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Saratoga Springs Residents Criticize Assistant Chief's Comments

Saratoga Springs City Hall (file photo)
Lucas Willard
Saratoga Springs City Hall (file photo)

Saratoga Springs residents and Capital Region activists are objecting to recent remarks by the city’s assistant police chief that linked a violent late-night incident with racial justice advocates. 

A violent incident in the early morning hours of June 26th on a street known for its lively bar scene cast a shadow over the start of the summer tourism season in Saratoga Springs.

The after-hours brawl on Caroline Street resulted in a stabbing and shots fired. 

During a press conference the following Monday with Asst. Police Chief John Catone and Robin Dalton, the city’s Public Safety Commissioner who is also running an independent campaign for mayor, the officials claimed the violence was perpetrated by Albany gang members.

But an agitated Catone went on a tangent lambasting local Black Lives Matter activists and police reform advocates. He characterized residents as either “with us or against us.”

“It is time for the silent majority we have heard so much about to stand up and be heard. It’s time that the want-to-be elected officials who are pushing the narrative of anti-police, defunding the police, corrupt and racist police, to lose the narrative and get informed about what your police department and what this city is truly about. If you continue to push a narrative of lies and misinformation and you continue to divide this police department and this community because you’re trying to push a narrative – from a national stage that has no bearing on the City of Saratoga Springs – you are part of the problem. And I will, in my final eight months on this job, pull out every single connection my family has made over the last 130 years and I will stop your narrative. Because we are not a hateful community, we are not a racist police department. But somebody has got to stand up and stop the lies and the misinformation.”

The remarks drew condemnation across the region in the following days, including from the New York Civil Liberties Union. NYCLU Capital Region director Melanie Trimbell issued a statement that reads in part:

“Without a shred of evidence, Catone accused advocates of being responsible for these attacks, and he claimed those who dare to criticize the Department are spreading ‘lies and misinformation’ and trying ‘to push a narrative.’ But it is Catone who is exploiting these incidents to push a dangerous and divisive narrative that sees anyone who doesn’t show blind loyalty to the department as ‘a part of the problem.’”

Criticism also came from Democratic candidates seeking city office this fall.

On Tuesday night, ahead of the first in-person city council meeting after months of virtual meetings due to the pandemic, regional Black Lives Matter organizers held a press conference on the steps of City Hall.

During the meeting — and after outgoing Mayor Meg Kelly briefly halted the meeting in response to reactions from those assembled in council chambers during a public comment period — angered residents approached the microphone to call for an apology.

Alexus Brown, who is Black, said she was born in Saratoga Hospital in 2000, but said her local roots go back to 1862, the year her fifth great-grandfather was born in the Spa City, before the abolition of slavery.

“The Assistant Police Chief said that he would use his 130-year family history in this city to destroy our narrative of the racist abuse and vitriol that spreads through the conduct of the Saratoga Springs Police Department. To that I say, I have 158 years of history that shows that this very city treats its Black citizens of Saratoga Springs as second class citizens and servants. Getting chased by white vigilantes, getting punched by kids in school, getting stopped by police with no probable cause just feet from your front door. It’s absolutely disgusting to try and attempt to use white supremacist dog whistles to insinuate that the people who are leading this movement in this city are outsiders who need to be with you or against you when it comes to protesting for a better life for everyone, not just a few. I’m standing here before you today because my ancestors had a voice but were not given the same opportunities that I now have, but for that I want to thank them because they built the bridge that carried me over to the other side. This city is changing and it is time for our government to move on with it, not against it. So, I demand an apology from the Saratoga Springs Police Department and the city council as I cannot address you all individually…”

City councilors did not issue an apology Tuesday night, but Dalton did respond to a specific comment at the close of the public comment period.

“The term ‘geographic undesirables’ was never used by me, in fact it was asked by Robert Millis and Saratoga Flash News, ‘What would we do to keep geographic undesirables from coming to this location.’ And I said we were not going to pick and choose who comes to Saratoga Springs. That’s what I said,” said Dalton.

Dalton declined further comment Wednesday morning, but did speak with WAMC about the violent June 26th incident last week.

On Friday, Saratoga Springs Police Chief Shane Crooks announced a stepped-up police presence for the summer, through an agreement with the Saratoga County Sheriff and New York State Police.

Crooks, in a press release, called the increased presence of officers “another example of the involved agencies’ commitment to the public safety of our community.”

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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