Jews from Schenectady, elsewhere, march in anti-ICE protest at Rensselaer County Jail

Sit-in staged to block access to Rensselaer County Public Safety Building
Sunday's protest at the Rensselaer County Jail
Sunday's protest at the Rensselaer County Jail

Members of the Congregation Gates of Heaven synagogue in Schenectady joined dozens of their Jewish brothers and sisters from other area religious groups in a march and protest against a local law enforcement agency involved with taking U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement actions against immigrants.

The protest and march, which began at the Taras Shevchenko Park, located at the intersection of Third and Fourth streets in South Troy, ended with a sit-in that blocked the entrance to the Rensselaer County Public Safety building. Sunday’s event specifically targeted Rensselaer County Sheriff Patrick Russo and his office’s participation in ICE’s 287(g) program, in which agents and selected law enforcement officials are trained to check whether jail inmates are in the country legally.

Russo is the only sheriff in New York state who decided to join the program.

Sunday’s march was affiliated with the national Never Again movement, which has organized more than 35 actions across the country. Since June 30, Jews all over the country have taken to the streets and, in some cases, have been arrested in efforts to either shut down ICE headquarters in Washington, D.C., or for barricading entrances to detention facilities in cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

For Shae Fitzgerald, a member of Gates of Heaven and an organizer of Sunday’s event, participating in the march was more than a moral responsibility: It was a necessary decision and action dictated by the Jewish faith.

“I’m here because as a Jew, I believe it is essentially my spiritual prerogative to be doing this sort of thing. I believe it’s a part of a very real kind of action in faith that is present throughout our people’s history,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald, who also led the group in prayer, song and chants prior to the march, and who took a place at the front of the line that blocked the entrance and exit to the public safety building, drew parallels between the detainment policies of ICE and family separation policies employed against Jews during the Holocaust. She explained that part of being Jewish is acknowledging the role of Jews in acting against such practices.

“It’s continuing to represent a heritage of resistance and the refusal to allow this kind of thing to occur again,” Fitzgerald said.

Many signs carried by marchers railed against the separation of young children from their parents and families, and touted the phrase “Never Again.” As they marched, they continued to sing songs and prayers, slowly making their way down the road.

“I’m here because when we say never again, we’re talking about the Holocaust, let’s be completely clear,” said Schenectady resident and Gates of Heaven member Holly Loth, who was attending with her 11-year-old son, Ben.

“And never again means never again for everybody and never again is now. I think we all would like to tell ourselves if we were in Germany in the ’30s we would have stood up. We would have been up-standers and not bystanders. And now is our chance to be upstanders and not bystanders, and that we as Jews maybe have a unique perspective on what the on-ramp to genocide looks like. Maybe this isn’t genocide yet, but it’s too late once it is genocide. The time to stop it is when you’re on the on-ramp,” she said.

The march and subsequent sit-in was ongoing as of 5 p.m. on Sunday evening. Russo was not available for comment on Sunday.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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