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Hundreds rally for Black Lives Matter in Syracuse, mayor and police chief meet with protesters

Hundreds of Black Lives Matter protesters in Syracuse marched at two separate rallies throughout downtown Syracuse on Monday. Elected and law enforcement officials met with angry, yet peaceful demonstrators to listen and acknowledge injustice.

The morning began with a march to Syracuse's city hall. Shaunna Spivey-Spinner organized the rally.

"I just got tired of looking at the news and wondering who's next tomorrow?" Spivey-Spinner asked. "It's automatic, somebody will die tomorrow. Everybody is so angry pointing at the cops, pointing at the mayor, pointing at this city but we got to point at ourselves first. We have to take responsibility for what is going on. If you know there is guns in your city, let's do something to take them out. Let's help these cops, lets help these councilmen do something to change our world."

Spivey-Spinner said the current breakdown in race relations with police comes out of fear.

"I think the cops are scarred of us and we're scarred of the cops," Spivey-Spinner said. "Everybody wants to go home at night so I think some trust needs to be built. I think we need community policing, I think we need to know the cops that are in our neighborhoods and they need to know us," Spivey-Spinner said. "You can’t except somebody from Solvay to come and work on the north side when they know nothing about our neighborhoods. We need to know who these cops are so we can trust them because trust needs to be built.”    

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and Police Chief Frank Fowler came out to speak with protesters. Fowler directly addressed the issue of hiring police from within city communities and says the first step is taking a police exam.

“We’re very interested in having people right from our community take the police exam and get hired, the mayor and I give preference to city residents," Fowler said.

Miner said she wants to dismantle the “us versus them” mentality.

“You didn’t see riot gear out here and the police officers, we’re not afraid of our citizens, we’re not afraid of our people," Miner said. "Unfortunately there has been a climate, I think has been encouraged, in this country to make us stand off against each other and separate us.”

Miner promised more meetings with protest organizers and said a change in policing is necessary. Syracuse Common Councilor Khalid Bey said he gives credit to the protesters, mayor and police for keeping the peace.

“I talked with a couple of officers beforehand saying that we needed to be the example," Bey said. "Guide them safely, let them protest safely and let them exit safely. They did exactly that and I have no doubt that their message was heard.”

Later that afternoon hundreds of protesters again descended on downtown Syracuse for an official Black Lives Matter rally. Herve Comeau, one of the organizers, said the group has a list of demands.

"So many of these things have to do with independent oversight, accountability and demilitarization," Comeau said. "I don't want to live in a police state. I'm terrified and I don't want to be scarred anymore and I don't think anyone else does either.

Comeau called for indictments against officers that commit crimes.

"We want independent civilian authorities involved in making these decisions," Comeau said. "We can't allow the police to police themselves."

Protesters were peaceful and marched through several downtown Syracuse landmarks before ending at police headquarters. Many businesses and organizations downtown closed for the afternoon march. Police secured various streets for marchers and came to the assistance of one person who needed an ambulance.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.