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A Community Divided

WAMC Composite Photo by Dave Lucas

A community march sparked by a bar brawl in Troy has initiated debate and division in the Collar City and beyond.

Security and mobile phone videos ofa late-January nightclub brawlseem to show police overpowering patrons at Kokopellis,  including the severe beating of one individual. Police say they followed procedure.

Troy Mayor Lou Rosamilia says he's been involved in the investigation since day one.  "Monday morning after police had their intelligence meeting, I had the Commissioner, chief of police, deputy chief, assistant chief in my office, explaining to me what was going on. I got the information that was available on Monday following the event of the 25th. They've kept me in the loop. The investigation is still ongoing."

The clips went viral, drawing the attention of local leaders including Pastor Willie Bacote, who led a march the following Tuesday from Bethel Baptist Church along 5th avenue to a "community hearing" at Christ Church United Methodist.

The march was fueled in part by TV news coverage, which began hyping it in advance. As it turned out, about half of the hundred or so community marchers were from different communities — across the river, including members of Occupy Albany, Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace and a few leaders of color from the Capital City.

The demonstration proceeded without incident, but public perception of the event took different points of view depending on what TV news program you watched or what newspaper you read. 

Bacote was portrayed as being bent on ousting Troy Police Chief John Tedesco. Bacote denies that: a spiritual leader, he also happens to be a Commissioner of Deeds for the city as well as a former Commissioner for the Troy housing authority, no stranger to city government.

Bacote affirms his primary interest is justice for anyone who may have been harmed by the police.   "Let's get the record straight. This is about a cause, this is about people who don't have a voice. I will always be on the forefront to speak for those who are less fortunate, who are disenfranchised, who don't have a voice."

At the church meeting after the march, many attendees were activists from other cities, which prompted one of their ilk to scold them on social media, asking why they were "running into  communities" to "get all up in their issues" while shunning community-issue meetings on their home turf. The reference was to a perceived splintering in Albany and the inability of local leaders to form a solid coalition against issues including crime and gun violence. 

Back to the Kokopellis incident: Patrons reported much confusion during the police encounter. They say people ordered to leave were having difficulties claiming their coats and car keys. Others wondered why Kokopellis, which staffs 12 security guards and whose owner claimed the situation was under control when officers arrived, had summoned police in the first place.

Pastor Bacote firmly dismisses media reports that he is leading the call to oust Chief Tedesco. He says he expects open, honest dialogue when the people meet for a second time this week with city and police officials.   "We're looking for even a greater turnout. And we're going to listen at the same way they listen to us, we're gonna respectfully non-violently, and we're gonna listen to them as well as they listen to us."

Mayor Rosamilia explains the police department is actually run by Commissioner Anthony Magnetto, to whom the chief answers. Chief John Tedesco will be speaking at Wednesday's meeting because he essentially acts as intermediary between the commissioner and the citizens. Rosamilia dispels the notion that minorities aren't getting a "fair shake" in his city. He says he regularly meets with African-American pastors to brainstorm.   "I've been meeting with them on a monthly basis. We sit down and talk about how we can get more Africa-American people involved, not only in public safety, but involved and employed within the city itself, because it (the African-American community) does represent about 25 per cent of our population."

Bacote and Rosamilia pledge to continue open dialogue.  Bacote tells WAMC "We are a loving people, we are a caring people. We want to get to the bottom of this. We want to work with the city of Troy and we want to make relations with the city of Troy, for all people, not just some people. For all people here in the city of Troy."    Rosamilia says "We've got a situation where some people feel very uncomfortable with members of the troy police department. We need to work in conjunction and cooperation with one another to identify what the problem is. And I think it's pretty clear form some people's point of view what the problem is."

The Troy Record reports Police Commissioner Magnetto announced he will be retiring on Feb. 14. The paper also says  the city’s Ethics Commission has been drawn into the Kokopellis incident, after a city councilman appeared before the State Liquor Authority with club owner Barry Glick, who was previously investigated for being unable maintain order in his establishment.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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