A week after Black Lives Matter protesters were arrested in Saratoga Springs, angry demonstrators and local residents packed Tuesday’s city council meeting. A public comment period devolved into a shouting match, with some calling for moderated discussion between demonstrators and city leadership.
Last week, five were arrested during a Black Lives Matter demonstration on Broadway. Among their demands, demonstrators were seeking an apology from the city’s Assistant Police Chief, John Catone, who during a June press conference intended to address weekend violence, ranted against so-called “want to be elected officials” and the police reform movement, asked the “silent majority” to “stand up and be heard” said he would call upon his 130-year history of family connections to “change the narrative” of allegations of police misconduct. Catone issued a statement walking back his remarks, but stopped short of an apology.
Last Wednesday’s events on the eve of the summer racing season, where dozens of armored police from multiple agencies confronted protesters, was reminiscent of July 30th, 2020, when Black Lives Matter demonstrators were met with force and pepper bullets following a pro-police “Back the Blue” rally.
In what has become a series of heated public comment periods during public meetings, Daesha Harris, a former member of the Spa City’s state-mandated Police Reform Task Force, was one of several to condemn the actions of the city against protesters.
“Not only are you, each one of you actively working against justice, but you have our city looking like 1965 Selma, Alabama. And that is going to be your legacy,” said Harris.
Alexus Brown, a young Black woman who two weeks ago responded to Catone’s “130 years” comment by detailing her own family’s 158-year history in Saratoga Springs, returned to the railing in City Hall to explain how she and her boyfriend were followed, pulled over, and searched by police after leaving last week’s protest. Brown pushed past the two-minute public comment period time limit to finish her statement.
“They tried to get intel out of us, including the races and genders of those who safely got us back to our vehicles and kept asking if we had a backpack or anything suspicious in the car,” said Brown. “Ultimately, my boyfriend them to invade our privacy and search our vehicle to prove we had nothing. The incompetent officer of the Saratoga Springs Police Department found no weapons or any other illegal items in their search. If the officers were family with members of the community, instead of watching from a distance and forming opinions based on their own delusions, they would know that we are founders of the Saratoga Free Fridge and on our own dollar we feed members of this own community, a community he is not even from.”
Saratoga Black Lives Matter organizer Lexis Figuereo, a consistent presence at Saratoga Springs public meetings over the last year – and who also has taken part in organizing demonstrations in other Capital Region cities, including the encampment outside Albany’s South Station in the spring – read directly from a racist Facebook post targeting participants of last week’s BLM march.
“If you had jobs then you’d be too busy to protest all day. I work every day and pay for you to live in the hood on South Pearl Street. If you want…better then stop having 20 pickanninies by 19 different fathers, go to school, learn a trade, and then you can everything you want. All you want is to be is to have everything without working for it,” read Figuereo.
Other BLM activists renewed calls for an apology from Assistant Chief Catone and the city council, as well as the resignation of Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton and the suspension of her independent campaign for mayor.
Shouting and arguing in city council chambers ensued. Figuereo and some others threw personal insults at Dalton, a member of the five-member council. Dalton responded to Figuero before Mayor Meg Kelly moved to close the public comment period.
“In a protest, when you are in Congress Park, you make a show of putting on your tactical gear amping up for a fight. You wait til it’s dark. You go into Broadway…
“We wait til it’s dark?”
“Lies!” shouted a member of the crowd.
“We wait til it’s dark to have protest?” asked Figuereo again.
“OK, at this time we are ending public comment…” said Mayor Meg Kelly.
Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, also spoke, offering to bring in bring in a professional moderator to foster communication between Saratoga BLM and the city. Her remarks were met with some applause.
“I think we need some mediation. I would like to discuss this with the rest of the council and see how they feel, you know. But it seems like we need some professional mediation and that we can sit down and work through a professional mediator and figure out how we can progress forward,” said Madigan.
Madigan told WAMC she was working Wednesday to find a professional moderator and that she envisions a meeting that involves all members of the city council.
Dalton says she would be “absolutely willing” to have a conversation, but also said during the meeting she had attempted to speak with local activists several times over the last 14 months.
“Over a dozen times I have reached out, I have said ‘I hear I am, here is my contact information, I am ready to talk’ again and again and again. And I am met with silence. I want to sit down. I want to talk. I want to listen…”
“You’re met with silence because we’re met with violence!” responded a member of the crowd.
Mayor Kelly banged a gavel in an attempt to halt the shouting as Figuereo appeared to reject the idea of meeting with Dalton.
“Not you. Not you. No. Nothing to talk about. No.”
Upon request from the mayor that the public leave after the close of the contentious public comment period, police officers began to persuade activists to leave the meeting. Figuereo was threatened with arrest by Police Lt. Jason Mitchell for not complying, but no arrests were made.
As the city council continued with its meeting behind chamber doors, the crowd lingered in the hallway, asking questions of Lt. Mitchell, before they exited out of the front door.
While those who had attended the raucous meeting assembled on the sidewalk, a woman in a vehicle parked outside city hall and began shouting and hurling racially-charged language at the small, racially-diverse crowd.
A police vehicle, lights flashing, eventually pulled up beside the outraged woman before she drove off. A looming rainstorm dispersed the gathering outside City Hall.
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