Black Lives Matter protests have now taken place in every state in the nation. And while many major cities have hosted rallies, small towns have also seen their share of social justice activism. The Flower City has now seen two straight weekends of protests — and while the first Saturday was overshadowed by looting and property destruction, subsequent demonstrations throughout the Rochester area remained peaceful.
During the first weekend of protests, police cars were damaged and local stores were broken into. While 2.5 million burglaries take place each year, shops that might not have been seen as a target for theft in the past were robbed in the aftermath of last Saturday’s demonstrations. The City maintained that roughly 86 businesses that were negatively impacted by rioters would receive financial assistance from Neighborhood and Business Development Department programs.
Upon hearing the news, some people were quick to judge that the protests were used as a way for local residents (some of whom may be among the 68 million Americans with poor credit) to benefit from petty crime. But even though windows were smashed and merchandise was pillaged, experts say that it’s important for those outside of the Black community to focus on what’s really at stake.
It may be true that adults who participate in more than seven hours of physical activity each week have a longer life expectancy. But it’s clear that any time a Black person has an interaction with law enforcement that there’s a distinct possibility of violence. Even though Black Americans make up only 13% of the nation’s population, this demographic is 2.5 times more likely than white Americans to be killed by police.
The idea that products, unlike human lives, can be replaced is one that has given many people pause. Only a small percentage of protestors likely to be involved in looting, as anecdotal evidence shows that protestors and rioters typically come from separate groups. But more importantly, the action of looting may be motivated by factors completely unrelated to financial or personal gain. According to a 1968 study, protest-related vandalism usually centers around buildings or entities that are “symbolic of other values,” such as authority, capitalism, the police, and other systems that seemingly perpetuate racism.
The city of Rochester and the county of Monroe both adopted a curfew immediately following the first weekend of protests. But even as the chaos died down, some were concerned about what might still be to come. Many businesses were worried about reopening in advance of another weekend of protests (and some took the step of boarding up all windows and doors in an effort to dissuade demonstrators). But fortunately, those concerns turned out to be unfounded.
By all accounts, the protests that took place throughout the city of Rochester and in the suburbs remained peaceful all weekend long. For both police officers and protestors, the main focus was on safety. Law enforcement blocked off a large area on West Main Street for the weekend’s events, while demonstrators largely stayed within those boundaries and focused on their main message. At the start of the weekend’s events, hundreds gathered downtown and no police contact was needed. And throughout the day on Saturday, protests continued to be uneventful — though no less meaningful.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that reduced police intervention can culminate in more peaceful protests, which seemed to be the case in Rochester this past weekend. Although there is much work to be done, many Rochesterians remain hopeful that progress is being made and that this progress won’t continue to be plagued by distractions and destruction.