“My god, they’re beating him”

May 23, 2013

Activists in Rochester, N.Y., report that community residents and Benny Warr's family are standing together against an incident of police violence.

MORE THAN 100 neighborhood residents and community allies gathered May 18 at the corner of Bartlett Street and Jefferson Avenue in Rochester, N.Y., to protest the savage police beating of wheelchair-bound Benny Warr at that same intersection nearly three weeks prior.

On May 1, Warr sat in his wheelchair waiting for the bus near his home in a predominantly Black neighborhood on the city's west side when a Rochester police cruiser rolled up to the intersection. The officers exited the car and told Warr, using expletives, to move on. Warr responded by saying he was only waiting for the bus.

The officers then maced him in the face and proceeded to throw him out of his chair, according to Warr. While on the ground, he was kicked, punched and kneed by police. He was then placed in handcuffs and sat for nearly two hours until he eventually received medical treatment at Strong Memorial Hospital. He sustained broken and fractured ribs, numbness in his hands, neck injuries, internal injuries and cuts on his wrists.

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In a video shot by a young man who witnessed the event, two Rochester police officers are shown dragging Warr from his wheelchair and repeatedly kicking and punching him while he lay on the ground. To add insult to injury, Warr is now being charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

According to neighborhood residents, the Rochester Police Department regularly does "clearings" of this busy intersection, telling residents that they are no longer allowed to be in the area. When asked about the incident during a radio interview, Rochester's Police Chief James Sheppard responded by saying, "We're doing what they want us to do," referring to requests made by the neighborhood business association.

Residents and community members reject Sheppard's justifications. "I'm outraged," said Felicia Abrams, a close friend of the Warr family, of the constant police presence. "I have a son who is 29 and is always getting harassed. He tells me all the time, 'The harassment breaks you down.' It's all about their power trip."

Bree Ross, Warr's niece, added, "Who do you go to when the police are the ones engaging in disorderly conduct?"

Warr's sister denounced the lack of accountability for police violence. "I took an oath to protect lives," she said. "I'm a nurse. My job is to save people's lives. They took an oath too. The police officer's job is to protect us. If I screw up and give the wrong medication, I lose my job. If they beat someone up, kill someone, they keep their jobs as if nothing happened!"

Kevin Holley, who grew up with Benny, said, "I've lived here 50 plus years, okay? We hustlin' in other ways, not like they say we are. We clear trash, cutting grass on the corner and the cops come and harass us for that all the time. What's up with that?"

There was not a cop in sight during the entire gathering on May 18, which lasted for more than two hours. Several speakers took note of this, enthusiastically embracing a vision of what the neighborhood could look like--coming together without the cops' menacing presence, replaced with the solidarity of residents standing together.

Benny has plead not guilty to the charges, and the community will again mobilize when he returns to court on May 30.

Brian Erway, Anna Grohens, Rochester Indymedia, Ream Kidane and Greg Morin contributed to this article.

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