Protesters risked arrest at Schenectady City Hall Monday night a week after video of a controversial police encounter sparked outcry in the Electric City.
At the start of Monday’s protest outside Schenectady City Hall, organizer Jamaica Miles of the group All Of Us spoke to assembled demonstrators.
“Today there will be civil disobedience.”
Monday’s event was billed as an occupy-style protest. Demonstrators split into two groups. One faction, who prepared for possible arrest, staged themselves outside the four entrances to City Hall, which was closed due to coronavirus restrictions. Others marched and chanted in the street and on the sidewalk.
Some served as medics and support, others as security…
“Black truck? Yeah. All security be on the lookout for a black truck. They’ve been circling about three times…”
A young man who said his name was Andre used a walkie-talkie to speak to other demonstrators on security detail, as police prepared just a block away.
A week after a controversial arrest was caught on video, the demonstrators want city leaders to hear them out.
“We just gotta…keep looking at it and saying, what can we do to change the system? Ok? We’ve still got to change the system to this day, about what happened to that young man and Officer Pommer.”
Last week, Officer Brian Pommer was placed on desk duty after video showed him placing his knee on Yugeshwar Gaindarpersaud’s neck and head.
Gainderpersaud attended the rally too, but stayed silent. His lawyer Derek Andrews spoke for him.
“We need to focus on de-escalation, not escalation. We need to focus on community growth and not militarization," said Andrews.
Andrews would not tell WAMC if Gaindarpersaud, a Guyanese man, is pursuing legal action against the city.
The All Of Us demonstrators are rallying behind a list of 13 demands of the city, county, and district attorney, including a ban on all forms of strangleholds, chokeholds, and hogties.
City Hall remained empty, except for a few law enforcement officers that some protesters noticed indoors. As the city council met online, protesters outside the mostly empty city hall tuned in using their mobile phones.
“What about our 13 demands? Come outside!”
“Hey what happened to our 13 demands??”
The interference from the protesters interrupted the council members.
“Sometimes there is breakdown and things need to be addressed and changes need to be made…”
“Shut it down!”
Shaqueena Charles said Gaindarpersaud is her former landlord. She was outside the east entrance to City Hall, one of several calling into the meeting on her phone. She had a message for Chief Eric Clifford, who in early June met with demonstrators outside police headquarters.
“On that day you told us that you trained your officers not to put your knee on the neck. Then you lied to us because, obviously you didn’t have the training, because his knee was on his neck and his head.”
Last week, Chief Clifford, Mayor Gary McCarthy, and Public Safety Commissioner Michael Eidens released a list of some police policy reforms, including a ban on knee-to-head holds and a restriction on warrantless arrests. The police chief said he was committed to reforming the police department and to “listening, trying to understand, and being fair, impartial, and transparent in everything that we do.”
The Democratic mayor framed a Friday discussion with the group Schenectady Clergy Against Hate as the “first in a series of productive conversations” about policing and racial injustice.
On Saturday, the local chapter of the NAACP held its own press conference demanding more open conversations.
On Sunday, city officials held a conversation with the city’s Guyanese community.
City councilor Marion Porterfield, a member of the Schenectady Chapter of the NAACP, spoke with WAMC after Monday’s council meeting. She wants all voices to come together.
“So having these individual conversations, I do not think will bring us to where we need to be…Everything needs to hear what everyone else is saying. I don’t want personalize it and make it about me, or make it about the council, but everyone needs to hear what everyone is saying.”
As night fell, protesters remained outside, their arms linked in the street.
Chief Clifford tweeted a response to the protesters late Monday night.
I have shown this community my willingness to discuss reforms @schdypolice , have made efforts to engage conversations, and remained patient during a month of peaceful protests. That all ends tonight. No more disorder in the city. https://t.co/3PEYzTMMGG
— Chief Eric S. Clifford (@CliffordChief) July 14, 2020