Thousands marched in Troy Sunday to protest police brutality. Despite some tension, the day remained peaceful. WAMC’s Jesse King was there.
Organizers estimate the Rally for Black Lives drew up to 11,000 people to Troy’s Riverfront Park, with the overflow spilling into nearby streets, peering from the windows of city apartments, and finding space atop Uncle Sam’s Parking Garage. Participants listened to activists from Justice for Dahmeek, Citizen Action, and the family of Edson Thevenin, who was fatally shot by a Troy police officer during a late-night traffic stop in 2016 in a case the led to a critical report by the state attorney general.
While the rally was the latest in the wave of protests that has swept the world since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, demonstrators’ reasons for marching were often conflicting, local, and personal.
“I am protesting because of all the horrible things happening in our country, and we have to show that everybody of every race and every color and every background supports this movement," says Claudia Kavenagh, quietly brandishing her "Repeal 50-A" sign from the sidewalk.
“We want peace in the world. We want everybody to come as one united, so that the system, the government, everybody understands," adds Kebrina Cabrera. "That’s all we want is peace and unity.”
Further down the street, two girls in bandanas jump to the microphone with a more pointed message: "No justice, no peace. F**k these racist-ass police."
Although it’s a relatively small city, Troy has a complicated recent history of police shootings and alleged brutality against black residents. A report on the Thevenin case by the state attorney general criticized police department practices. The city also settled three civil lawsuits related to excessive force in 2015, including that of John M. Larkins, who says he was beat, tazed, and pepper-sprayed by Troy police officers at a hospital in 2011. A statement by Troy Police prior to Sunday’s event maintained the department was ready to aid and protect demonstrators, adding: “We will listen to what is said, and work together to create positive change.”
Larkins, now an activist for Mass Action Against Police Brutality, was skeptical.
“I mean, if you really feel like you wanna be part of this movement, you’re a really good cop – you gotta prove it at this point. Release some documents to us, start leaking s**t," says Larkins. "And then you can prove to my flock that you really deserve to be out here with us. Until then, we don’t mess with you. You an op, you a cop, leave us alone.”
Aside from blocking traffic and offering pizza, the department mostly left protesters alone. As the rally wrapped at Riverfront Park, a small group of protesters gathered at the police station on State Street, remaining late into the night. Mayor Patrick Madden says "several suspicious individuals carrying handguns" were detained and questioned by police Sunday, but he thanked organizers, participants, and public safety personnel for what was otherwise a peaceful rally. Speaking to WAMC after he named eight members to the long-dormat Police Objective Review Board, Madden says the protesters' message was heard.
"There may be some people that aren't going to be satisfied by anything we can say, because they have a level of distrust either with police in general or our department, specifically," he notes. "But we'll continue to have those dialogues."
Overall, any fears that Sunday's protests could turn violent were left unanswered. Businesses that were boarding up their windows earlier in the week took to streets that were sometimes filled with music Sunday, handing out signs, snacks, and water bottles. Protester Javis Prado says he’s proud of the turnout.
“We all know that we don’t wanna be antagonistic, we don’t wanna promote violence," he explains. "But we want to be heard by the police department, [we want them to] know that we’re one body, and we won’t stand for the injustices anymore."