Stay tuned to News10NBC online and on-the-air for further updates. 


Several local leaders spoke at a press conference on Saturday night, with Warren praising the early demonstrators while Singletary spoke about the trouble that came after.

"Today in Martin Luther King Jr. Park, many people of all races, ethnicities, and cultures came together peacefully to express their anger and to call for change, and I know Dr. King smiled down on this city," Warren said of the early peaceful protests. 

"What you saw here today was not a protest," Singletary said of the violence that came after. "This was chaos, pure chaos. Not a protest. What happened today was sparked by anarchists. Individuals in the crowd who are antagonists. My officers today showed great restraint, showed great restraint, and right now they're out here fighting for this community."

Bello and Sheriff Todd Baxter also spoke, similarly voicing support for earlier peaceful demonstrators while denouncing the later violence. 

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