Activists, organizers and community leaders recently came together for what they called "an emergency community conversation" about the actions of Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Police Chief Eric Hawkins, and the command staff of the South Station.
Lauren Manning, Assistant Director for the Center for Law and Justice, characterized the online session Thursday as "an emergency meeting of all of the organizations to provide a platform for those who are directly impacted."
"Obviously, the Center was quite concerned about the incidents and you know, the systemic racism that drives such actions and such decisions as this."
Activist Lex Figuereo from Saratoga Springs was one of the main organizers of the occupation outside the police station in the South End, which lasted six days until protestors were cleared April 22nd.
He described events leading up to the April 14th clash, alleging that video footage the mayor and police chief eventually showed reporters was edited. He claims some officers did not have their body cams on.
"Cops came out, they ended up trying to close the door after we were playing music. Somebody came in with a bullhorn and we were playing music inside the vestibule when you first walk in, but didn't pass the second door. Now the doors were completely unlocked. We could have stormed the building, as they said that we were trying to do at any moment. We didn't want to storm anything. One of my friends were had his light. He's a photographer. He had his light. They got angry. Devin Anderson decided to try to smack it out of his hand and then close the door behind him. So after he tried to smack his property out of his hand, it closed the door behind them. That's when people were a little bit amped up and angry. People angry. A few people did kick on the bottom of the door not not to try to gain entry, but to give them a hard time because we were angry that they just smacked this thing out of his hand."
Protestors are demanding Anderson be fired. Activist Chandler Hickenbottom says she suffered injuries when Anderson grabbed a bullhorn out of her hand.
"You know, these officers completely brutalized us as we're out here, going against police brutality." Activists also criticized the dramatic scene that unfolded April 22nd outside of South Station when protestors were given 15 minutes to clear out, especially in regard to officers seen covering their badge numbers, a move they say that eroded trust.
Sheehan, a Democrat running for a third term, told WAMC she has strong concerns about officers that covered their badge numbers.
"And that was something that I immediately spoke to the chief and actually put in writing, the expectations that I have and that our residents have with that being investigated. And the chief has given me his commitment that there will be disciplinary action taken against any officer who engaged in that. And so I can understand, you know, that people are really disturbed by that. The fact that individuals who did not clear a city street where they had created an encampment that was becoming, you know, very disruptive in the neighborhood. You know, there were individuals who chose not to leave that encampment. And anytime you watch somebody get arrested, you know, it's it's not it's not a pleasant thing to see."
Sheehan says there were eight arrests.
Manning says systemic racism is anti-Black bias ingrained in American culture through centuries of overt and covert oppression. She expressed dismay over comments Chief Hawkins made during last Wednesday's Common Council meeting.
"The chief, you know, made a point to mention he is a Black man married to a Black woman with Black children. And I need to state here unequivocally that even Black people can perpetuate racism. And I say this, because what struck me was when just when admitting that police violated policy by obscuring their identities. He literally said, but he understands why they did it, because they felt they had been threatened verbally. And they felt the need to protect their families against rape, and violence. And it just reminded me of like when we screened ‘Birth of a Nation,’ like they have literally been using rape, to demonize and criminalize black men since, you know, slaves were freed."
A month after presenting its Policing Reform and Reinvention Plan to the state, Albany is looking to convene a new series of community meetings. Mayor Sheehan tells WAMC the city will release an RFP this week for an outside group to facilitate the conversation.
The activists say they'll continue their conversation as well.