South Station Protestors In Albany “Here To Stay”
Black Lives Matter demonstrators have settled in outside the Albany Police Department’s South Station, where last Wednesday officers and protesters clashed.
Protests resumed Saturday afternoon in Townsend Park, following a Friday afternoon press conference held at Albany Police Headquarters, where Chief Eric Hawkins declared the earlier protest "a riot." Demonstrators, who claim police were aggressive, were pepper-sprayed. Pointing to a broken window at the station, Mayor Kathy Sheehan likened protesters' actions to insurrectionists at the January 6 Capitol siege.
"They said that it was a riot," said activist Legacy Casanova. "We explained that if we have a light or we have a megaphone, those aren't weapons, so what was a riot?"
Casanova, who participated in Wednesday's demonstration, said Saturday it was Albany Police Lieutenant Devin Anderson’s swatting of a light and a megaphone out of activists’ hands that escalated the situation. He's calling for Anderson to be expelled from the force.
"Not resign, but fired," Casanova said. "We're calling for Mayor Kathy Sheehan to resign because she condones the use of her officers against peaceful protestors."
Sheehan later apologized and said she did not mean to compare the actions of BLM protesters to insurrectionists, but the damage had already been done. Monday afternoon outside South Station Kasey Charles of Albany slammed the door on negotiations with police or the mayor, but didn't lock it.
"We will stay here until Devin Anderson is fired," Charles said.
Dave Lucas: "And is there any chance police could negotiate with you for a different outcome, or the mayor or anybody?"
"No. Not at all," Charles answered. "And honestly, the community doesn't trust Kathy Sheehan. If she had any type of resolve, if she wanted to have any type of resolve or anything with protestors, she would come down here herself."
Center For Law and Justice Executive Director Alice Green says it's time for some fence-mending.
"And I think that, you know, the department has to start connecting to the community in a different kind of way," Green said. "We've gone through the collaborative process, where we thought that something would have changed, that we were going to be able to redefine and reimagine policing in the city of Albany. And that didn't happen. So people are also upset about that, you know, so there's a, there's a lot that needs to be done. But I think the administration's got to take some leadership here, and reach out to the community and get the community on board to talking about these issues and coming up with solutions."
Albany police spokesman Steve Smith did not return calls for comment.
The demonstrators have pitched tents and made campfires on the street in front of South Station. Police have blocked roads leading to the area from Morton Avenue and South Pearl Street. The group is also keeping an eye on tonight's Albany Common Council meeting. The Council is expected to vote on Local Law C banning the use of tear gas and rubber bullets on civilians by city police.
Sheehan, a Democrat running for a third term, is expected to veto Local Law C if it includes an outright tear gas ban. She favors restrictions on the use of tear gas, but says an outright ban could hamstring police in an emergency.