At the July 20, 2021 City Council meeting I suggested that the city and the local Black Lives Matter organization enter into professional mediation, in hopes that this would lower the temperature, allow us all to make some progress, reduce the level of stress and distress in our community, and help us all reach some level of understanding. We simply cannot continue to have this level of distress and dissatisfaction tearing apart our community. I still believe that discussion and mediation can help and I am taking this very seriously. Since that meeting I have taken on the task of organizing a mediation process, including speaking to Elz Figuereo and beginning the process of finding professional assistance.
My youngest son was arrested and arraigned on Thursday July 22, 2021 due to his presence at the scene of an alleged robbery. My understanding is that my son was present but not an active participant in the alleged robbery. This involved an alleged dispute over cannabis. There were others present and involved in the dispute who have not been arrested. It is my understanding that further arrests are possible. Those who assaulted the victim are still being sought. As far as I know, everyone involved in this incident is a Saratoga Springs resident. The investigation is ongoing and further arrests are possible.
Since my son’s arrest, local activists – including Mr. Figuereo – have been loudly equating my son’s legal issues (which are wholly and completely about a dispute between local teens) with the recent influx of violence in Saratoga Springs. This is unconscionable. These matters are completely unrelated, have no bearing on one another, and do nothing to address the issues raised by local activists. These actions are counterproductive as well as being hurtful. Despite this ongoing situation, it is my hope that Mr. Figuereo and his associates will be good faith participants in mediation.
Conflating two completely separate and painful issues and using my family’s current private difficulties to address a public problem is unacceptable. It would be best for this legal matter to play out through the justice system. I also humbly suggest that it would be more effective for our local activists and politicians – those currently in office as well as those currently standing for election – to focus on the important public matters at hand and not add to my son’s and my family’s pain. I feel the same way any parent would feel. I love my son very much and I want to help him all I can.
Please allow me in my capacity as an elected official to follow through on my commitment to begin mediation and please allow my family to deal with our struggles with an appropriate level of privacy and compassion. Michele MadiganCommissioner of FinanceCity of Saratoga Springs474 BroadwaySaratoga Springs, NY 12866518-587-3550
A recent article in the Foothills Business Daily (FBD) reports that at a recent fundraiser Dillon Moran, Democratic candidate for Commissioner of Accounts, “told those to cheers that under his watch he would stop a real estate reassessment plan that he said would favor large developers over local residents.” What the article fails to mention is that no such reassessment plan exists.
According to the article Moran claimed that “if anyone but him is elected ‘You’re going to be reassessed.'”
I reached out to Samantha Guerra (R) and Angela Rella (I) who are also candidates for Accounts Commissioner. Ms. Guerra told me, “With Covid 19 all of our residents in Saratoga Springs have been through enough and will not have to worry about facing a Re-Assessment with me as the next Commissioner of Accounts.”
Ms. Rella did not return my call, but she has posted on her Facebook page that if elected she will also not reassess .
Moran is quoted as making a number of other dubious statements at this event. Here are just a couple of examples.
He claimed “We have a government [here in town] that…is actually lying to its citizens” without telling his supporters who he thought was lying or about what.
Then there was his reference to recent encounters some citizens in the city have had with a fox. One person was apparently bitten. He claimed that the city “was not forthcoming on whether the fox had rabies”. As per the city’s press release, however, DEC was making the determination as to whether the fox was rabid. The city does not have Rabies testing capability.
Next came a remark about the recent water main break in the city. “You had to look at Facebook to learn what was going on.” Again untrue. DPW emailed an alert, put it on social media, put up signage and went door to door notifying residents.
It is unfortunate that FBD decided to simply print whatever Mr. Moran said without checking any of it for accuracy. A follow up article by FBD did acknowledge that the other candidates running for Accounts Commissioner did not plan to reassess property in town. It did not remind readers, however, of Moran’s earlier reported false claim that only his election could stop reassessment.
On Tuesday night, July 20, 2021, members of the local Black Lives Matter group disrupted the City Council meeting. The public comment period devolved into chaos as BLM people shouted down members of the Council.
The following are some excerpts from the meeting:
In this clip, Alexus Brown confronted the Council over an incident in which Saratoga Springs Police stopped a car she and a friend were driving following the July 14 demonstration.
As background, the public comment period restricts comments to two minutes. Ms. Brown ignored the limit and continued her statement as she described her encounter.
In this video Lexis Figuereo reads a comment from Facebook which he alleged came from the Facebook page “Moving Saratoga Forward.” The comment is virulently racist. Figuereo also alleged in his remarks that Rob Arrigo, chairman of the local Libertarian Party, is behind this and that members of the Council are his allies.
The fact is that the comment did not come from “Moving Saratoga Forward” (MSF)but instead came from the Facebook page of Figuereo’s own Black Lives Matter group. Council members have no connection to MSF.
I spoke to Mr. Arrigo about the Silverstein comment. He told me that the Silverstein comment was “absolutely abhorrent” and that he would never be associated with such a vile statement.
The Silverstein statement’s origins are suspicious. Her Facebook page appears to have been created by a hacker.
It is also more than odd that her comment includes an attack on the Adirondack Trust Company. Adirondack Trust was recently fined by the New York State Financial Services Department over discrimination in auto underwriting. In her comment Silverstein alleges that Adirondack Trust consciously exploited people of color.
The story is a little more nuanced. NYSFSD charged that auto dealerships overcharged their victims on loans provided to the dealers by Adirondack Trust. They fined Adirondack Trust for not properly monitoring its loans to avoid theses abuses.
According to the Times Union story, “Under fair lending laws, DFS said, the bank was responsible for monitoring these loans and helping to ensure that minorities were not suffering discrimination.” The TU story is worth reading because of how the violations were discovered. DFS used statistical analysis and modeling to uncover the pattern.
It seems reasonable to ask, if the mysterious Ms. Silverstein was motivated by hatred of people of color why would she go out of her way to throw the Adirondack Trust under the bus for discrimination?
The origins of the Silverstein comment on the BLM site seem more than suspicious.
In the following video Mr. Figuereo offers a reflection on how rage is a positive force that should be embraced.
While successful social movements in history have their roots in the rage that social injustice engenders, it is the harnessing of that anger into disciplined and thoughtful organized actions that has brought about real change.
The writings of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King reflect their outrage against injustice, but both men make absolutely clear that indulging their visceral anger is an expense that neither of them could afford.
Both men showed great skill in expanding their base while holding to their principles. The BLM group appears to have squandered much of the goodwill they originally enjoyed and appear to be increasingly isolated in this city.
With respect to Mr. Figuereo and other leaders in his group, it appears clear that their intemperate and incessant outbursts are not part of some carefully, thought out strategy to bring about change but are instead the unrestrained expressions of their rage against people they see as their enemies.
I fear that such a mindless non-strategy will eventually lead to disaster for themselves and those they lead.
Commissioner Robin Dalton
In this video Commissioner Robin Dalton attempts to respond to the criticisms made during the public comment period. It is during this segment of the Council meeting that things really went off the rails. Commissioner Dalton is basically shouted down and the meeting is temporarily recessed.
Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan
Following the recess, Commissioner Madigan tried to acknowledge the demands of the BLM group and suggest a way forward. As documented in an earlier blog, Commissioner Madigan met with the BLM leadership last year, but her attempt to address their concerns became mired in poisonous insults from Lexis Figuereo and went nowhere.
It is a testament to Commissioner Madigan’s desire to somehow find common ground in spite of the past episode that she sought to advocate for a mediated meeting between the Council and BLM.
Commissioner Dalton also offered her willingness to meet. She described how she had tried repeatedly unsuccessfully to meet with BLM.
Rather than embrace and support Madigan’s and Dalton’s offers, the meeting descends into total chaos with shouts that include personal attacks on both Commissioners Madigan and Dalton. The Council was unable to transact business and the police came in and cleared the public from the room.
Todd Kusnierz (R- Town of Moreau), who is the chair of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, has summarily removed Supervisor Tara Gaston (D-Saratoga Springs) not only from the chair of the county’s Committee on Health and Human Services, he has removed her from the committee.
His action follows a minor conflict at the most recent meeting of the committee.
RISE is a group in the town of Ballston trying to build affordable housing. The group had successfully secured grants for their project, but the recent spike in the cost of lumber suddenly increased the price of the project by a million and a half dollars.
To secure the grants, RISE was required to come up with the full financing. While the cost of lumber is expected to drop, the applications must be completed by the end of the month. The county apparently has received some $44,000,000.00 in federal monies under the CARES act. RISE is seeking $400,000.00. They stressed that hopefully they will not need the moneys if lumber prices moderate, but for now they need the county’s commitment of funds to secure the grants.
They asked Tara Gaston as the chair to allow them to address her committee. Apparently Supervisor Gaston had a sense that the request would be at least temporarily rejected. The county has yet to establish a vehicle for accepting applications for the moneys. The members of Gaston’s committee all opposed acting on the application at this time.
My understanding is that the leadership of the county does not like to publicly deal with issues when there are not the votes to approve an action. They prefer to deal with things out of the public eye. Supervisor Gaston apparently felt that RISE deserved the opportunity to do their presentation even if it would not be adopted at this point.
I have excerpted two episodes from the meeting. The first occurred during the discussion over the RISE proposal. Supervisor Gaston expressed frustration at the lack of input from her colleagues prior to the meeting.
She exercised the privilege of the chair to express that frustration. When Kusnierz tried to respond she asked him to save his comments until “other business” at the end of the meeting.
The second excerpt is from “other business.” Supervisor Gaston begins by apologizing apparently for not using this part of the agenda to express herown concerns. Kusnierz then issues a backhanded attack on Gaston by assuring the members of the committee that in the future the meetings will be run “smoothly and with decorum.”
It has been my misfortune to have listened to more meetings of public officials than any reasonable person can be expected to endure. In fact, I subjected myself to the lengthy bitter brawls at the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors during the conflicts between the two factions last year over the COVID bonus fiasco.
I think most people listening to these recordings will agree that Supervisor Gaston’s comments did not rise to a level that could possibly be described as violating decorum nor of running a chaotic meeting.
It would appear that the decision to remove her from both the chairmanship and the membership of the committee was punitive.
I will not speculate on why this was done but it is just another indication that while the new leadership at the county is better than the old, that is a very low bar.
FBD’s Reporting On What Happened in Saratoga on July 14
Here are two examples of FBD reporting on the BLM demonstration that occurred on July 14 in downtown Saratoga Springs.
According to the FBD story dated July 19, 2021:
BLM Saratoga held the press conference after a protest last week that wound its way through the streets of Saratoga Springs with the police arresting five people, four on minor charges. Representatives of BLM said that the police were too aggressive in their tactics, outfitting themselves with shields, clubs and body armor, and then rushing the protesters who were retreating back toward Congress Park, they say. [Read the full story here.] BLM members reiterated that they came without weapons and none were found on those arrested.
Foothills Business Review July 19, 2021
According to the July 15, 2021 FBD
About 8:15, after an hour of marching, the police gave protesters five minutes to disperse and leave the driving lanes of the streets. Police addressed the crowd through a PA system in a police SUV that at first was difficult to hear. (my emphasis) An officer repeatedly read a statement that said the protestors were trespassing and had to leave the street no matter the topic of the protest.
FBD July 15, 2015
I do not take issue with FBD reporting on what the BLM representatives at their press conference had to say no matter how misrepresentative their statements may have been. The public is interested in stories on social justice issues here in our city and news sources correctly see the local BLM group’s statements and actions as deserving coverage.
What I find deeply disturbing is that journalism should not be about simply parroting recklessly inaccurate statements and that unfortunately is what FBD is guilty of.
The description of the events that occurred at Broadway and Caroline as described by the local BLM group at the press conference is simply not an accurate representation and FBD failed in its journalistic responsibilities by not also providing its readers with reporting on what actually occurred.
Likewise the second example above, while not inaccurate, leaves out a significant piece of information that changes the whole understanding of the police effort to communicate with protesters.
Steve Thurston, the publisher/reporter of FBD knows what actually transpired at this demonstration because he was there. I know he was there because I was there.
What Actually Happened
On the evening of July 14, 2021, the BLM demonstrators had halted their march at the intersection of Caroline Street and Broadway. After approximately ten minutes, a police car on Caroline Street facing Broadway, using its sound system began issuing a warning to the demonstrators advising them that the gathering was an illegal assembly and that if they did not clear the intersection within five minutes they would be subject to potential arrest.
Part way through the warning, using a feature in their bullhorns that generates a loud siren sound, several demonstrators, including Lexis Figuereo, attempted to drown out the warning.
It was clear that the sirens were being used to express the contempt the demonstrators had for the police warning.
The small group that remained in the intersection made it abundantly clear that they had no intention of leaving the intersection unless they were forced out.
Simply describing that the police warning, as FBD has done, was hard to hear without observing that the demonstrators were attempting to drown out the police warning with siren sounds gives an incomplete picture of what was happening. It was abundantly clear that the demonstrators were using the sirens to mock the warnings the police were trying to communicate.
Mr. Thurston also had to be aware of the reality that the group occupying the intersection was not going to move unless forced to do so.
The readers of FBD deserved to have this information.
Allowing Readers The Information To Make Up Their Own Minds
People will understandably disagree about the appropriateness of the actions that took place at the demonstration.
Some will believe that the demonstrators were trying to get their message about police racism and violence out and that all they were doing was inconveniencing motorists trying to use Broadway. Traffic could, and in fact had been redirected around the stretch of Broadway from Lake Avenue to Spring Street. They will believe that the police should have simply let the demonstrators block the intersection of Caroline and Broadway for as long as they wanted to.
Others may take a more moderate approach believing that it was ok to let the demonstrators block the street for close to an hour and a half but it was time to return access to the public.
Others will assert that the demonstrators should never have been allowed to block traffic in the first place.
However you view the justifications for the BLM actions, any person who was there that night would know that the demonstrators would not have retreated from that intersection had the police not forced them to. The idea that the police actions were gratuitous because the demonstrators were retreating from the area following the warning begs credibility and the FBD had a journalistic responsibility to report this to their readers no matter what the BLM spokespersons wanted the public to believe.
What actually occurred was that with demonstrators refusing to free the intersection following three warnings, a phalanx of police advanced on the intersection.
Most of the demonstrators fled the intersection and regrouped at Broadway and Division Street. Five who remained behind were arrested.
It should be left to the readers of FBD to decide whether the actions of the demonstrators and the police were justified but to enable them to do so FBD needed to provide them with accurate information so readers could make up their own minds.
The More Nuanced Problem of Determining What Details to Report On and How To Provide Context
FBD is really a one person operation, Steve Thurston. Most people reading the kind of things that Mr. Thurston reports on probably don’t appreciate how time consuming and challenging just covering events can be. To his credit, Mr. Thurston manages to inform himself and his readers of a lot of news, especially for one person.
He also uses a form of journalism that is popular in our digital age. Brevity, as in very short pieces, seems to be the paradigm for the FBD.
Being brief brings with it great challenge, especially in stories that involve radically different narratives coming from opposing parties. In fact, there are stories that simply cannot be shoehorned into a few, compact paragraphs.
There is a point where poorly crafted stories rather than educating their readers actually misinforms them.
Let’s take this paragraph from FBD on the actual demonstration of July 14.
Saratoga Springs police arrested five people, early reports say, Wednesday evening July 14, after Black Lives Matters protesters wound their way through city streets, stopping traffic and sometimes verbally engaging with two mounted police officers, pedestrians and others. Protesters chanted “No Justice, no peace, no racist police” and other similar chants.
FBD July 15, 2021
Everything in this paragraph is true. The demonstrators had “wound their way through city streets verbally engaging with two mounted police officers, pedestrians and others.”
Demonstrators did chant “No Justice, no peace, no racist police” and other similar chants.
This is, however, a highly sanitized rendition of what the demonstrators had to say both to the police and to the diners they often addressed.
With respect to FBD, the one chant it quoted suggested a level of civility that was not in evidence that night.
This was not a “We Shall Overcome” crowd. Things were very ugly. As Mr. Thurston had to be aware, Lexis Figuereo’s behavior was particularly ugly and provocative. Mr. Figuereo used his bullhorn extensively to yell expletive loaded rants at the police.
I know that the protesters would argue that the presence of so many police, many in protective gear, was a statement by the city of its hostility to them. Mr. Figuereo has made it clear that he unashamedly has good reason to be as insulting and provocative as he wants.
The problem for a journalist is what to include in an article and what to leave out. It is not an easy problem to solve. It is a constant source of tension between journalists and the people they report on.
Still there are cases of journalistic abuse or ineptitude that deserve calling out.
Were the expletive taunts directed at the police anomalies, it would be understandable to have dismissed them as not newsworthy. Mr. Thurston, as an eye witness, had to be aware of the extensive incidents of demonstrators yelling provocative and insulting things at the police. Some of these were delivered at very close range.
I know that FBD unsuccessfully sought a response to the BLM press conference from members of the Council. It would have made its job easier had FBD gotten members of the Council to offer opposing views. But the lack of statements from elected officials is no excuse for allowing its news site to be a vehicle for Mr. Figuereo to allege that the criticisms of his group’s behavior were without merit.
Sarah Burger has resigned from the chair of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee. Significantly, she also resigned from the Committee. Her father, Ralph Burger, also resigned from the Committee.
I was unable to reach her to find out why she resigned.
In an email sent to Saratoga County Democratic Chair Todd Kerner and to the members of the city Committee she wrote that:
“There were many reasons including health concerns. The time has come for me to step down as chair and from the committee effective immediately.”
It is unusual for a city chair to resign heading into the local election season. Her email indicated that she planned to continue her role on the Executive Committee of the New York State Democratic Committee.
Saratoga County Democratic Chair Todd Kerner made the following statement about Ms. Burger: “Sarah devoted a lot of time and energy to the City Democratic Committee and to getting Democrats elected. We thank her for all her efforts and wish her the best.”
On Friday, July 16, 2021, four of the six Democratic candidates for local office convened a press conference on the steps of city hall to announce that they planned to diffuse tensions in the city by doing a better job of listening to Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists. They seemed to be unaware of the history of city officials attempting to do just that.
Present at the press conference were Ron Kim (Mayor), Minita Sanghvi (Finance), Dillon Moran (Accounts), James Montagnino (Public Safety), and Shawn Wiggins (Supervisor).
The candidates admonished the current City Council for allegedly failing to try to engage the leadership of BLM to address their concerns. The candidates asserted that had the current Council members done so, the city would have been spared BLM’s demonstrations.
Ms. Sanghvi told those present:
“A lot of that would have been unnecessary if the city leaders had gone and talked to [the BLM people] where they are at Congress Park and resolved to meet at a later date instead of having them come here to Broadway and have the police tackle them. It shouldn’t have gotten that far in the first place.”
Ron Kim stated, “They don’t feel heard. Nobody’s listening to them, so that’s why they’re marching in the streets.” He continued:
“I’m not saying we are going to wave a magic wand and grant anything [activists] are asking for, but I am saying listening to people is part of the job here. It’s part of the job description and that’s not happening, and that’s creating some of these problems”
But there is a history of attempts at dialog
Apparently Mr. Kim and Ms. Sanghvi are unaware of the history of efforts to engage the local leadership of BLM in a dialog. As just one example, here is a recording of Commissioner Madigan speaking at a special meeting of the City Council on October 1, 2020.
I contacted Commissioner Madigan and asked how the local BLM responded to her offer to meet with them. She responded:
Deirdre and I met with Lex and Jamaica Miles in October for nearly 3 hours.
Reviewing their 13 demands and outlining which demands we already meet, which needed state and or county involvement, which needed more work and follow-up. I was also looking into moderated meetings with BLM All of Us with Dale Willman.
I set a timeline for deliverables and getting back to them with next steps. I called them both literally 4 business days later to review the progress I made, but a personal matter came up so I was 1 day behind on deliverables.
Lex screamed and swore at me on the phone, didn’t care about my “personal issue”, I didn’t do enough and hung up on me. Then he made several videos complaining about me and the cost of my renovated office, and said all I did was whine about my personal problems (which was untrue, I simply said I wasn’t as far along as I liked but had info on each deliverable I promised and wanted to review that with him and Jamaica).
After the videos and being publicly excoriated by him and others, I decided they were not working with me in good faith and there was nothing more I could do to move the conversation forward. Again he just yelled, demanded, became vulgar, hung up in me, and then made ugly videos.
I wish the Democratic candidates all the best in this latest attempt to engage Mr. Figuereo in a conversation that will reduce the tensions in the city. They are incorrect and unfair in claiming, though, that those currently in office haven’t also tried to do this.
A Troubling Fundraising Email From Ron Kim
The email below was forwarded to me. It does not bode well for the coming campaign season.
My recollection of Mr. Kim’s two terms as the Commissioner of Public Safety is that he had a tendency towards intemperate outbursts. This email seems to indicate that he has not left that trait behind.
According to Mr. Kim we are seeing “the right wing tear down democracy in Saratoga Springs.” Citing “critical race theory” and “racist dog whistles” he claims “we are seeing the Trump playbook being implemented right on Broadway.” I’m not sure what he means by this but it seems a bit hyperbolic.
While Mr. Kim seems to be putting himself forward as the only candidate to preserve democracy in Saratoga Springs and save us from being taken over by Trumpism, let’s remember that his Republican opponent Heidi Owen West is actually a registered independent. His other opponent Robin Dalton changed her Republican registration also to independent, publicly criticizing the policies of Donald Trump and the national Republican Party.
The announced purpose of the July 14, 2021, protest was to secure an apology from Assistant Police Chief John Catone for some unfortunate remarks he made at a press conference on June 28. His conciliatory statement issued on July 14 was deemed insufficient by the leaders of Black Lives Matter. I don’t think anyone expected Catone to actually issue an apology. The ostensible goal of the demonstration was then to educate the public regarding Catone’s original remarks in order to show proof that the Saratoga Springs Police Department is a racist institution.
I spent an hour viewing the “civil disobedience” training done by Saratoga Black Lives Matter on the evening of July 13. I spent some two and a half hours the evening of July 14 observing the actual demonstration. The following are some thoughts on what I saw.
The “Training” in Civil Disobedience
I have previously written a post that contrasted the training and execution of non-violent civil disobedience that the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) used to do during the civil rights movement in the sixties with local BLM leader Lexis Figuereo’s approach.
The SNCC training and actions involved meticulous planning for their actions along with rigorous training to prepare those committed to participation. The idea was to try to minimize the potential for violence and injury and to insure that those who decided to participate would be thoroughly informed on not only how to act but most importantly, about the risk of what they would be doing.
The July 13 BLM training bore no relationship to SNCC’s preparations.
Approximately 20 people participated in the Zoom event. The event included some power point screens with lists of dos and don’ts:
Do follow the instructions from the leadership.
Do write the telephone number for the Lawyers’ Guild telephone number on your arm.
Don’t wear long earrings and jewelry that can be grabbed.
Don’t wear sunscreen because irritants such as tear gas can get under it and be hard to remove.
Don’t resist arrest.
The verbal training presentation by Figuereo, however, was a rambling affair that conspicuously did not address the most obvious question.
I asked what the plan was for how participants in the demonstration should respond to the police should the police designate the protest an illegal assembly and threaten arrests.
In the case of SNCC, this is what most of their training focuses on.
Figuereo responded that the decision was up to each individual. He was not going to dictate to anyone what they should do. He did say, at another point, that people “should not resist” the police as that would risk serious consequences.
He and the other trainer also told those present that they should not engage with hecklers.
Someone asked Figuereo how they were going to end the event. Figuereo gave a rambling non-answer.
The reality is that Figuereo had no real plan. He wanted the liberty to lead the protesters on the following night to wherever he decided to go. He wanted to disrupt the downtown and play cat and mouse with the police which is what he did. The idea that he would bear any responsibility for what might happen to the people he was urging to follow him was simply not a factor for him. This was under the guise of “empowering” his followers to make their own decisions.
Of course since most of the people who would be demonstrating on the following night did not participate in this training and as participation in the training was not a requirement for participating in the action, this was not a serious effort to prepare for a civil disobedience action.
This Video Is Of A Protester Threatens Police
I would ask the readers of this blog to try to think practically about what this means. Let’s assume you have a crowd of people with no structure (each person was supposed to decide for themselves how to deal with an order from the police) at some intersection downtown. Assuming the police require that the intersection be cleared, how would that transpire? How were the police supposed to physically deal with a crowd where the police have no idea how anyone is going to respond? Are the police going to wade into such a crowd attempting to arrest individuals? This is an invitation to chaos and chaos breeds violence.
Two Worlds Collide
The evening’s conflicts yet again exposed how wide the gap has become between the demonstrators and our city’s government.
Our city government and in particular, our city police, recognize the right of people to peacefully protest. The city views its responsibility to be to protect the demonstrators, bystanders, and the police. The city also sees itself as responsible for the orderly conduct of city operations.
The demonstrators believe that the death of Darryl Mount involved the murder of a person of color by the police and a coverup of the crime. They believe violence and racism are rampant in our police department. As their chants on July 14 made clear, they see the police as a malevolent force poisoning our community and point to Assistant Police Chief Catone’s comments on June 28 as further proof of the viscous threat people of color are subjected to in Saratoga Springs.
They see themselves on a crusade to free this city from this evil.
They also see themselves as valiant soldiers for social justice who have a right and responsibility to violate the city’s laws in order to further their cause. They see themselves as non-violent because they are not armed (in contrast to past demonstrations, the demonstrators ‘security’ people did not carry small baseball bats on July 14) and because they are only interrupting traffic and they are not initiating any violence against the police.
On July 14 the two cultures collided in downtown Saratoga Springs.
An Emblematic Incident
I observed an incident on Caroline Street that documented this divide.
Two police cars were driving up Caroline Street. Three protesters walked in front of the lead car and blocked its passage. The police cars just stopped. No officer got out of their car to confront the demonstrators. They simply sat in their car and waited. A few minutes later two mounted police arrived.
One of the police used his horse to push the demonstrators out of the way. These horses are quite large and they are intimidating. One demonstrator did her best to resist. The horse banged into her several times and eventually forced her out of the street. She was outraged. She yelled at the police officer that the horse bumping her had hurt. She continued to yell at the mounted officer for his use of force against her.
So from her perspective she had the right to obstruct the police car because it demonstrated her righteous effort to combat racism. For her, the horse pushing her out of the way was proof of the excessive use of force routinely visited upon people of color in our city.
There is of course another narrative.
She was blocking a police car trying to reach the top of Caroline Street to be able to monitor the demonstration. She was interfering with a police officer trying to carry out his duty.
She was breaking the law.
Fortunately for her, the police opted not to arrest her but to simply try to move her out of the way in a manner that would minimize injury both to her and to the police. It can be viewed as an example of the effort by the police to try to clear a street without hurting anyone.
Readers should consider that the march went on for approximately an hour and twenty minutes without a direct action to stop the protest or arrest anyone. The police redirected much of the traffic on the main thoroughfare to minimize the risk of a car striking a demonstrator. They blocked off Spring Street where Putnam Street enters Spring Street. Similarly they blocked off Lake Avenue at Putnam. This would reflect the tolerance of the city to try to accommodate the protest to the extent possible.
For the demonstrators, the very presence of the police was a form of intimidation and threat. They believed that all they were doing was obstructing some traffic and exercising their right to speak and to assemble. They would dismiss the idea that there was any need for the police to be involved even in redirecting traffic.
They viewed their use of bullhorns to berate the diners in front of the Adelphi about the diners’ ignorance regarding racism as nothing compared to the violence and racism inflicted on people of color here in the city.
The fact that the city had allowed them to block traffic and exchange taunts with hecklers without interference for an hour and twenty minutes was of no significance in the eyes of the demonstrators.
They viewed their berating diners and the police with expletives as simply reflecting their righteous and well deserved anger at a city and at a police force bent on the oppression of people of color. They see Saratoga as a city built on white privilege and have been very clear that one of their goals is to bring down the city’s economy.
In contrast, the city leadership felt the handling of the demonstration reflected the respect the city has for the right to protest. The protesters had refused to get a permit or communicate their intentions to police yet had been permitted to march through the downtown, obstruct traffic, berate the police and bystanders unobstructed for almost an hour and a half.
The discipline the police showed in resisting the provocation of aggressive taunts and actions on the part of the demonstrators reflected well on the training of the police force. There was pride and relief that the police had once again handled a difficult and challenging situation without any injuries to anyone involved.
Potential For Violence
I observed some very ugly exchanges between the “security” personnel of the demonstration and hecklers. One particularly nasty incident occurred on Phila Street. Most of the demonstrators had passed on when a demonstrator/security person got into a verbal exchange with someone yelling out of the second floor of a building. The “security” person and the heckler verbally abused each other with epithets and insults. The “security” person challenged the heckler to come down and face him in the street. (this of course was a violation of the admonition from the training about not talking to hecklers).
This “security” person clearly felt that he had the right to use violence to respond to what he viewed as a racist heckler.
The view of this demonstrator and others at this event seemed to be that passive and dignified resistance is a relic of a failed civil rights past. Social Justice is for warriors ready to stand up with violence if necessary to forward the cause of ending racism.
Things came to a head when demonstrators occupied the intersection of Broadway and Caroline. After the group had occupied the intersection for about ten minutes, the police, using the sound system in a patrol car, attempted to issue a warning that the assemblage was illegal and that they had five minutes to clear the area.
I say “tried” because the demonstrators used the siren feature on their bullhorns to try to drown out the police warning. It was impossible to hear what the police were saying because of this.
Of the approximately seventy people who participated in the initial march, about twenty-five people remained in the intersection.
Up the street at Broadway and Lake Avenue a phalanx of officers carrying shields had formed.
They marched in a line up to Caroline Street where the demonstrators stood. There was a confusing mele during which most of the demonstrators retreated to Broadway and Division Street.
Five persons were arrested:
Adam Walker, age 32, Albany, NY Arlo P. Zwicker, age 18, Saratoga Springs Anthony Brown-Davis, age 32, Albany, NY Michael D. Janidlo, age 36, Clifton Park, NY Derek C. VanDermark, age 46, Ballston Spa, NY
All were charged with disorderly conduct (a violation). Mr. VanDermark was also charged with Obstructing Governmental Administration in the Second Degree (a misdemeanor).
All were later released on appearance tickets that night and will have to appear in city court at some later date.
Excessive Force ?
I spoke with one of the legal observers about the arrests. He showed me some video of the event. In the video you could see three groupings of police on top of three demonstrators. In each case the demonstrator was under at least three police officers.
The legal observer told me that this was an example of excessive force.
With respect, I told him that it was unclear from the videos whether there had been excessive force.
As he did not have video of the initial contact it was unclear what kind of resistance the demonstrators had put up.
The fact that a group of officers had subdued each person does not in itself indicate excessive force. Subduing someone is not easy. Subduing someone quickly and safely can involve more than one police officer.
Early reports are that no one required medical treatment. If this ends up being the case, it would seem that the police used only enough force necessary to subdue the people.
Here again we have the divide. The fact that three or more officers were involved in subduing each person is proof to the demonstrators that excessive force was used. For the city, the fact that the persons were subdued without harm shows that the police used restraint and exercised only enough force to safely arrest them.
Taunting and Provoking The Police
As the demonstrators retreated they continually stopped and occupied intersections. They continued to taunt and heckle the police. At one point, in a reference to an earlier incident that involved Lexis Figuereo, they chanted “Suck My D…”
The police again formed a phalanx and marched forward and the demonstrators retreated.
The result was that the demonstrators were herded back into Congress Park. Even then the demonstrators took to the street in front of the park several more times and taunted the police only to retreat to the sidewalk again as soon as the phalanx started to move. This happened several more times before the demonstrators finally retreated into Congress Park itself, and the demonstration ended.
The demonstrators believed they had every reason to taunt the police. To them the police are a malevolent group that normally operates with impunity. For the demonstrators this was pay back time. The demonstrators viewed their taunts as a way to humiliate and punish the police.
To the city, the police showed great professional restraint by refraining from being drawn into a further melee that would have required chasing the protesters, surrounding them, and arresting them all.
The Times Union reported that SSPD Lt. Robert Jillson told the paper “that the department tries to balance the protesters’ First Amendment rights with the safety of the whole community, and that it agreed with their fight against racism and bias.
“Their message is legitimate,” he said. “We share their concerns.”
As should be apparent, I am relieved that again, the city has handled yet another demonstration, in spite of extreme provocation, with professionalism such that no one was hurt. Even the resulting charges from the arrests are quite modest. No one threw the book at them. The city simply worked to maintain order with limited force and with limited legal action.
I have to admit to a feeling of frustration as regards the media. This demonstration was a major news event and should be reported on. What troubles me is that the media fails badly in acknowledging the care our city’s police have shown in handling this conflict with restraint and professionalism.
I am not much of a videographer. In this video some “security” people break from the main body and approach the police at the corner of Broadway and Division. In the background you can hear one of the leaders of the main group directing comments at the diners sitting outside of the Adelphi.
Two of the protesters’ “security” people become agitated when the police officer in charge of the intersection asks them to move to the sidewalk. A young woman in the group (she is wearing a yellow shirt) intervenes and convinces the two to back off.
The main body then marches by led by Lexis Figuereo. At one point he taunts some diners about enjoying their drinks.
At approximately 7:00 PM about seventy Black Lives Matters demonstrators left Congress Park and took to the streets of Saratoga Springs. They marched up Broadway and stopped in front of the Adelphi Hotel where people were having dinner in front of Morrisey’s. For approximately fifteen minutes one of the leaders with a bullhorn berated the diners.
They then proceeded up Broadway toward City Hall. There were many, many Saratoga Springs Police and Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department cars lining the east side of Broadway and the southbound lane of Broadway was blocked off at Broadway and Lake Avenue.
The demonstrators turned right on Lake Avenue and marched down to Henry Street where they turned right. They marched up Henry Street to Spring Street and turned right. From there they turned on to Putnam. They gathered in the parking lot half way up the hill. Some speeches were given, and they then marched up the hill to Broadway and then turned left. At Spring Street they turned again and marched down to Putnam where they took a left. At Caroline Street they took a left. They gathered at the intersection of Caroline Street and Broadway. Some stragglers blocked two police cars driving up Caroline Street. A mounted policeman used his horse to force them away from the front of the lead vehicle.
The police cars proceeded up the hill and stopped at the entrance to Broadway. The lead car, using a speaker system, began reading an order giving them five minutes to free the intersection. At this point the demonstrators had been marching for about an hour and twenty minutes. I could not hear all that was being said because several demonstrators, among them Lexis Figuereo, used their megaphones to generate a loud siren sound to interfere with the order.
A demonstrator got in front of the lead car and challenged them. He told them that this was not a nineteen fifties event and that if they attacked the group he and others would take care of them.
Approximately thirty people stayed in the intersection.
At this point a phalanx of sheriffs appeared at the intersection of Broadway and Lake Avenue with shields. They marched to the intersection behind their shields. As they approached the demonstrators, most of them fled but five ended up being wrestled to the ground and arrested. My understanding is that no one was “hurt.” By that I mean that no one required medical attention.
The group that had fled reorganized at the intersection of Division and Broadway. They continued to taunt the police.
What followed was a series of cat and mouse movements. The sheriffs would move forward and the demonstrators would retreat only to reform and continue their taunts.
The demonstrators ended up on the Broadway sidewalk in front of Congress Park. They would go into the street and taunt the police and as the police would start to approach they would retreat to the sidewalk.
During all of this Lexis Figuereo kept up expletive loaded rants with his bullhorn.
At approximately 9:30PM the demonstrators gathered in the park to finish their march.
The most important thing is that apparently the police and sheriffs were able to avoid hurting anyone.
I will have much more on this in a future post but wanted to get this out this evening.