Monday, August 20, 2007

Exciting Fight at Peace Festival

Hip-hop fest fosters peace
But 'small contingent' causes fight, draws crowd after event

Patrick Flanigan, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

(August 20, 2007) — It was just a white bandanna, but it wasn't welcome at the Peacefest on Sunday.

"Hey man, you wanna do something with that?" Victor Saunders asked the young man who let the bandanna hang from his pocket.

Bandannas, after all, are sometimes used on Rochester streets to signal gang affiliation — exactly the kind of activity that the 6th Peacefest was trying to reverse.

"Ain't no reppin' here," said Saunders, the director of Pathways to Peace, the city agency that organized the Peacefest.

Dubbed a "celebration of love, peace and hip-hop," the festival featured about a dozen performers who helped promote the nonviolence in hip-hop culture. Pathways to Peace is the city's street-outreach agency, which helps give at-risk youths alternatives to dealing drugs and other criminal activity.

Rochester police had to break up a large fight among people leaving the festival site, said Lt. John Smith. He said a group of people fought at the intersection of Commercial and Mill streets and the scene attracted a crowd that had to be dispersed with pepper spray.

"The festival itself went extremely well," he said. "Unfortunately, there seemed to be a small contingent that showed up at the end for the sole purpose of being disruptive. You get about a dozen people fighting, with 600 to 800 people watching, and that creates a lot of negative energy."

Police took some people into custody, but arrest numbers were not available Sunday.

The festival included children's games and provided tables where representatives of community service agencies could deliver their message to the roughly 2,500 people who attended the gathering.

"We like to meet the kids where they feel comfortable and tell them what we're about," said James Cuthbert, an education specialist with the Center for Youth Services.

Cameron Thomas, 13, said the purpose of the festival is clear.

"Stop the killing," he said. "If you get all these people together, maybe some of them will figure out that when (you) kill someone, you're taking them away from their family and that ain't right."

The festival ended a three-day violence prevention community event, sponsored by the city.

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