Black Lives Matter protesters briefly occupied a portion of the interstate on Sunday during a rally
ROCHESTER — Protesters are planning to shut down I-490 again later this week.
On Sunday afternoon, protesters, marching under the name Save Rochester — Black Lives Matter, marched onto I-490 in downtown Rochester and achieved their goal to disrupt traffic on the interstate and take over the Frederick Douglass Susan B. Anthony Memorial Bridge. The road was shut down in both directions through the city before the crowd made its way out there.
Currently, the same group is planning "Shut it down! Highway shutdown pt. 2," scheduled for this Friday. This time, the group plans to shut down I-490 during rush hour for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. That's how long an officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd.
"We're going to shut it down again," an organizer who went by only his first name, Mikey, told the crowd Sunday.
On Sunday afternoon, several hundred people marched peacefully through downtown and briefly occupied a stretch of Interstate-490 Sunday afternoon in a rally against police abuse and misconduct.
Rochester city and New York State Police accommodated rather than impeded the crowd, blocking cross streets as protesters walked chanting through downtown and diverting I-490 traffic in both directions near the bridge so the demonstrators could safely occupy the interstate.
Protest organizers said they had told the city of their plans to move onto the bridge and told them generally the route that marchers would follow.
The shutdown was short-lived, however. Protesters were on the Douglass-Anthony bridge only 15 minutes before State Police hemmed them in at either end.
After some protesters aimed peaceable but pointed comments at a line of 10 stoic troopers blocking the bridge's eastern end, a cavalcade of Rochester police cruisers arrived to usher protesters off the span on the Route 31 exit from the eastbound lanes.
The rally, which began at 2 p.m. with speeches at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park, ended there about 4:30 p.m.
The tone was strident and at times upbeat. The group stopped several time times along their route to listen to the organizers talk and to invite members of the crowd to come forward.
One young Black man spoke through a megaphone just before the group moving onto I-490, telling them that white society was happy to cheer for Black men when they lead sports teams to victory but too often ignored their plight at other times.
"If they're going to be comfortable in their suburbs, we will make them watch this," he said.
A moment later, when protesters paused on I-490 under the South Plymouth Avenue bridge, white hecklers could be heard yelling above. A young Black woman said plaintively "We should not have to do this, to convince people that our lives matter."
The rally was soggy, with drizzle and occasion hard rain. A bolt of lightning lit the eastern sky as the group paraded off the Douglass-Anthony bridge.
The rally also was largely peaceful. A half-dozen counter-protesters waving American flags greeted arriving demonstrators at the park, and a slightly larger number of people opposed to the march lined the route on South Plymouth Avenue.
A shouting match there led to pushing and shoving, and several of the security guards hired by the protest organizers intervened. A guard reportedly used pepper spray to subdue one shirtless counter-demonstrator, who was led away, still yelling, by friends.
"If not for them we probably would have had a little bit of a riot on our hands," Mikey told the crowd after they left the bridge, referring to the guards from 1st Choice Security, which he said was a Black-owned firm.
He said organizers had chosen to hire the guards, some of whom wore sidearms, because organizers had been threatened with violence. "The main goal was to shut down 490 and let these racists that made these threats on Facebook know that they don't put fear in our hearts," Mikey said.
Organizers said earlier in the week they had devised a plan to march onto a section of I-490 and stop traffic. They termed it an act of peaceful civil disobedience intended to focus attention on the issue of police abuse.
It marked the first time, at least in recent memory, that a demonstration here has blocked an interstate.
The tactic has become increasingly common this year, with interstates being blocked by protesters in Los Angeles, Houston, Orlando, San Franciso, Seattle, Philadelphia and Minneapolis-St. Paul, among other cities.
A motorist struck and killed a protester in Seattle earlier this month, prompting authorities there to say they would not allow any further blockades of expressways.
Locally, protesters for Black Lives Matters and on other issues have shut down surface streets in Rochester numerous times.
On Saturday afternoon, for example, a group blocked traffic on East Main Street for a time while they painted "Defund RPD" on the pavement.
Includes reporting from News 10NBC