#ICantBreathe #Ferguson Demonstrations Today
A group of some 75 University at Albany students shut down part of Washington Avenue on Wednesday afternoon in a peaceful protest, joining thousands of other Americans turning out in a show of solidarity against what's perceived as police violence targeting black men. Events already were scheduled for today tied to Ferguson, but with Wednesday's grand jury decision not to indict a white New York City police officer caught on video putting a deadly chokehold on Eric Garner, the number of protests has multiplied.
Cellphone video shot over the summer shows Eric Garner placed in a chokehold by a police officer, a maneuver not allowed by the NYPD. Garner died shortly after, and though the coroner ruled it homicide, a grand jury chose not to indict, touching off a wave of protests in a country already fraught over a similar grand jury outcome in Ferguson.
Distrust between people of color and law enforcement was fodder for discussion during a Wednesday night gathering at Albany's Arbor Hill Community Center. City leaders and local activists were on hand, including Community Advocate Marlon Anderson, and Alice Green, Executive Director of the Center for Law and Justice.
"One of the things about what's goin on now with this issue about these police verdicts is that everybody is startin' to see that you can't just stand idly by and watch this happening, because the next time it could be you, " said Anderson. Green added: "We've always maintained that the whole culture of the police department needs to be changed. Where they think about people differently, that they work with the community in a different kind of way. We're seeing that change take place locally, I think, most effectively in the city of Albany. The police chief understands, and 'gets it,' that you really have to include the community as partners, where you identify problems and issues and talk about them and work toward solutions."
Among protests scheduled for today, a 1 o’clock gathering on the College of St. Rose green at the center of being promoted on social media as an opportunity "to stand up for accountability and an end to an epidemic of unaccountable police violence." Sean Collins with local SEIU 200 United plans to be there. "The mothers of both Ramarley Graham and Sean Bell were members of SEIU. The mother of Mike Brown is a member of UFCW. These countless instances of police violence primarily affect low-income working class people of color while those the police truly serve - the ruling class - benefit from these violent incursions. SEIU and the broader labor movement stands in solidarity with all those who aim to resist the criminal injustice system."
Graham was 18 when he was shot to death by a white New York City police officer in 2012; Bell was shot to death in Queens in 2006.
At 2:30 protestors will assemble in front of Kingston City Hall. Odell Winfield is a member of the End the New Jim Crow Action Network. This is the group’s second event this month. "The first was hands up don't shoot last Tuesday, this one is Hands Up We Can't Breathe. Now, in Kingston this issue is around the militarization of the police force. Right now they have bought two Hummers, tanks. We're saying why not have community policing, why do we need tanks to serve warrants?"
A protest is scheduled for 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. in front of police headquarters in Albany.
Berkshire Citizens for Peace is planning a vigil for 5 p.m. in Park Square in downtown Pittsfield.
Will the wheels of change gain traction throughout upstate New York and western Massachusetts? Again, Marlon Anderson: "I think if you re-visit the issue about two weeks from now, Albany will be as dis-engaged as ever. That's one of the sad things about it. Police brutality has been there before Eric Garner, has been there before Michael Brown, and is gonna continue to be there. The question is are we gonna continue to have the level of engagement that happens when it gets the sensationalism and focus of the national media. People need to stay engaged. That's how you affect real change."
Albany police and the mayor’s office did not have any comment.