On Thursday approximately fifty people gathered in front of Geneva’s Public Safety Building to learn from Rochester-based civil rights organizers Ashley Gantt and Iman Abid.
The event was a continuation of the BLM Geneva: People’s Peaceful Protest actions that have been taking place nearly every day since the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota on Memorial Day.
Sharing the stage as they addressed the assembled crowd, Gantt and Abid discussed the demands that the Black Lives Matter movement is making in Rochester, the need to build community power, and the courage and tenacity that the struggle against white supremacy requires. “Whatever you do, keep resisting. It is our responsibility to demand the world we want our children to live in,” Gantt told the crowd.
Gantt emphasized four specific demands driving the movement in Rochester: cancel the rent, no police in schools, repeal 50 A, and defund and demilitarize the police. She explained that the initial moratorium on evictions passed due to the coronavirus is about to expire, placing thousands of people at risk of eviction. Funds allocated to police need to be shifted to rent relief. The Rochester Black Lives Matter movement recently won its demand to eliminate school resource officers. The Rochester City Council cut over three million dollars from the police budget and called for police to be removed from schools.
Abid, who is the regional director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, observed that Governor Cuomo just signed the repeal of 50 A, the controversial law shielding police misconduct records from the public eye. She emphasized that this victory belongs to the people in the streets. The fourth demand calls for defunding and demilitarizing police. This includes eliminating weapons grade ammunition such as tear gas from municipal police arsenals.
Both activists emphasized the importance of holding elected officials accountable. Until the recent cuts in its budget, the Rochester Police Department received 148 million dollars a year. The bulk of its arrests, however, were not for violent crimes but for petty larceny. “They have to stop arresting people for being poor,” Gantt said.
Gantt and Abid also described Rochester’s new Police Accountability Board, a model that local activists want to see implemented in Geneva. In response to questions from the demonstrators, Gantt and Abid listed the “non-negotiable” elements of any Police Accountability Board capable of serving the people. It must be civilian led with no police or former police serving on the board. “The police can’t police themselves,” Gantt explained. “The board must have subpoena power. It must have the authority to discipline officers. And its members need to be everyday people with real life experience.” Abid added that trying to address the problem by appealing to the Center for Dispute Settlement is not an option. It is not an independent board and it rarely, if ever, resolves cases.
One member of the Geneva City Council was present for the discourse on police reform event. Councilmemeber Laura Salamendra said that she was glad that the organizers of Geneva’s movement had the opportunity to learn from what has worked in Rochester. “Geneva can be a model of a community that puts people’s needs over police budgets and returns power to where it belongs – with the people,” Salamendra said.