Activists rallied Wednesday outside the Albany Capital Center, protesting a controversial former sheriff's appearance there.
Activists representing various groups including Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration demonstrated against a speech by former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke at the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police’s Annual Law Enforcement Vendor Exposition.
The controversial sheriff and vocal Trump booster resigned from his post last August following several allegations that inmates were mistreated in his jails.
Prior to Clarke's visit to the Albany Capital Center, a petition circulated urging the chiefs to cancel the speech. Democratic Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan spoke out against Clarke on Twitter, and exclusively to WAMC. "This is a city that does believe in community policing, that does believe in harm reduction, that does believe that black lives matter, and that is a sanctuary city. And these are all things that have been attacked by the sheriff, and I wanted to send out a statement clearly to our residents to say that, he's gonna know that the town that he's coming into really doesn't align with the values that he's gonna be talking about."
Albany activist Paul Collins-Hackett says Clarke's keynote address sends a contradictory message to all law enforcement, particularly the Albany Police. "Thank-you to the common council members and to the mayor, who came out and distanced themselves and said 'you know what? This is not our event. We don't support this.' I wish that had come from our city chief. I wish our chief had distanced himself and said 'you know what, this is a completely separate event,' but that didn't happen. Some people feel more inclined than others. This is a completely unacceptable event. We had KKK fliers posted in Saratoga. We have the Proud Boys over on Lark Street. How much more positive reinforcement do they need? How much more danger do our kids have to be in on a daily basis before somebody says 'enough is enough.' I'm wondering about the Capital Center. I tagged 'em on Facebook. I didn't get an answer. I'm wondering where is the line? Free speech, everybody, OK, I'm OK with that. Free speech got me here and allows me to say what I want to say so I appreciate that. We completely respect and understand free speech. My question is, when this person is endangering the community that you also thrive off of, 'where is the line?"
Clarke, an African American, has spoken out against the Black Lives Matter movement and urban policing efforts. Democrat Andrew Joyce chairs the Albany County Legislature: "Some of his law enforcement techniques and practices have been controversial, have been harmful, and all the inroads that we're making here locally, you know, with the police, with law enforcement, in the community. That's not something that should be promoted, that's not something we should be using as a tool to teach law enforcement. We're trying to be progressive, do new things to bring the community back in, link up the community and the police, and that's something that, a philosophy that Sheriff Clarke I know doesn't subscribe to."
Aaron Mair is former president of the Sierra Club. "We are morally outraged and we stand in full solidarity with all New Yorkers in lending our outrage that this is occurring in the Capital City of the state of New York, where racism can bare it’s dirty head here, in the person of Sheriff Clarke. ‘Well, wait a minute, it’s not racism, he’s black...’ It is no mean trick for them to find people of color to delegitimize and use them in their so-called ‘conservative voice’ to delegitimize the historic racism [unintelligible] In fact, for him to rise he must be dirtier than the dirtiest.”
The speech was closed to the press and public, and WAMC was turned away at the door. But Clarke did speak with Spectrum News: “I’m on a mission right now, and that mission is, as one of the headlines in the, uh, Times Union I think is the newspaper here, ‘Trump boosting ex-lawman comes to Albany,’ uh, I’m a huge supporter of the president of the United States, I work with America First Action, the official Trump PAC, I’m a senior spokesman for the PAC and the objectives of the PAC. I’m out there promoting the president’s agenda to make America great again, his policies, his directives, I’m going all across the country speaking on behalf of that.”