SCHENECTADY — City police don’t think the increasingly violent protests spreading across the country following the death of a black man in police custody in Minneapolis will reach Schenectady.
But they are prepared.
“I don’t believe it will happen here, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t,” said city Police Chief Eric Clifford.
Unrest spread overnight Friday to St. Paul, Minnesota, New York City, Denver and Columbus, Ohio, where demonstrators clashed with police.
In Minneapolis, protesters torched a precinct station abandoned after three days of unrest, and the governor has called in the National Guard to restore order.
Schenectady police haven’t yet had any discussions about combating civil unrest related to the death of George Floyd on Monday, but they did prepare for dealing with any types of disorder.
Video shot by a bystander showed Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin keeping his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly seven minutes until he fell unconscious and died.
Clifford condemned the restraint used by Chauvin, who was arrested on Friday and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, as well as a second officer who stood by and did nothing as passersby pleaded with them to stop.
The U.S. Department of Justice is also probing whether any federal civil rights laws were violated.
“I made it clear that this will not be tolerated in the community we serve,” Clifford said. “George Floyd’s life matters.”
The outrage, said the chief, is shared throughout the department and police union.
“I haven’t seen one person watch that video and reach a different conclusion than I’ve reached,” Clifford said.
The department has reached out to leaders in the city’s black community, Clifford said, including the Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association and Schenectady NAACP.
Marva Isaacs, president of the Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association, expressed confidence in the city police, and didn’t think they would resort to the type of violent suppression techniques used by Chauvin.
“I have confidence that these police officers would not do this,” Isaacs said. “In Schenectady, this would not happen.”
Isaacs doesn’t believe unrest will reach Schenectady, nor did she think people are fearful of city police.
“The people in Schenectady are not nervous about it, but they are pissed off,” Issacs said.
Clifford briefed officers and urged them to monitor use of force policies and track news coverage of the deepening unrest.
“I want the community to know that we are monitoring the situation,” Clifford said. “We’re learning from what’s going on. We’re not being silent observers.”
Clifford will address the Schenectady NAACP in a virtual town hall-style event early next week, said city Councilwoman Marion Porterfield, who commended him for his proactive approach.
“It’s important he did that because the community relationship between police and communities of color around the country have been strained,” said Porterfield, a Schenectady NAACP member. “When something like [the death of Floyd] happens, the psychological impact is immeasurable.”
Omar McGill, chairman of the county Human Rights Commission, called the footage “troubling” and worried that it would lead to an erosion of the recent progress city police have made in bolstering relationships with people of color.
The commission is tasked with monitoring possible human rights violations and strengthening community relationships.
While operations have been disrupted during the pandemic, McGill implored county residents to submit complaints if they feel their rights have been violated.
“If you do go through something like this, or are going through discrimination, we’re here as a resource to help you navigate that difficult situation,” said McGill, who also pointed at the Civilian Police Review Board, which is designed to improve police accountability and review complaints.
The unrest comes amid the coronavirus pandemic that has disproportionately affected minority and low-income communities, with Schenectady being no exception.
Floyd’s death marks the latest in a long string of African-Americans dying after encounters with law enforcement.
Tensions also have been exacerbated following the recent shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia.
Local civil rights advocates were in the midst of planning events designed to draw focus to Arbery’s slaying when Floyd was killed.
“It’s a time pregnant with emotion, frustration, pain and confusion,” said Shawn Young, an organizer with Citizen Action of New York.
Citizen Action of New York’s Capital District Chapter and All Of Us will hold a rally Saturday in Albany, meeting at Townsend Park at 1 p.m. for a 2.23-mile walk and run.
Organizers said they will connect “national stories of racial injustice and tragedy to those stories right here in the Capital District,” citing a list of people who died or were injured following police encounters, including Edson Thevenin, a man shot and killed by a Troy police sergeant in 2016.
Young also cited the 2017 death of Andrew Kearse, a Bronx man who died in the back of a Schenectady patrol car after having trouble breathing.
Kearse pleaded for help and died shortly afterward from a heart attack.
The city paid his widow a $1.375 million settlement last fall.
The rally is intended to serve as an avenue to vent, voice frustration, worry and fear, Young said, “but will also allow people to take positive action.”
“Hopefully it will bring the community out and create the changes that we need,” Young said.