by DARIEN LAMEN
(WXIR-Rochester) Mayor Lovely Warren's ban on overnight gatherings was met with condemnation Wednesday as activists and community organizers accused the mayor of using an existing emergency health order to shore up police powers.
In a Facebook post, organizers with Free the People Roc wrote,
"Mayor Lovely Warren is dangerous and continues to uphold anti-black policy, and violent Trump-like rhetoric against our community. Instead of addressing police violence in our community she chooses to criminalize Black and Brown bodies who're being robbed of resources," the post said.
The mayor said that the updated emergency order--which bans public outdoor gatherings of 5 or more people and indoor gatherings of 10 or more people between 11pm and 5am--is necessary to prevent gun violence that the RPD claims stems from large parties like the one that reportedly took place off N Clinton Ave last weekend. The RPD says police officers were on the scene at the time a drive-by shooting occurred.
During a press conference Wednesday afternoon, RPD Chief La'Ron Singletary said the RPD would "continue to pursue the organizers of these parties," noting that the mayor's updated emergency order "has given us another tool in our toolbelt."
The order states that those who violate the ban on public gatherings could face misdemeanor charges carrying a $500 fine and up to 3 months in jail. The police chief also said the RPD may seek to charge party organizers with criminal negligence and reckless endangerment.
While City Council Vice President Willie Lightfoot said Wednesday he spoke "on behalf of City Council" in urging people to comply with the mayor's order, Councilmember Mary Lupien says he does not speak for her.
"The mayor's order doesn't just give the RPD another tool in their toolbelt," Lupien says, "it gives them yet another hammer."
"To institute a curfew and then criminalize gatherings, we know this isn't going to work, it's just going to further induce harm on communities that are already hurting."
Lupien also questioned the legality of the mayor's ban. "The wording of the executive order talks about it as an emergency under COVID to protect lives, but then in the [mayor's] press release and the press conference it's all about gun violence," Lupien says. "I don't see how the current spike in violence is different from those in other years, other than we have a COVID emergency to give cover for the institution of curfew where it would normally be unconstitutional," Lupien says.
According to the RPD, the number of violent crimes in the city to date is still lower than it usually is at this point in the year.
Activists have vowed to defy the mayor's ban on public gatherings. Several protests are planned for the next several days.
Darien Lamen is news producer/director for WXIR Community Radio. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.