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Barnhart, Lupien Call for Federal Probe into Police Response

Patti Singer

Rochester City Council member Mary Lupien, left, and Monroe County Legislator Rachel Barnhart have asked the Department of Justice to investigate law enforcement response to the protests over Daniel Prude’s death. Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

Who polices the police?

Monroe County Legislator Rachel Barnhart and Rochester City Council member Mary Lupien are asking the Department of Justice to find out.

The two announced Sept. 14 that they had sent a letter to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, seeking an investigation into the response from law enforcement to the protests over the homicide of Daniel Prude.

“We have seen a disproportionate response to a few protesters who may have thrown bottles,” Barnhart said at a news conference. “That does not give police license to open fire on hundreds and thousands of peaceful citizens. … In response to minor threats, people have opened fire with pepper balls and tear gas. …”

In the letter, Barnhart and Lupien said that on Sept. 5 they were part of group of elected officials, pastors and elders who were at a barricade about 20 feet from police, who fired pepper balls at their bodies.

They are asking the DOJ to investigate:

  • What law enforcement agencies participated in the protest response in Rochester in September?
  • Who was supervising the response on each night of the protests and directing an escalated response?
  • What weapons and chemicals were used on citizens?
  • Were these weapons and chemicals used appropriately?
  • Did law enforcement violate the civil rights of protesters?

They said the also want to know which agency — Rochester Police, Monroe County Sheriff or State Police — gave orders for the response.

The letter also went to Rep. Joe Morelle and U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. They said they did not know when the Department of Justice would respond or act upon the request.

RPD has distributed photos and videos of what they’ve identified as protestors lighting Molotov cocktails and throwing incendiary devices. During a briefing with City Council Sept. 10, Chief La’Ron Singletary and members of his command staff defended the response, saying officers did not respond for several minutes after objects had been thrown.

At their news conference, Barnhart and Lupien said law enforcement has shown restraint, and pointed out peaceful protests from Sept. 6, when church and community elders were invited to help maintain the peace, through Sept. 11. They said police were not restrained at protests Sept. 12.

They said protest organizers are doing a good job of maintaining order. But with a crowd of hundreds to more than a thousand people, it can be hard to know everyone.

Lupien said the response from police only polarizes people. “Short term, the police may be concerned with clearing the streets. But long term, this kind of militaristic response, of treating the people as the enemy, sows division and hatred of the police.”

Barnhart said they are not anti-police, “but we recognize there is something wrong with our current system.”

The Rev. Lewis Stewart, president of United Christian Leadership Ministry, released a statement that he was troubled by the request. He likened it to a wolf investigating the chicken coop.

“The William Barr Justice Department has been no friend to protesters as well as communities of color,” he wrote. “Mr. Barr is a creature of Trump who does not believe in the existence of systemic racism; and the Trump administration has certainly sided with the police in matters of law and order; and neither do they support police reform.”