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.