From Funk the War to Funk the Police

By James Amber

This idea that the people united will never be defeated has been one of the overarching ideals of Rochester Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) as they rise above false allegations and media misrepresentation.

Wednesday, Oct. 7, as part of the National Day of Action commemorating the 8th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan that had been adopted at the SDS National Convention in July, Rochester held their second Funk the War street dance party. They were protesting the fact that the war in Afghanistan has been going on for eight years too many and also had three specific demands of their own. Besides wanting all troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq, they were calling for the complete demilitarization of our schools, demanding that all military recruiters be banned from school grounds and that the recent opt-out policy in the Rochester City School District (RCSD) to be overturned. They also demanded more money for education, not occupation, referencing the most recent budget cuts in RCSD as an example.

The march started out as any protest that SDS had organized, resembling the first Funk the War held in March 2009, on the 6th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Protesters congregated in Washington Square Park, and, standing on a statue looking out over everyone, I could see people hula-hooping, bucket drumming, dancing, laughing and having a good time. Signs such as “Eat the Rich, Feed the Poor” could be seen, as well as banners that read “No War But Class War” and “8 Years Too Many, U.S. Out of Afghanistan.”

A chant rose up of “No justice, no peace, U.S. out of the Middle East” as people started dancing to the beat of the drums and the rhythm of the chants. After having been in the park for about an hour, organizer Jake Allen gave an opening speech voicing the demands of the march, which was met with loud cheers and raised fists as he said, “No more blood for oil! No more blood for empire!”

Soon the march moved out of the park, at first on the sidewalk and then crossing through Bausch and Lomb Place, chanting at the top of our lungs, “Occupation is a crime! Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine!”

We stayed on the sidewalk until we got to Main St., when we filled the road. At that point, unlike the previous Funk the War, which had taken a very similar route, no police were to be seen except the foot cop on the corner of Main and St. Paul. As we proceeded through the intersection, the cop shoved us back down the road with no explanation until somebody asked, and he simply pointed down the street. A few blocks away, a fire truck was coming toward us with lights and sirens. As soon as we saw this fire truck, the group turned around and backed up to allow the fire truck passage through the intersection. As the fire truck passed, it did not have to slow down for protesters as reported by corporate media, nor did it have to come to a complete stop as reported by the fire department. Having allowed the truck clean passage, we continued on until we reached the Main St. Bridge. And that’s when things took a turn.

Out of nowhere, numerous cops appeared, some wading through the march to arrest the single African-American youth in the march, something that Rochester SDS as well as other organizations have called an act of systemic racism. A local independent media reporter who was filming this incident was shoved, tackled to the ground and arrested by three cops. By this point everyone had been pushed or moved back onto the sidewalk, and enraged yells of “Let him go!” rang out. Except for one, all the arrests, including that of the independent reporter, took place on the sidewalk.

Nothing happened for a couple of minutes as the cops surrounded us, but then it all turned to chaos. All of a sudden, my friends, my comrades, were being taken down by cops for no reason at all. My friend in front of me was taken down by three cops, who scraped his chin against the pavement. Unable to move as I watched this event, I felt something hit the back of my feet. Turning, I saw yet another friend of mine laid out on the pavement, having reportedly been punched by a cop and then brought to the ground, his face smashed into the sidewalk to the extent of needing three stitches in his chin. As his arresting officer put on the cuffs, he dug his knee into the back of my friend’s neck, and I distinctly remember looking over and being gravely concerned, unable to tell if he was even conscious due to his half-closed eyes and pallid skin.

Yet another female protester, for absolutely no reason at all except perhaps not moving fast enough, had her face bashed into the base of a lamp post, resulting in her later needing stitches as well. Cops were pushing, shoving and hitting with batons, causing another marcher to fall and injure his wrist. Another independent media reporter was pushed into a flowerbed because she was not moving fast enough.

By the time we managed to disperse, having previously had no way to do so with cops blocking off both sides of the bridge, 11 people had been arrested and two had been hospitalized. One had to later take herself to the hospital despite having blood pouring from her mouth due to a split lip. Our march that had consisted of about 75 protesters had resulted in approximately 40 police cars responding.

In the words of Jake Allen, the police “acted like thugs, [and] there are plenty of ways they could have handled the situation that would not have resulted in the arrest of a dozen people.” Police have said that an order to disperse had been given, but no announcement was ever heard. Not one of the loudspeakers on the cars was utilized, and the police chief was quoted as saying that many of these protesters had never protested before -- but that is not the case. Many of us have been to D.C., to Chicago, to the DNC and RNC, and, most recently, Pittsburgh, and we are aware of what a dispersal order sounds like. There was not one given.

The next day marchers met at the Flying Squirrel Community Space to have a meeting about what to do next. We met outside since the weather was nice, and before we knew it, we were surrounded by cop cars. For a one-and-a-half-hour period we were constantly patrolled by around 10-12 different cop cars. They parked across the road, drove past, and were even so brazen as to pull into our driveway and openly videotape every single person at that meeting, as well write down the license plate number of every car in the parking lot. When people attempted to leave the meeting, they were followed, pulled over, identified and released. In talking to Allen about this, he said, “It was [an act of] blatant intimidation. They want people to be afraid, afraid to speak out, afraid to dissent.”

In response to these acts of brutality and intimidation, Rochester SDS is taking action and making moves. On Friday, Oct. 9, they held a press conference to confront obvious errors and lies in the reports from police and the corporate media. Every major media outlet came to the conference ,but all they could focus on was the fact that it had been an unpermitted march. The City Council met on Tuesday, Oct. 13, and SDS members and march participants and supporters, packed the City Council chambers to speak to the council and tell their sides of the story. As of right now, Rochester SDS, as Allen puts it, is “in dialogue with the city” and will continue taking steps to prevent something like this from happening again.

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