Rochester Mayor Warren: ‘These people set a trap, and our community fell in it.’
Justin Murphy, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Rochester leaders were unanimous and unequivocal Saturday night and again on Sunday morning as cleanup began, as they responded to the vandalism overnight that had followed an hours-long peaceful protest.
“Outsiders – and I do mean outsiders – not from our city, not from our community, decided to set police cars on fire,” Mayor Lovely Warren said Saturday.
Warren doubled down on her remarks Sunday morning. “These people set a trap, and our community fell in it,” said Warren “And last night it was our community that destroyed our neighborhoods.”
Rochester police chief La’Ron Singletary was even more blunt: “What happened today was sparked by anarchists.” On Sunday he also described them as “law enforcement professional protestors.”
Warren clarified her remarks Sunday about the identity of outsiders. “I want to make clear what I meant. I meant outsiders of the Black Lives Matter movement … The Black Lives Matter people had a peaceful protest in Martin Luther King Park, yesterday,” she said.
The Democrat and Chronicle has no independent confirmation of the identities of anyone who may have instigated the unrest, and officials did not provide any proof but on Sunday Warren held photos up at the podium to emphasize individuals she said were instigators of the widespread violence. “It was very organized, and our people jumped on board and fell for the bait,” she said.
Warren personalized her remarks by talking about the destruction of the “Family Dollar that my cousin works at,” and that her cousin no longer knows whether she will still have a job there.
Warren’s explanation picked up an observation widely noted by organizers and attendees of the earlier protest: most of those inflicting the most significant property damage later in the day were white. Some bore the insignia of various anarchist groups or of the radical anti-fascism group Antifa.
what I will not allow is to have this VERY specific narrative be skewed against what black & brown people are doing today. . . my friends have seen this with their own eyes today, that some of the more heinous of the "graffiti" & "property damage" came from folks like these #ROC pic.twitter.com/1n5iCZHOal
— Taurus Savant (@taurussavant) May 30, 2020
“What I will not allow is to have this VERY specific narrative be skewed against what black & brown people are doing today,” one person wrote on Twitter. “My friends have seen this with their own eyes today, that some of the more heinous of the ‘graffiti’ & ‘property damage’ came from folks like these.” He included a series of photos showing white people smashing windows and overturning cars.
One of the most iconic images of the evening came from Democrat and Chronicle photographer Jamie Germano. It showed a white man in a cowboy hat about to smash a car window with a tire iron.
— Jamie Germano (@jgermano1) May 30, 2020
Germano said he noticed the man in the parking lot across the street from the public safety building, “just damaging everything he came into contact with.”
“I literally just followed him from car to car with a long lens until I had a clean shot at him,” he said. “And he didn’t try too hard to hide.”
Germano also shot a photograph of a white man, covered in black clothing, spray-painting anti-police acronyms on a sign outside the public safety building.
Immediately afterward, Germano said, he was spotted and chased away by a group apparently affiliated with the original protest.
“Luckily for him he was faster than them, because there were at least five of the Black Lives Matter protesters chasing him, yelling, ‘That’s not what we’re about,'” he said.
Protests provide cover
The later rioters may have been unaffiliated with the first protest, but that does not necessarily mean they live outside the Rochester area. None of the elected officials who spoke Saturday night elaborated on how they came to that conclusion.
A Rochester Police Department spokesman said early Sunday morning that information on arrests, including names and addresses of those arrested, would not be available “for a few days.”
The governor of Minnesota and mayor of Minneapolis last week had to walk back their claim that all the people arrested during protests there were from outside Minnesota. Arrest information released later showed that the majority of them were, in fact, from Minnesota.
At the same time, the issue of anarchist and far-left or far-right, mostly white groups using Black Lives Matter protests as a cover is a well known phenomenon.
“The real hard-core guys, this is their job: They’re involved in this struggle,” said Adam Leggat, a former British Army counterterrorism officer who now works as a security consultant specializing in crowd management for the Densus Group. “They need protests on the street to give them cover to move in.”
Whatever the affiliation, downtown Rochester on Sunday morning was covered in broken glass. And it was the organizers of the early, peaceful Black Lives Matter protest who were making plans to help clean it up.