Brendan Kelly hasn’t gotten arrested.
Kelly has been a constant presence at Occupy Albany since Oct. 21, the first night the group set up camp in the city’s Academy Park. But he hasn’t joined fellow occupiers in challenging the 11 p.m. curfew that applies to nearby state-owned Lafayette Park and been hauled away by state police.
“I support those being arrested, and I may at some point join the process,” said Kelly, a 25-year-old Albany resident who works as a teaching assistant at the LaSalle School.
This week has seen cities throughout the country crack down on the occupy groups that began springing up about two months ago. Early Tuesday morning New York City police cleared the park where the Occupy Wall Street movement was born, with Mayor Michael Bloomberg saying that “health and safety concerns became intolerable.” Although protesters have been allowed to return to the park, a judge has upheld the city’s decision to bar tents and overnight camping. Police have raided occupy groups in other cities, including Oakland, Calif., Portland, Ore., and Denver.
Kelly said the crackdowns in other cities “invigorate me. They strengthen my resolve to be here.” He said protesters are exercising their First Amendment right of freedom of speech, and that although the city of Albany and county district attorney have respected their right to camp in the park, it’s important to push the state to recognize their rights as well. “We need to be effective at the Capitol, and Lafayette Park represents the Capitol,” he said.
Starting Sunday night, state troopers began arresting protesters who remained in Lafayette Park after 11 p.m. Since Saturday, state police have made more than 50 arrests for trespass; some of those people have been arrested two or three times. But Albany County District Attorney David Soares has said he will not prosecute the protesters.
“My office has taken a posture from the beginning of this movement to not prosecute peaceful protesters in Albany,” Soares said in a statement. “My decision was not politically motivated nor should this be viewed as a passive stance on law enforcement. So long as we have no violence that is being perpetrated against law enforcement and no damage to state property, there’s room for peaceful coexistence here. I support the right of all parties to assemble peacefully and express their points of view.”
On Tuesday, Albany County Republican Chairman Don Clarey called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to appoint a special prosecutor to handle the trespass charges against the protesters. Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for comment and Michelle Duffy, a spokeswoman for the state Attorney General’s office, also declined comment. Legally, Cuomo could appoint Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as special prosecutor.
Protesters interviewed Tuesday said they were determined to camp through the winter.
Albany resident Ashley Luther, 20, has been camping in Academy Park since Oct. 28. She said she hoped Albany wouldn’t experience a crackdown similar to those in other cities, adding of the trespass arrests, “Cuomo knows what he’s doing is wrong.”
Luther said she decided to join Occupy Albany because she “believes everyone should be treated equally.” She said she has a high school education, can’t find a job and can’t afford to pay for college. Her goal, she said, is to study psychology and become a therapist. A few months ago, she was laid off from her job at a day care.
“I plan on staying here as long as I can,” Luther said. “People drive by and tell us to get a job. Give me a job, and I’ll work.”
“We want better results,” said Loulonnie Raybine, 25, of Albany. A single mother who depends on Social Security Disability Insurance, she said rent is unaffordable for her and that she lives with her mother. “There are no apartments, there are no jobs,” she said.
Kelly got involved with the occupy movement after visiting Occupy Wall Street on Oct. 12. He’d traveled downstate for work and one of his favorite musical performers, punk cabaret singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer, was performing at Zuccotti Park, where the protesters were camped. What he saw at the park inspired him, he said.
“If I went for the music, I stayed for the mission,” he said.
Kelly said he’s only camped at Academy Park about 10 nights. He said the group is opposed to corporate greed and in favor of sustainable living.
Albany attorney Mark Mishler doesn’t camp at Academy Park, but he is involved with Occupy Albany’s legal workgroup. He said people are outraged about the crackdowns in other cities and the trespass charges in Albany. He questioned whether the curfew even exists, saying that nobody has been able to locate a hard copy of the policy.
But even if the state produces a hard copy of the policy, the First Amendment overrides it, he said.
“I think the crackdowns are motivating people and encouraging them,” Mishler said. To him, the movement is about “public participation, public engagement and the lack of government accountability to the people. There are very clear and fundamental inequities in our society. There are haves and have-nots, and most people are the have-nots. Now the have-nots are standing up and saying they’re going to take things back.”
Carole Clements, a financial analyst at SUNY, said she’s been visiting Academy Park every couple of days and on the weekends. But she said she’s unsure where the movement is headed and that she thinks it needs more direction. “I want to support the movement,” she said. “But they need a little focus.” She said she would like to see the Occupy Albany group focus on campaign finance reform.
Clements praised the group’s camaraderie. “It’s a mixed group of people,” she said. “It’s older people, it’s younger people. I like the mix of people.”
She said the arrests have strengthened people’s resolve, but she worries the city of Albany will soon lose patience with the group. “I don’t know how much longer the city is going to let this go on,” she said. “I think they’re going to start citing health and safety issues.”
As to whether she would become more involved with Occupy Albany, Clements wasn’t sure. “I’m not happy with the way things are,” she said. “But I’m not sure this is going to be the answer. I hope it is.”
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