After Sunday’s “Rally for Black Lives” drew roughly 11,000 demonstrators to Troy, organizers with the group Justice for Dahmeek are calling on the city to make sweeping changes to bring about racial justice.
Outside City Hall Wednesday morning, the group presented a dozen demands, first and foremost being “cops stop killing us & [sic] our children.” While they praised recent attempts by the New York state Legislature to address police brutality, including the repeal of 50-A, activist Naomi Jaffe says much more needs to be done.
"Our job as advocates and activists is to be able to tell the difference between real reform and window dressing, and push for the real reform," she declares, gripping a megaphone.
On Monday, Troy Mayor Patrick Madden appointed eight members to the city’s long-dormant Police Objective Review Board – but Justice for Dahmeek wants to see a new civilian review board with subpoena power, largely composed of representatives from communities most impacted by police violence.
“The board is not chosen democratically. It is a top-down approach, not bottom-up," says Amani Olugbala. "Those things are not enough if they don't have any bite, if they don't have any base in community, and if they don't have the ability to subpoena."
Speaking to WAMC, Madden acknowledged worrying about such optics. He says he’s pleased with the board’s outcome, adding he worked with a former public official, former city councilmember, and the NAACP in making the appointments.
“There was no disagreement as to who should serve," says Madden. "There was no tension in that selection process.”
Some of the group’s other demands include making Troy a sanctuary city, protecting the rights of protesters, and appointing the state Attorney General as investigator and prosecutor in all cases involving the use of deadly force by police.
Like many cities since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Troy is facing renewed calls to implement body cameras for police officers – but Justice for Dahmeek doesn’t want any more money going into the police department. Olugbala says body cameras are pointless, and would rather the city divest funds from the department to support education, employment projects, and other programs that support the black community.
“$20 million on policing, and only $207,000 on public health," Olugbala explains. "Only $3 million on transportation, $2 million on culture – y’all, you know we’ve got the arts central district up in New York right here, but we only spending $2 million on that. $1 million on home and community…”
Justice for Dahmeek would also like to see divestment from what they call “exploitative forces and corporations,” including prisons and fossil fuel companies.
The group is named after Dahmeek McDonald, who was injured in a Troy police shooting stemming from a parole violation in 2017. On Wednesday, the group named 16 more victims of police violence in Troy over more than a decade – including Edson Thevenin, who was fatally shot by Sergeant Randall French during a late-night traffic stop in 2016. Thevenin’s case prompted a damning report by the state Attorney General, but ultimately resulted in no action (as of yet) against French or then-Rensselaer County District Attorney Joel Abelove, who was accused of a cover-up.
“I want to see the day when those responsible for – indirectly or directly – the murder of Edson Thevenin brought to justice. They have to be brought to justice," says McDonald's uncle, Messiah Cooper. "They were all complicit in covering up a murder. From the mayor down, so I want him charged too. ”
French died of COVID-19 in April. The mayor’s office has been reluctant to comment on the case, citing a lawsuit by Thevenin’s family. In an interview with WAMC later Wednesday, Mayor Madden said he is open to further dialogue with Justice for Dahmeek, and defended his response to the 2017 incident.
“It was reviewed – I’m sorry, investigated – by an outside agency, and it was referred to an outside DA, and they did not find cause to charge the officer," Madden explained.
Cooper says McDonald has been incarcerated since the incident. In an addendum to their list of demands, Justice of Dahmeek says it recognizes the need for additional prison and bail reform and decarceration efforts. In light of the movement that has been sparked by Floyd’s death, Cooper reminds the city and protesters to strike while the iron is hot.
“We're going forward," he says. "Backwards is not an option."
You can view the full list of demands below: