Mingling outside the lawn of the Rochester Police Locust Club, protesters carried picket signs reading “De-escalate, Don’t Shoot.” Raising their fists into the air, they let out chants of “It is our duty to fight for our freedom.”
This collection of activists from Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), Rochester Black Rose Anarchist Federation and the Intersectional Anti-Fascist Network are protesting a new plan by the Locust Club to fund training by Dr. Bill Lewinski for 60 Rochester police officers. Lewinski is the proprietor of the Force Science Institute, a controversial style of police training which New York Times journalist Matt Apuzzo referred to as “shoot first, ask questions later.”
Specifically, while Lewinski markets his work as proper policing techniques for de-escalation and cues, his teachings have been widely panned. Editor for the American Journal of Psychology Lisa Fournier referred to Lewinski’s work as pseudoscience, calling it invalid and unreliable, while the Justice Department referred to Lewinski’s studies as lacking in proper research methods. Lewinski has made a name for himself as an expert in police shootings; Lewinski is typically paid in the ballpark of $1,000 an hour to defend police in shooting cases. Lewinski is known for his ubiquitous defense and justification of police shootings, testifying in over 200 cases of police force.
His training of officers, including police chief Michael Ciminelli, does not come cheap either. For the Locust Club, the training of 60 officers comes in at $90,000, or $1,500 per seat. This fund will not pull from taxpayer dollars, but rather the club’s personal purse.
“All of his science is basically fake,” said Jazper Titus of Black Rose. “The bigger issue here is they shouldn’t be taught to shoot first and ask questions later.”
In mid-August, Rochester City Council moved to allocate $15,000 in funds to officers looking to receive Force training. Mayor Lovely Warren later rescinded city support.
“Mayor Warren has instructed Police Chief Ciminelli that no RPD personnel will be officially authorized to participate in this training,” a statement from the mayor’s office reads.
However, officers are authorized to participate in the training through the Locust Club, as part of the collective bargaining agreement.
Even though taxpayer dollars are not on the table, Titus said the training still needs to halt.
“It doesn’t matter who’s paying,” Titus said. “It will still affect the residents of Rochester, and it just matters that it’s happening.”
Fellow Black Rose member Crescenzo Scipione argued that the choice to move forward with this training emphasizes a long-standing pattern of enabling racism and violence among police.
“The choice to move forward with this training shows complete lack of regard toward black and brown people,” Scipione said.
Scipione went on to refer to Force Institute training as a “barrier to police accountability.”
Rochester Instersectional Antifascists’ Milo Ehrenberg likewise condemned the training, calling it an action which stands in direct defiance with the safety of the community.
“We are speaking out because we want a police force that protects us, and doesn’t cause us harm,” Ehrenberg said.
The groups protesting made a unanimous request: pull funds from the Force Institute training and, in exchange, teach courses on racial bias and de-escalation. The groups have asked that the demand be met by Friday, Sept. 22. Titus, while saying they remain opposed should the club not heed their demand, was cryptic about what action the groups would take come Friday.
“We’ll be releasing details on that in the next couple days,” he said.