Racial justice activists fight for police transparency and accountability

Activists built an encampment opposite Albany’s South Police Station this spring, where they refused to leave unless an officer was penalized for slamming a megaphone into a protester’s hand.

The forced cleansing, which resulted in the arrest of several activists, dominated discussions and fueled tensions between activists and police across the region.

Meanwhile, in other cities in the capital region, the state attorney general’s civil rights office opened an investigation into the treatment of protesters by police in Saratoga Springs, which included the detention and l obstruct demonstrators in the event of violations. Trojan activists have also called for the release of a secret report on the police shooting against Edson Thevenin. And in Schenectady, the year was dominated by an ugly political season that leaned heavily on racist tropes.

What does 2022 have in store for the fight for racial justice?

SARATOGA SPRINGS


The strained relationship between activists and city officials was fully visible at the last city council meeting on December 21, which turned into an ugly back and forth of name-calling between activists and the outgoing mayor. Meg Kelly and Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan.

So, for many, it’s a welcome relief that the incoming administration has adopted a tone of being more responsive, as well as respectful, of the protesters.

The city’s new era begins on January 1, 2022, when new Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino releases a report on the 2014 death of Darryl Mount, Jr., the 21-year-old biracial man who was critically injured in the during a 2013 police foot chase. Mount later died.

Activists called for an internal police investigation, a move city officials had not considered until Montagnino promised to investigate the incident.

The new council also vowed to ask County District Attorney Karen Heggen to investigate Mount’s death, and pledged to establish a strong Police Department Civil Review Board to promote accountability and transparency.

Incoming mayor Ron Kim has said he is committed to abiding by these measures.

“I think it’s a change not just for the BLM, but for the community and the city itself,” Kim said. “I felt real concern from people that the city was seen as a racist city. We need some common ground here for BLM and everyone in our community.

The city’s Black Lives Matter frontman Lexis Figuereo has said he hopes these racial justice milestones can be achieved.

“We need answers on Darryl Mount,” Figuereo said. “We need answers for the community and we need answers for his family. We need to implement the Civilian Review Commission and the 50 points requested by the Police Reform Task Force. There are a lot of different changes that need to be made. “

He also said the city needs to set up a community outreach council, which his organization wants to be a part of, to help people in need in the city, such as the homeless and those struggling with addiction. opioids. He is also seeking to have the charges against him and other protesters dropped.

“We will campaign for this,” Figeureo said.

ALBANIA

While protesters scored a clear victory this fall – albeit a difficult one – when voters approved a measure to expand civilian oversight of police, broader changes have been slow, activists say, and the fallout continued after the fall. clash at the South station.

The Albany Police Department came under criticism for using tear gas last year to eliminate protesters, a demonstration that city officials later conceded was against internal protocol.

Campaigners will renew pressure to ban the chemical’s use in 2022, moving a long-debated goal to the finish line.

Protesters are also calling for the release of an internal Police Department investigation into why officers concealed their badges when they cleared Arch Street outside South Station.

Like all local state governments, the city was required by state decree to change operations based on community input.

A task force drafted dozens of suggestions committing to reform everything from the use of armored vehicles to tightening up the language for the use of lethal force, to opening up internal channels between city agencies. who “systematically looked for disciplinary patterns involving the same officer”.

In total, the city Collaboration for police reform and reinvention identified 24 short-term actions designed to be implemented within 12-18 months (others have a longer lead time).

It is not known how many have been implemented. The town hall did not respond to several requests for comment.

Activist Vacari Fox has said transparency and accountability are his two key priorities for 2022.

On the city’s police reform plan: “I feel like it’s stalled,” Fox said. “I haven’t heard much about it since the start of the year.”

TROIE

After staging a protest that drew 11,000 people to the city center last year, Collar City activists have been working more quietly with the “forgotten” residents of Troy, Equality for Troy’s Tasheca Medina said, notably in providing coats for the homeless and Christmas gifts.

“People of color support each other and don’t get the support of Mayor (Patrick) Madden at all,” Medina said. “We are doing what we can for the people on the ground. “

Equality for Troy also attempted to obtain and publish police disciplinary records, as well as lobby for a civilian police review board and the release of the secret report into the actions of a Patrol Sgt. city ​​police during a 2016 traffic check that led to the death of Edson Thevenin. .

Other rallies are planned for 2022.

“They don’t want transparency and don’t want accountability,” Medina said. “We are over-policed ​​and the police are very hostile inhabitants, especially the most disadvantaged. It is really horrible. The only thing we can do is organize ourselves.

SCHENECTADY

The scenery was also silent in the Electric City this year, with only a few major exchanges between police and activists, including a rally this spring that resulted in two protesters facing minor charges for surrounding the police station in the city.

“[Schenectady] is less active but no less problematic, ”said Shawn Young, co-founder of All of Us.

City council briefly became the epicenter of debate when lawmakers attempted to censor a prominent racial justice advocate and school board member for his views on police funding.

While the race for city council was marked by underlying currents of racism, it ended with the city council’s most diverse governing body, with four people of color.

Campaigners hope the more diverse membership will lead to more equitable policies and have signaled several goals for 2022: including that community voices should be represented in planned workshops with police, an action component of the process. reform of the city police.

Young hopes that part of the $ 53 million reserve of federal relief funds allocated to Schenectady will be used to tackle homelessness and reduce the employment rate.

We all said he will continue to lobby for policy changes, including demanding anti-racist training for the police. The nonprofit is also monitoring the city’s new civilian panel which reviews entry-level applicants to ensure the community is represented in these discussions.

City Police Chief Eric Clifford said his officers had completed a 10-week anti-racism challenge and additional training was underway.

The year has been a year of conversation, he said, from officers deploying to neighborhoods to speak with residents, to the implantation of a pair of community engagement officers in high school. Schenectady as part of a pilot program.

The selection jury for the rookies’ cups is underway.

“Every time we go through this process, we learn more about the candidates,” Clifford said.

Elna M. Lemons