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Witness to arrest that triggered riots

The riots shut down Rochester streets and impacted many.  But few would witness the events as they unfolded from start to finish.

"I can remember exactly how it started," said Willie Turner.  

Turner was on the porch during a street dance the night a Rochester police officer attempted to corral a man he says was drunk.    "He got drunk before the party started.  He was pushing around his pregnant girlfriend who was like 7 or 8 months pregnant," said Turner.

Turner describes the officer's demeanor as "gentle." 

"He was very, very gentle," said Turner.  "He even said 'Randy, I know your mom, I know you're from a good family, why don't you just take a break."  Turner says rather than calm the man down - he became more agitated.

"Randy started using profanity, he started reaching around and shoving at his girlfriend," he recalled.  Turner says the officer was caught in the middle, trying to separate the two and handcuff the man to keep him from hurting the pregnant woman.

Turner says the crowd misunderstood.  "Someone in the crowd yelled 'he's beating a pregnant woman.'  It was mayhem.  It was compete chaos," said Turner.

He continued with what happened next.  "He (the officer) called for back-up.  Within five minutes there must have been a dozen patrol cars with K-9's that came down the street.  They got their sticks out and their dogs out and their helmets on and they're trying to get the crowd quiet," he said.

Turner, who was 14 at the time, recalled being terrified but not wanting to leave the scene.  He says the crowd lined both sides of the street with the police in the middle.  That's when Chief Lombard showed up with the leader of the Mosque from up the street.  They appealed for calm.

Turner says a classmate standing behind him took an action that would push the chaotic scene over to a violent one. 

"He's got a galvanized garbage can and he takes the garbage can and he hurls it right into the street and he hit Lombard in the face.  Blood shot out of his face and then people started throwing rocks and bottles," Turner recalled.

The chief ordered a retreat and his men left the area on foot.

"The crowd went into the intersection and grabbed Lombard's car and they flipped it over.  They set it on fire and it went up, phew!" he said.

Willie lived in an apartment on Martin Street with his mother and seven siblings.  As he became older he realized the riots were the result to the pent-up frustration of people "with no money, no jobs, no way out."

But that night as rioting turned into looting, he recalls "I was terrified.  I realized how dangerous it is to be in a society where there is no law and order. The police had retreated and the mob had taken over."

 
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