What happened on Oct. 12 in Webster?
A ‘Black Lives Matter’ protester and Webster PD share two different accounts of the Webster protest
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Many questions, perceptions, and opinions arose after a “Black Lives Matter” protest turned into a confrontation with police on Oct. 12 in Webster. On the one side of the issue, people say the police abused their authority to qualm the voices of the protesters. On the other side, people say the officers were just trying to keep everyone safe, and that the protesters were creating unsafe conditions.
Webster Online did some digging into the events of that evening. What follows are two different accounts of what happened: one by a Webster resident who participated in the protest, and the other by members of the Webster Police Department.
Jean Ott is a Webster resident and “Black Lives Matter” advocate. And she was one of many who were outraged by the Webster town supervisor’s comments in a controversial column he publicly shared on the official town Facebook page on Oct. 7.
In his column, the supervisor wrote that he did not approve of a protest that took place outside of Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley’s home in a private neighborhood, as she is a long-time friend of his. He wrote that it was “not the proper venue,” and commented that he believed the protesters “came across” the Bay Bridge, implying that they weren’t from Webster.
Ott has only lived in Webster for a year, but it didn’t take her long to become fully involved in the “Black Lives Matter” movement in Monroe County.
Ott moved to Webster in November 2019 from her hometown just outside Buffalo, where she was involved with the “Black Lives Matter” movement. She was one of the people instrumental in getting a “Black Lives Matter” banner put up outside her church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo.
She moved to Webster because her husband works in Fairport. Their daughter also lives in Chili with her family.
In an exclusive interview, Webster Online asked Ott about her motivation for participating in “Black Lives Matter.” She says it boils down to the founding of our country.
“It’s time for [Black lives] to matter,” said Ott. “[Our country] was founded on the backs of Black people.”
But Ott also has a personal tie to the “Black Lives Matter” movement. She says she housed a young African American for a couple years after a failed adoption.
“She came into my home as a gay boy and left as a transgender girl,” said Ott. She says she fully accepted the girl for who she was. However, she witnessed the racism from people in the town she was living in at the time.
“It obviously isn’t any different here,” Ott said, referring to the Town of Webster.
Ott became very active in the “Black Lives Matter” protests after the death of George Floyd, and again after Daniel Prude. She returned to Buffalo over the summer to help with the protest back there as well.
Ott says Webster Town Supervisor Thomas Flaherty’s column “was extremely racist and full of white supremacy, from my point of view.”
“And once I read that, I was like, ‘we have to start changing the energies in this town.’ People have to understand what ‘Black Lives Matter’ stands for.”
When Webster Online asked Ott if she was surprised by what the supervisor wrote, she said, “He was running as a Democrat, so yeah, it did surprise me a bit.”
Ott is a Unitarian Universalist and has a Master’s Degree of Divinity. She was well on her way to becoming a minister, but changed her path due to personal reasons.
“But I still consider myself a minister,” Ott said.
Ott was at both Webster protests on Oct. 9 and 12th, at the intersection of Hard and Ridge roads. These two protests were organized by Black in the Burbs, in response to the supervisor’s column.
The Oct. 12 Protest
The protest on Oct. 12 made numerous news headlines as a fleet of police cars - those of the Webster Police Department, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, and the New York State Police - arrived on scene and arrested two female protesters for disorderly conduct.
Ott says she walked away from the protest for just a few minutes to pack up some things in her car when the police arrived.
“I turned around and there were police all over the place,” said Ott.
Ott does admit that there were a few protesters who pushed the boundaries a bit.
“I think one of the ladies who was arrested, during red lights, would go out in the middle of the crosswalk and wave her sign at drivers,” said Ott. “But she was keeping track of the light and got out of the road by the time the light changed.”
Ott also says there were a few people who did approach passing vehicles.
“So some of that did happen,” said Ott, “but those people did not get arrested.”
As for the second woman who was arrested, “I don’t recall what she was doing.”
Ott says it seemed that the police had been keeping an eye on the protesters the entire time. If that was the case, Ott says they must have noticed the Trump supporters “who were harassing us, yelling at us, swearing at us.”
She says one driver slammed on his brakes, screeching to a stop to yell at the protesters, almost causing an accident with the vehicle behind him.
“I did not see that car get pulled over,” said Ott. However, she isn’t certain of whether or not the police saw that happen.
Ott believes the number of police cars and officers that arrived was excessive.
“It felt like there was an overwhelming force,” she said.
She says there were about six or seven vehicles that showed up. One pulled up on the sidewalk, “approximately where I had been standing fifteen minutes before that.”
“So I’m glad I wasn’t standing there,” said Ott.
Videos taken by a number of the protesters shared on social media do show one of the police cars pulling up onto the sidewalk.
What Does the Webster Police Department Say?
The editor also reached out to the Webster Police Department about what happened at the Oct. 12 protest.
Webster Police Department Public Information Officer Gretchen O'Dea confirmed that the Webster police used a drone to monitor the protest. She says the department borrowed the drone from another agency.
“We have used aerial photography in the past to document/monitor situations, including during the Xerox Federal Credit Union robbery/shooting/murder investigation from 2003,” O’Dea stated in an email.
According to O’Dea, the Webster PD does not discourage the right to protest.
“...we support and encourage the exercise of First Amendment rights to speak and peacefully assemble,” said O’Dea. “In his interview [on the Bob Lonsberry program], [Webster Police Chief Joseph Rieger] invited protesters to contact him ahead of their events. We will help you find a safe place to hold your event so you can share your message with the Webster community.”
She continued, “On the other hand, people also have a right to conduct their business free of unsafe interruptions, and the Webster Police Department will intervene when conditions become unsafe due to blocked traffic or loitering on private property.”
During the Bob Lonsberry podcast O’Dea refers to, Lonsberry himself says the people who protested in Webster “have learned a set of values that are completely contrary to the values you might expect.”
He continues, “When in the world of ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ and ‘treat others the way you want to be treated,’ you are not going to have a situation where you are shouting the vilest of things into someone’s face, just because of what that person does for a living [referring to police officers].”
Webster Police Chief Joseph Rieger told Lonsberry that the reason police were monitoring the protests was out of concern for the events occurring across the country between “Black Lives Matter” protesters and police.
Chief Rieger tells Lonsberry that the protest on Oct. 12 began at about 3 p.m., “and I basically watched it throughout the entire evening.” He says some of the protesters were “creating issues for some of the motorists.”
According to Chief Rieger, the Webster police made several announcements via a P.A. system, warning protesters to stay out of the roadway.
“And it didn’t stop,” says Chief Rieger.
“We respect First Amendment rights, but there comes a time when we have to make sure the motorists are safe,” Rieger tells Lonsberry.
The arrests for disorderly conduct occurred around 6 p.m., says Rieger. He says the other police agencies assisted to help “with the rest of the crowd.”
Monroe County Undersheriff Corey Brown, who was also featured on the Lonsberry podcast and assisted with the Oct. 12 protest, praised his fellow officers.
“Our officers just do an outstanding job,” says Undersheriff Brown. “They realize that this is not personal.”
Brown explained that the reason they arrested the two women when they did, even though they appeared to be backing off the street at the time they arrived, was because they had backed off the roadway each time the police had previously warned them, only to return to standing in the roadway after the police would leave.
“They were still arrested for being in the street because that’s what they had been doing all evening,” said Brown. He says he thinks the crowd was confused because they wondered why the women were arrested at that particular time.
“Our priority is always safety,” says Brown. “Safety of the protesters, safety of those in the roadway, we don’t want a protester to get hit, we don’t want a driver of a vehicle to swerve out of the way to avoid a protester and hit another vehicle - so really, just trying to watch out for that.”
Brown stresses that the police weren’t looking to make arrests. “Our goal is not to make arrests,” he says. “Our goal is to allow them to be able to do their protesting and get their voices heard without anyone getting hurt.”
Towards the end of the podcast, Lonsberry asks where the women who were arrested are from. One was from Rush and the other was from the City of Rochester.
Lonsberry notes that neither of the women were Webster residents.
“That is true,” the officers confirm.
Lonsberry also notes that calling in the multiple agencies to respond to the protest must have been an expense for the town and the county. The officers only respond, “That’s true.”
Ott says a couple of the officers at the protest seemed surprised when she said she was a Webster resident.
Safety vs. Fear
Confirming Brown’s supposition in the podcast about the crowd, Ott considers it odd that the police arrived just as the protesters were getting ready to pack up for the night.
“I’m not comfortable with the Webster police anymore after that [experience],” said Ott. “I don’t think I will trust a cop again in my entire life.”
Ott says she felt this way before the incident, after noting how police in both Rochester and Buffalo have behaved.
“But it really got brought home to me, what happened in Webster,” said Ott.
O’Dea says the Webster PD intends to continue monitoring protests going forward.
“Per the directives of Webster Police Department command officers, we will continue to monitor protests, public gatherings, and other situations with the use of aerial photography equipment,” said O’Dea. “The safety of all protest participants and that of passing motorists/pedestrians is a priority. Aerial photography equipment helps us ensure everyone's safety.”
Ott was not at the protest that took place the next day outside of the Webster Police Department. She says that particular protest was organized by Free the People Roc, as was the protest that took place outside Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorely’s home in Webster on Oct. 2.
There have not been any more protests in Webster organized by Black in the Burbs since that week at the time of writing this article. Ott says the main reason is because the Oct. 12 protest traumatized the daughter of the lead organizer of Black in the Burbs.
“It scared the living daylights out of that poor kid, who’s only 10 years old,” said Ott.
Black in the Burbs has since called for the Webster town supervisor’s resignation.
So who’s account of the Oct. 12 protest is most accurate? Well, there’s likely some truth to either side of the story. But depending on what your beliefs are, what you take away from what happened in Webster, well… that’s entirely up to you.