Mayor’s criticism of activists sparks another protest rally (July 15, 2005)

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– by Patrick Flanigan, Staff Writer –
Democrat and Chronicle.

Community activists who have protested the police shooting of a 13-year-old girl held a rally Thursday to protest the mayor’s criticism of their actions.

Mayor William A. Johnson Jr. said Wednesday that the protestors’ attention is misdirected because they never protest violence unless there is a police officer involved. Johnson was speaking at a news conference to announce the arrest of a man suspected of killing 12-year-old Frederick Lewis last week. Lewis’ death did not prompt any community outrage, while the shooting of 13-year-old LaShedica Mason by Officer Mark Simmons two days later did.

Police said Simmons shot LaShedica because she was charging him and another person with a knife after Simmons was invited into her house to answer a call that she had threatened to kill herself. But activists say they believe something could have been done to prevent the shooting.

Johnson should see the difference between street violence and shootings by police, protesters said.

The mayor could not be reached for comment Thursday.

“You don’t know what somebody else might do to you,” said Joy Powell, who called the rally, held in front of the LaShedica’s house on St. Jacob Street. “But you expect police to protect you, not shoot you.”

David Vara, an independent filmmaker who has produced two critical documentary videos about the Rochester Police Department, said he was offended by the mayor’s remarks because he said Johnson knows Vara’s history with the department. Vara and his brother, Mariano, were awarded $149,000 in 1998 after winning a lawsuit claiming Rochester police brutalized them.

Vara noted that the mayor and Police Department took great pride in announcing the creation of a team of officers who have been trained to deal with emotionally disturbed people. But when a call for a suicidal girl came in, nobody from that team was available, Vara said.

“Isn’t that like the model call?” Vara asked. “Where was that team?”