What’s the status of the Battle of Rochester?
Tactically, on recent nights, less than two-tenths of one percent of the population of the Rochester Metropolitan Statistical Area has been on the streets of the city, with those numbers boosted by activists brought in from Buffalo and Syracuse.
Disruption to the larger community has been minimal, damage has been minor, though three trucks were burned and opportunistic vandalism abounds, including broken windows at City Hall. Several officers have been injured by thrown rocks and bottles. They have had lasers shined in their eyes, been the target of small explosives and fireworks, been spat upon, and are continually shouted at in coarse and vile terms. There are no reports of injured protesters.
The demonstrations have shown a high level of capable command and control. They are well organized and equipped, with various local businesses and non-profits apparently donating items to them. Elements of the demonstrators are acting in every regard like military units.
How are the police doing?
Well, the city hasn’t burned down. And Kenosha, a city half Rochester’s size and the target of similar disruptions, lost some 100 businesses to violence and arson. Rochester has thus far lost none.
How is the elected leadership doing?
City Council, though largely anti-police, has prudently demanded to know what the mayor knew about the homicide of Daniel Prude and when she knew it, and what she did about it. The sheriff on Saturday night issued a strong and wise statement.
Beyond that, public officials have been either ineffective or insane.
Completely absent is the county executive, who has thus far put out one three-sentence press release on the subject. During the same period, he has released lengthy statements on recycling propane tanks and new non-stop flights to Miami from the county airport.
That’s the ineffective part.
Here’s the insane.
Mayor Lovely Warren, at probably the most significant conceivable moment of any mayor’s tenure, has turned to political ass covering, and in doing so has destroyed the leadership capability of the police chief, at the very moment when the community and his department need him the most.
As the community learned that the mayor and the chief had known of the homicide of Daniel Prude for some five months, and kept it secret from the people, she sought to avoid responsibility by saying that the police chief had lied to her. She said that he told her that the gentleman had died of a drug overdose, and that the chief had kept details of police involvement from her.
It is impossible to believe that she is telling the truth.
It is not consistent with his character or her behavior.
Chief La’Ron Singletary is not a liar, nor is he a man to cover over bad police behavior or ignore a wrong done anyone – black or white. He would not have kept the mayor in the dark, particularly as the nation recoiled in disgust at the similar death of George Floyd.
He did not choose to conceal the homicide of Daniel Prude, nor did he deceive his boss to do so.
Rather, it is far more likely that the decision to conceal the homicide was made by the only person who could decide such a thing – the boss, the mayor. And when that fact became apparent to the community after her first failed comments on the matter, she came out the next day to throw the police chief under the bus. She chose to sacrifice him and his career in order to save herself.
And she did so on the literal eve of what everyone knew would be a time of great public safety challenge. There was no doubt that spreading word about the homicide of Daniel Prude would bring national attention and demonstrations in the streets. In every other community, such deaths have led to significant riot, looting and arson.
To forestall those calamities, and to safeguard the city, Rochester needed its police chief to have the best days of his career. It needed him to be what he has previously been, an even-handed voice of calm and confidence, a respecter of the protests while still a protector of the community.
And she made that impossible.
If he shows his face, he will be peppered with “Why did you lie to the mayor?” questions.
To destroy the speak-to-the-public capability of this important leader on the eve of this upset is an unforgivable error by the mayor.
But with an indictment on campaign-finance crimes coming in a month, she desperately needs to maintain support with her African-American base. And for that to happen, she had to get her fingerprints off the cover up of the Daniel Prude homicide.
Even if it destroyed the reputation and legacy of La’Ron Singletary.
Also insane in all this, is the fact that the state attorney general – specially charged by the governor with investigating the deaths of unarmed civilians at the hands of police – completely ignored the homicide of Daniel Prude for four months. The state’s watchman for situations exactly like this, when alerted by the district attorney, acknowledged its jurisdiction, and then seems to have turned its back on Daniel Prude.
No apparent investigation took place, no grand jury was impaneled, no public statement was made.
It was all buried, disappearing into some conspiracy of silence.
How does the attorney general take jurisdiction on April 21 but not begin the official grand jury investigation until September 4?
Cynically, angry people wonder if it was delayed until just before the election for political purposes. Suspiciously, angry people wonder if black lives don’t matter, even when the officials empowered to protect them are black.
That’s the status on the Battle of Rochester.
The protests are what they are, and the politicians are what they are.