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Communications Bureau, City of Rochester

Several times this week, large groups of teenagers have gathered on Main Street before school. Fights broke out, with kids running from corner to corner to witness the action.

It was chaos.

This is nothing new, as the city has struggled to keep order on Main Street before and after school. When Midtown Plaza closed, huge crowds of unsupervised youth turned Main St. into their playground as they waited for buses. Some went downtown just to hang out.

On Friday, 13WHAM News recorded what appeared to be the tail end of police regaining order. Police and students were running around. Police found a pellet gun on one student. They pepper sprayed a number of teens.

The video has concerned people, who say the police casually pepper sprayed teens. Some of the teens appeared to be doing absolutely nothing wrong.Pepper spray is a use of force and it’s appropriate to ask questions. It’s very important to note we did not see what happened before this video.

Here’s the perspective of the police: The officers’ primary goal was to get the kids on their way to school before another fight broke out. You can’t have hundreds of students running up and down Main Street when they should be in school. You also can’t have them standing around, away from their bus stops, after they were told to move along. Three kids turns into 10 turns into 50 and then the problem is back.

Officers’ use of pepper spray on students is fairly common in school settings when large groups of students gather to watch fights. It’s a means to disperse crowds. Certainly, some kids who were not part of the melee can get sprayed. But cops will tell you it’s way more dangerous to not break up the crowd than use the pepper spray.

Over the last few years, the school district and police department have downplayed what is happening on Main Street. Meanwhile, officers are placed in a tough position. Tourists, businesses and workers are disgusted. Students who get involved in these melees could be in danger.

I thought the bus company and school district mostly solved the problem of Main Street fights with restrictions on bus passes and more direct routes. It appears the only thing that will get this under control is the new bus terminal that’s coming in 2015. I don’t think an enclosed facility with security will be as problematic, because kids won’t be as free to run around causing problems. Midtown Plaza did not tolerate misbehavior and did not experience regular fights.

What did you think of the video and how police handled the situation?

Links of the Day:

– Hickey Freeman’s CEO says the bankruptcy plan will save jobs, as long as Authentic Brands is the winning bidder.

– North American Brewery’s CEO says the purchase of the company will be a good thing. NAB owns the Genesee brand.

– “A waterfront stadium is a bad idea on so many levels that I hardly know where to begin,” writes a Buffalo News columnist.

– The Saudis are building a huge mosque. Preservationists are worried historic sites could be destroyed in the process.

30 Responses to Main St. Madness

  1. October 27, 2012 at 4:01 pm Mittens responds:

    There was one moment in the video where a cop literally sprayed everyone individually down the line as they walked away from the scene. One boy even got sprayed twice. He was initially sprayed by the cop, he then covered his face, did a 360 and the officer put the pepper spray right up in his face and let it go off a second time. Disgusting.

  2. October 27, 2012 at 4:39 pm thomas patterson responds:

    Instead of the proposed skate park the city should build a big boxing ring and let things play out. Darwinism? Perhaps parents could come and enjoy their kids stupidity. I’m in a grumpy mood right now and that makes me feel that there has to be accountability.

  3. October 27, 2012 at 5:05 pm Anthony Kozol responds:

    busing is a complete failure. it failed in boston, and it’s failed here. why waste any more resources on this ridiculous social experiment?

  4. Are you on the RTS public relations payroll? I ask because, while you fancy yourself a journalist when it comes to the bus shed you seem to have on the blinders of boosterism.
    Midtown is not a precedent for what will happen in the shed, what is currently going on IS.
    Maybe the kids didn’t gather in such rowdy crowds when Midtown was still open – another reason its closing and destruction was short sighted and wasteful – but since then they have gotten used to the rowdy crowds happening and will bring this problem to the bus shed, terrorizing those people who are just trying to stay out of the weather while waiting for a bus.
    You seem to think that the shed will be a good thing for Rochester – maybe it’s a version of Stockholm Syndrome – when it is a bloated, pork-filled scheme that will cost OVER TWICE AS MUCH as a similarly sized bus shed in Syracuse, has NO PLAN for funding the upkeep of its fume filters and the shed in general and is being built in the heart of a gentrifying residential neighborhood of high end lofts in the place of a badly needed park space for said neighborhood.
    Other than keeping bus riders out of the cold – which could be done for almost nothing if they were more creative and used the Sibley’s vast first floor space – what is it you are getting for $50,000,000 besides an unwanted and unneeded white elephant?

  5. The answer to this problem is so simple, it is astonishing to me that this problem still exists. Solution…..no busing. If that is not acceptable to the school board or city hall, then at least have the sense to move the bus stops for school kids away from downtown. As for the police actions, I only say put yourself in that situation. What would you do? ( I know I would do exactly as the police in the video did. Pepper spray everyone!)

  6. More direct routes. That way we won’t have such large concentrations of teens idling around with nothing to do.

  7. Stop bussing kids. This is just one of the many problems created, I don’t care who it is you get that many unsupervised teens in the same place you are going to have problems. It’s ruining that area of downtown and is completely unnecessary, go back to neighborhood schools. The bus barn will do nothing but drive people out of the residential building to the north and make the busses completely unattractive to anyone that isn’t 12-19 and doesn’t want to be around rowdy teenagers.

  8. Rachel this is appalling. This looks like a police officer deliberately targeting young people in the face, in very close proximity, as they are walking away. They are not being sprayed accidentally because they are in the vicinity of a fight! How does spraying a teenager in the face get them “on their way to school”? Can you imagine the outcry if a police officer did that in Brighton?

    • October 28, 2012 at 2:18 am Rachel Barnhart responds:

      We don’t know what preceded this. And being near a fight is exactly the problem.

      NOT making excuses, playing devil’s advocate. Police HAVE to disperse the teens or it would go on all day. This is a very common tactic.

      The larger issue is that this is happening. Absent pepper spray, what do you do? (Again, NOT defending, just presenting another view)

    • Except this would never happen in Brighton since suburban teens tend to be better behaved.

  9. October 28, 2012 at 8:38 am Santosha responds:

    Brighton kids never get into fights? Never? Maybe, but even teenagers in expensive private schools sometimes fight — so I’m skeptical. Or do you mean that other Brighton kids don’t stand around and watch when it happens? I’ve never seen teenagers (from any walk of life) just avert their eyes and walk away when a fight breaks out.

    Again, the problem here is not what the police did to get the kids to stop fighting. (That wasn’t captured on video.) The problem is the police spraying mace into the faces of kids who are just walking down the sidewalk. I don’t think crowd-dispersal is an adequate excuse.

    Going back to the suburban question — this is not how the police say “move along now” to high school students in the suburbs: not when they break up disruptive parents-are-away house parties, not when suburban kids are congregating near suburban businesses before school, after school, after events.

    Yes, the downtown bus transfer is a headache for downtown businesses, but RCSD high school students DIDN’T MAKE THE POLICY. It’s silly to expose them to punitive measures because they are following a policy made by fairly well-paid adults who probably live in the suburbs and send their own children to suburban schools.

    The police and the city lament the lack of cooperation from urban kids when it comes to solving crimes — and then they mace kids down for having the audacity to stand around and watch when something interesting happens near their bus stops! We would all resent and mistrust the police if they used these heavy-handed tactics everywhere.

  10. OK, let’s play devil’s advocate. What POSSIBLE previous action by those kids could justify a police office going up to them as they walked down the street and spraying them directly in the face? Does “being near a fight” justify that?

    • October 28, 2012 at 10:44 am Rachel Barnhart responds:

      Officers had to clear the area of the teens. I not saying pepper spray is way to do it, but that was objective after such chaos.

  11. Lots of emotion but are we afraid of the facts or the truth?

    Mostly the distributions and fights are caused by AA males. They are on their way to school usually far from their home, where only 7% of them actually graduate. I suspect those that graduate are not the fighters, or in the crowd of watchers. Again, why are we busing them? If they went neighborhood HS would the graduation results be worse?

    Burb kids fight, True. At the rate of City and AA boys? No Not even close. Do we need a study to prove that? No. East high averages 3 “incidents” a day. Compared to Fairport, a school the same size or larger? The number of fights … few. As the AA population in HS increases so to the “incidents”. Why is that?

    If there were less fights when midtown was open is that the reason for the fights now? Will the bus barn stop this? No. How would you like to be a bus driver with the fight crowd getting on your bus?

    Do the kids get detention if they are late? Is it enforced and if not why not? Ya Can’t do that? Who says?

    We need to stop spraying and start arresting them EVERY DAY. We need to enforce detention and suspension, and kick them out if they don’t correct their behavior.

    We offer a good education and a path out. IF they won’t take that path that’s not our problem, its a problem they are creating for themselves.

    The PREZ of the US is an AA male from a single parent home who found a way to Harvard and the Presidency. Do they need anyone else that can show them the right path? If they don’t know it by now they will never know it.

  12. October 28, 2012 at 3:47 pm Santosha responds:

    Does the fact that there are more fights in city schools than in suburban school mean the police have the right to treat bystanders differently? I’m not following the logic.

    • October 28, 2012 at 10:19 pm PJ Birkman responds:

      There is no logic to follow Santosha. You have now met Rachel’s resident right wing troll who parrots the standard Fox News talking points every time she posts a story. He used to do the same thing on the D&C before they started the pay wall. Looking for logic or insight in his ramblings is like looking for snow in Phoenix – it’s a rare occurrence and never sticks around.

      • October 29, 2012 at 2:26 pm Orielly responds:

        Well done. Right out of the Obama playbook. Don’t debate the points .. call the one who presents the fact names instead. Thats what Obamaa does when he has nothing to offer and when his policies have failed. Its not working for him either.

        My comparison offered still stands. Let me know the first time, (as it has yet to happen) when students in the Village of Pittsford (500 yds from the high school), or fairport or Penfield have a major fights in the village and it happens daily as it does in the city. Then you think there will be no pepper spraying?

        The law enforcement use of pepper spraying is like complaining about dirty water when you already threw the baby out. The bigger problem by factors of 1000s is the daily fights and who is causing them. And facing and accepting the facts are as to who is doing the wrong “stuff” is the first way to solve the problem.

        That assumes that one wants that problem solved. After all its much more fun and easy to point the finger at the cops vs those causing the cops to take action.

        See if you can follow…. no fights, no violence, no one would get pepper sprayed, And if your part of the gang watching and you get sprayed when you were doing “nothing wrong” just watching, really….. too bad.

  13. Just an FYI….the police use PEPPER spray, not mace. PEPPER spray is actually cayenne pepper. It is hot feeling and is uncomfortable. The purpose is to control a crowd. This appeared to be a crowd. It also looked like it was out of control. The alternative methods would be the baton or taser. These would be dangerous and potentially harmful. If these methods were used, then we would be having a discussion about abuse of power.

  14. October 29, 2012 at 9:06 am Santosha responds:

    Regarding the difference between mace and pepper spray, I apologize. I don’t actually know whether the RPD uses Mace-brand pepper spray or generic pepper spray. I substituted mace for pepper spray for the same reason people sometimes substitute “kleenex” for “facial tissue” — the brand name is shorter. http://www.mace.com/personal_defense/pepper-sprays-and-gels.html

    Thank you for pointing out the bright side of all of this, though. I suppose the police COULD have been hitting the kids with batons as they filed past on their way to their buses. Or Tasering them. It could always be worse….

  15. Where was the mounted patrol? I told Dufus to his face when he was PD chief that if you want crime cut you need 100 cops on horses. Nothing clears a crowd like mounted officers. Nothing provides a better line view than having a cop up on a giant horse. Nobody is outrunning you, period. And NOTHING is better for public relations than a cop on a horse. Instead they buy Segways.
    Also, Mace is a chemical compound similar to CS gas (tear gas). Pepper spray is much less effective but is ‘friendly’. They are in no way interchangeable as implied above. One of the problems Americans have is the generic-isation of tens that not only aren’t generic, but come with preconceived notions of what they mean. Talking about race isn’t racist, just like saying ‘maced’ isn’t the same as pepperspraying. Tazer/stun gun? Tazer shoots, stun gun you have to touch the person. Might sound petty, but in the world of everyone taking things as inflammatory from the jump words matter.
    And for the record, I agree with Oriely. It is a cultural thing that allows these actions. One needs only look at Life magazine from 1942 I believe, where Franklin High is held up as a national model high school run by the student gov’t. Franklin has nursery schools for student’s kids now. Anyone see the difference? Anyone else willing to accept that the difference is the student’s cultural upbringing and therefore their actions and not “Franklin”? Anyone? I know, that suggestion is somehow racist. More reinforcement of an incorrectly used word.

  16. I guess Mr. White wrote a letter to Sheppard critical of RPD’s response. The school board should be answering why they keep up this bussing model despite its known problems. It’s not good for the students, the businesses on main st, other bus riders, and anyone else unfortunate enough to have to go through the area when the crowds of kids are present. This isn’t even mentioning those put at risk as RPD needs to reassign officers to break up fights and supervise school children rather than do real police work. The school board needs go fix this problem, they created it and are whining when the police are forced to handle it.

  17. HAH! That would mean giving up the victim card and since the MLK was killed that has been the game plan, cry foul against everyone else but never look in the mirror. The personal assistant to this and the last mayor was singlehandedly instrumental in moving the 1964 riots from Joseph Ave to Corn Hill (he is on video saying int on a WXXI special). Guess where he made his bones to become a 6 figure city hall employee? The school board of course. When members past and present of the school board/city council act just like the kids downtown do of course they will overlook the initial actions leading to the pepperspraying and jump on the cops. Did you expect anything else? Liking the cops doesn’t get votes at the corrupt Democratic party meetings, playing victim of them does. Always the victim.

  18. October 30, 2012 at 11:08 pm lellingw responds:

    Don’t forget the busing is illegal and government allowed this to happen despite the law. For RTS to bus high school students is wrong and the company that sued and won the lawsuit, I believe it was Laidlaw, eventually went bankrupt. The law needs to be followed and RTS should not bus these students any longer. The behavior on the buses is just as bad as on the streets and the argument that any sane adult would ride on these buses too is ridiculous.

  19. When is the School Board going to take responsibility for putting the kids into this dangerous situation? When one of them gets stabbed? Beaten just a little too much? What other school district would knowingly put that many kids together largely unsupervised (save for a couple RPD officers)? If they locked 30 kids in the cafeteria and left them unattended people would be going wild, but its ok because they write it off as part of this grand bussing scheme. Why is no other option being explored? Or do we need for students to get hurt, the school board can then “fix” the problem and pat themselves on the back for responding to a problem we’ve known about for years.

  20. November 1, 2012 at 12:21 pm Santosha responds:


    I think you make a good point about the district needing to come up with transportation policies that keep kids safe on the way to school. It always seems silly to me that school districts can tell kids, “Getting you to school isn’t our responsibility, but seeing to it that you succeed when you’re here is.” I know it’s the law (and, if I’m understanding conversations I’ve had correctly, the district could just decide not to provide any transportation services), but it’s a silly law. Why do the state ed authorities talk about holding school districts accountable for whether kids succeed academically if they don’t hold them accountable for making sure kids CAN actually get to school? And get to school safely…

    I think arguing about the definition of mace is a little tedious, so I’m going to stop. That is, I’m going to stop right after I point out that Merriam-Webster defines mace as, “a trademark used for a temporarily disabling liquid usually used as a spray” and NOT as a trademark name for tear gas. (There is a Mace formulation that includes stronger chemicals. It’s called Triple-Action Mace or something like that. And the original standard Mace formula did include tear gas but was later reformulated as OC, which is more effective and has fewer long-term consequences.) At this rate, we are going to wind up arguing about whether, if the police officer’s pepper spray was made by Mace, it would be okay to call it mace….

  21. Have you ever been subjected to CS gas? Seriously. Or pepperspray? I’ve been in the gas chamber and been exposed to and used CS gas on others in the open. Pepperspray is NOTHING like CS gas or Mace (the original ‘Mace’ cops, mailmen and in certain places citizens were allowed to buy and carry). My point was that when you remove the authenticity of a term you devalue it and in a case like this the ‘shock’ that the original term carried with it. Watch the kids on California take facefulls of pepperspray and remain defiantly sitting there protesting. Then find me a similar video of people being hit with genuine Mace or CS gas. People would be trampling each other to move. And were the pepperspray made by Mace it would still be pepperspray. You might want to think of it this way; do police carry batons or Billy Clubs? The tool is similar, in fact some departments still carry a straight style of baton that appears to be a longer version of the Billy Club, but when a newspaper says ‘police used batons’ vs ‘police used Billy Clubs’ the meaning of the statement changes. Billy Clubs are associated by many with police brutality, segregation, the strongarm style of policing of the 50’s-70’s. Baton sounds like a tool someone was trained to use. Big difference. Then there is nightstick…… a whole different image comes to mind. For some it might be Rodney King, for others it might be a cop twirling it on a string as he strolls along in Brooklyn.
    Because you or someone else decides a word is close enough is why we have stupid, childish arguments all the way up to the highest levels of our gov’t. If there is a proper term you should use it. A ‘teacher’ is ‘one that teaches; especially : one whose occupation is to instruct’ according to Websters. But the word is tossed around in politics now to mean anyone who has a job at a school district while most people think it implies a standard of higher education and some form of certification achieved by the person labeled as one. But when a person makes statements like ‘it’s a silly law’ I shouldn’t be surprised that tossing words out there regardless of their true meaning is OK, because you know better than the rules. Seriously think about what I said in my earlier post. Allowing the bastardization of words has caused a lot more than ‘silly’ problems. It has become an entire industry in the political world and a perfect smokescreen to allow officials of every type of organization both public and private to dodge accountability for their actions. Let’s go for the highest common denominator, not the lowest one.

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