Pro-police demonstrators and counter-protesters faced off last night in Saratoga Springs, where three arrests were made.
At the start of a night of demonstrations outside Saratoga Springs City Hall, Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton hoped things would not escalate between participants of a “Back the Blue” pro-police rally and Black Lives Matter counter-protesters.
“What I don’t want to see is groups pitted against each other. I don’t want to see violence. I want to see constructive conversation,” said Dalton, a Republican.
But things were tense as the two groups fumed in Congress Park. Insults were thrown back and forth, with chants of “Black Lives Matter” against “All Lives Matter.”
Protests in Saratoga Springs have been common since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Police custody in May.
“They buried him a month ago!” yelled one Back the Blue supporter, in reference to Floyd, who was killed after a police officer kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes.
The Back the Blue rally, meant to show support for law enforcement, drew a crowd from across the region along with several local Republican elected officials, who posed for photos posted on social media.
Organizers on Facebook sought to keep the rally “a positive, all inclusive [sic] event” and asked participants to keep their political signs at home, though many wore political apparel. A woman in a Make America Great Again cap waved a Trump 2020 flag at the Black Lives Matter protesters, separated by an officer on horseback.
Much of the Back the Blue rally was an older, whiter crowd. The counter-protesters were younger – many of them teenagers – and many people of color.
The large rally began peacefully but intensified as the evening wore on and the crowd thinned.
Lex Figuereo is a vocal Saratoga Springs resident who has organized several local protests. He’s also a member of the community action group All of Us, which has organized its own security teams at recent rallies.
“We’re out here to keep the peace, keep everybody safe. You see the Blue Lives Matter protesters, they are not for peace at all.”
With blood in his nostril, Ken Zeoli, a local activist with the group Community Matters, told an officer he was punched.
“Walked up, guy punched me in the face.”
“Who did?” asked a nearby police officer.
“Some guy in the Trump crowd! Literally, I just got punched!”
“What was he wearing,” asked the officer.
“He was wearing a leather vest…a motorcycle vest that no markings on it. Heavy-set, white t-shirt. We got it on video.”
The officer asked Zeoli to come to the station after the rally to look into the matter.
Mike Kibling, a right-wing activist who has organized several protests in Glens Falls near the district office of Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, blamed the media for creating the kind of the division seen Thursday in Saratoga Springs.
“Do we need reform in different areas of this country? Most definitely. But the division is so strong. Black and white, Republican and Democrat, everybody seems to have to draw a line in the sand. But we’re all Americans. I’m never going to raise arms against another American citizen,” said Kibling.
While he said he doesn’t condone any kind of violence, Kibling has faced controversy before. Last fall he was photographed pointing a toy gun at journalists during a protest in Glens Falls. Afterward, Kibling went on record saying he did not mean any harm.
The demonstrations reflected many national issues: one group decrying violence against police, the other calling attention to police brutality and systemic racism. Locally, the issues of police accountability and racial equity have long been simmering in the Spa City.
It has been seven years since a police foot chase where 19-year-old Darryl Mount Jr. was seriously injured. Mount, a biracial man, fell into a coma and died of his injuries months later. Officials said Mount appeared to be injured after running into a construction site. His family claims police brutality.
Throughout turnovers in the city Public Safety Department, officials have been tight-lipped on the case in recent years, as legal action is being pursued against the city by Mount’s family.
With protesters Thursday chanting Mount’s name, his mother, Patty Jackson, was in attendance with her family.
“I’m always going to come out. That’s never going to stop until justice is served. One way or another, justice will be served,” said Jackson.
As night fell, most of the Back the Blue participants fell away. The Black Lives Matter protesters moved to the entrance of Congress Park on Broadway where they were met by a sizable police presence, with officers from the city, the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department, and State Police on hand. More mounted officers and police in riot gear – including an armored vehicle — showed up.
According to a police timeline of events, after demonstrators marched – some lying down – on Broadway for about 45 minutes, a city police lieutenant asked protesters to move onto the sidewalk around 8:30 p.m.
Police engaged with protesters in the intersection of Broadway and Congress Street, firing pepper balls. Three arrests were made including one juvenile.
Protesters backed up but the scene remained tense until about 9:15.
It was then that, according to Robin Dalton, Saratoga Springs Police Chief Shane Crooks made the call to remove the officers from the intersection. The Public Safety Commissioner spoke to WAMC by telephone shortly after police left.
“The chief made the right call that they need to…we’re going to disperse and then hopefully the crowd will as well.”
As officers in tactical gear climbed aboard the armored vehicle, protesters cheered. An hour later, the crowd dispersed without issue.