Sean Lahman, Justin Murphy and George Silvarole Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Daily Messenger, Canandaigua, N.Y.
Video of a violent confrontation between a group of looters and a city couple went viral Sunday, a graphic glimpse at the chaos that gripped Rochester in the hours after a long and peaceful Black Lives Matter protest ended Saturday afternoon.
The video shows a group of eight men, armed with metal clubs and wooden 2x4s breaking the window of a jewelry store on Marshall Street near Monroe Avenue. A young woman comes out of the door of the second floor apartment located above over the store. Her husband stands beside her.
“Go away,” she can be heard saying to the men, “People live here!”
In response, one of the looters begins swinging the length of 2×4, striking both residents. Others in the group join in the attack, throwing objects at the couple. Another punches the woman repeatedly in the head and holds her while others rain blows across her head and back.
As she’s knocked to the ground, her husband returns with a golf club, yelling “you get away from my wife” as he chases the looters away.
The video, just 68 seconds long and captured by a passing motorist, is an ugly example of the wanton violence that spread across the city and Monroe County suburbs.
“I was horrified when I saw the video,” said Shelly Gonzales, who identified the couple as her 24-year-old daughter Madison Mavity and son-in-law Bret Mavity.
She said Madison had lived in the apartment above the cluster of stores for more than four years. She helped the owners of the jewelry store board up their windows after it had been ransacked earlier Saturday afternoon.
“She told me that’s why she went outside,” Gonzales said. “Maddy heard the banging and thought the owners had returned, so she went down to help.”
Instead, she found herself face to face with a dangerous crowd.
“She was p—–d,” Gonzales said. “She was really angry and frustrated.”
‘These people set a trap’
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,” 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.
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.
‘That’s the Rochester that we know’
On Sunday, less than 24 hours after a few hundred people inflicted major property damage across the Rochester area, a few thousand more turned up with brooms, gloves and garbage bags and set to work cleaning it up.
Warner Iveris and his husband grabbed the few supplies they had in their home — a broom and a dustpan — and came over to help clean up with other volunteers working near the looted Villa apparel store off East Main Street. They stopped by some of their other favorite businesses on their way over to make sure each one was OK.
“We were concerned because we could see on the news (the damage to) this place right around the corner from us,” Iveris said. “This is where we live, you know? I’d like to get it back to normal, as soon as we can, and help just repair the damage.”
Others took it upon themselves to guard the places they frequent. Three people stood outside a corner store on Lexington Avenue, broken glass and half-empty boxes of candy and bubble gum at their feet, and quietly talked about what they had heard Saturday night.
They’d tried calling the owner, they said. Couldn’t reach him, so they’d decided to sit and wait for him to come by. The store is one of the only places to get groceries within walking distance for them and they didn’t want anyone coming by and stealing anything else.
The city of Rochester organized the citywide cleanup beginning at 10 a.m. at Frontier Field — the Ibero-American Action League coordinated work from the Father Tracy Center — while some people associated with the original Black Lives Matter protest already had been planning to gather downtown.
“At a moment’s notice those individuals came (from) … all across this community picking up glass, boarding up windows, making sure that our neighborhoods are safe and sound,” Warren said later. “That’s the Rochester that we know and that we love.”
The volunteers were joined Sunday by 200 state troopers, dispatched by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to be on hand in case there was further violence Sunday night. The Rochester Police Department was stretched to capacity Saturday, particularly after some of its cruisers were destroyed.
Warren said that the destruction, which gutted many services and businesses used by black families and that grandmothers, mothers and children would now suffer because of the loss of access to stores.
‘Don’t lose the passion’
In addition to the 200 troopers sent to Rochester, New York sent additional officers to other upstate cities Sunday to quell violence sparked by police-brutality protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo made an impassioned plea Sunday for peaceful protests at his daily briefing Sunday at the Capitol, shifting his focus from the response to the coronavirus pandemic to trying to cool tensions across the state and nation in response to Floyd’s death.
Cuomo said Floyd should not die in vain.
“We need to mobilize the best in our people rather than allowing the worst,” he said.
“Don’t lose the passion, don’t lose the outrage. Be frustrated, but be smart and be directed and constructive. Help your community, don’t hurt your community. Be a laser and focus on real positive change.”
The comments come after cities across New York were under siege by rampant violence and looting amid massive protests Saturday.
n Buffalo, stores were broke into and City Hall was vandalized. In Albany, a standoff between protesters and police took place at a police station a few blocks from the Governor’s Mansion as city businesses were looted and government buildings were damaged. In Syracuse, a daylong peaceful protest turned violent at night. And major protests in New York City have led to violent standoffs between police and protesters in recent days, with a viral video showing two NYPD vehicles charging into a group of demonstrators who blocked their path Saturday.
Cuomo has refrained from any statewide curfew, which some cities implemented Saturday. The governor said curfew decisions should be made on the local level.
“There’s no one size that fits all here,” Cuomo said. “Curfews work well in some cities and some cities they can create additional issues. So that’s a case by case basis.”
He said there would “ramifications” if a review of videos showed police misconduct.
The New York State Troopers Police Benevolent Association criticized Cuomo’s comment Sunday, saying he should have better acknowledged the work of the police force.
“I find it appalling that you have not condemned the violence directed at your New York State Troopers during the riots across the state,” the union’s president Thomas Mungeer said in a statement.
“In fact, during your daily briefing today you repeatedly used the word ‘ugly’ to describe recent events, but did not acknowledge that the Troopers under your command have been responding to riots with unwavering loyalty to public safety.”
Includes reporting from Jon Campbell of New York State Team, USA TODAY Network
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