Protest turns violent as demonstrators clash with Albany police

No word on injuries, arrests
A protestor is shoved by an Albany Police officers on Arch Street near the South Station Saturday, May 30, 2020.
A protestor is shoved by an Albany Police officers on Arch Street near the South Station Saturday, May 30, 2020.

ALBANY — The violent protests spreading throughout the nation this week reached the Capital Region Saturday when demonstrators surrounded a police substation in Albany and pelted police with bricks and rocks in an hours-long standoff before being dispersed.

Protestors gathered at the corner of Arch Street and Trinity Place for hours while city and state police in riot gear stood by in the parking lot.

Police ultimately drove demonstrators off the property, cleaved them into two groups and pushed them out further on horseback.

A more aggressive pack dispersed onto South Pearl Street after being sprayed with tear gas. 

Another remained on Trinity Place at 9 p.m. shouting at police through bullhorns, in an attempt to spur a dialogue. 

The area took on a warlike atmosphere as protestors lit small fires in the street while fireworks exploded overhead and tasers crackled as the sky turned crimson before the light faded.

While the demonstration at South Station appeared to be stamped out, other protests were unfolding throughout the city overnight into Sunday, prompting Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan to sign an emergency order issuing a curfew until 7 a.m.

It’s unclear how many people, whether demonstrators or law enforcement, were injured, and how many were arrested. 

At least one woman was hit in the face with rock; she stood, stunned, as blood streamed down her face. 

Earlier in the day, a demonstration at Albany’s Townsend Park against police brutality and the death of George Floyd unfolded without incident.

However, one of that event’s organizers said the group which assembled at South Station on Saturday afternoon was a splinter group and did not have any direct affilation with the first event, coordinated by Citizen Action of New York.

For hours, demonstrators faced off against city police, who stood three rows deep and were backed by state troopers with German Shepherds.

Early on, they pelted a police SUV with rocks and debris before turning the fusillade to law enforcement. 

Organizers attempted to corral the crowd, urging against violence, alerting them to their rights and informing them of protest techniques and morphing indicators of when police would move to quash the gathering.

Car stereos blasted NWA’s “F**k the Police” while a man clambered aboard a car and stood silently for nearly an hour, his chest bared as if daring police to shoot him. 

Chanting “hands up, don’t shoot,” many attempted to directly provoke officers, yelling and waving signs in their faces.

Others stood on the sidelines. 

Mask-clad participants handed out milk through the crowd to mitigate the effect of tear gas as people waved black flags and hurled invective. 

Just about everyone was filming with their smartphones, including a group who surrounded a reporter who refused to believe he wasn’t a cop when he arrived after getting a tip from an attendee who wanted the media to document the situation and document any potential police brutality. 

The crowd also turned on a civilian wearing a police jacket, pelting him with threats before hurling a gallon of milk at him, which exploded inches away on the pavement. 

After a brief detente, the gathering escalated when protestors lobbed rocks, bricks and trash cans into the parking lot.

Bricks rained down in all directions — including on the demonstrators.  

Attendees expressed a raw blend of anger paired with anguish, all of which boiled over. 

“That’s a whole bunch of people with badges that are not following human rights,” said a man who identified himself as the leader of the Black Sheep Party.

Another woman yelled: “I’m not scared of death no more.” 

Police started pushing people back at 7:30 p.m., using tear gas on some. 

Once dispersed, police grasped clubs as demonstrators yelled at them.

Others called for civility, worried the police would open fire. 

“If they just did their jobs, we wouldn’t be here right now,” said Lydia Tunstall, who lives in the neighborhood. 

Some turned their attention to pelting a pickup truck with rocks, others tussled with law enforcement. 

“I can see it in your eyes you’re a killer,” a man told an unflinching cop. 

Louis Watkins shook his head at the violence, but said he was afraid of city police, a sentiment he said was widespread in the neighborhood.

He’s been searched multiple times without probable cause. 

“You never know what cops are going to do,” Watkins said. “We’re tired of what’s going on. I don’t agree with them tearing stuff up, but outcomes need to be known.” 

Sjhon Brown, of Menands, watched from the sidelines and estimated the majority of the group were residents of the homeless shelter across the street. 

He wrote others off as drug addicts and called the brewing violence a “forum for weak-minded people.”

“This isn’t a true representation of the situation at hand,” said Brown, who commended law enforcement for not being provoked.

“It warrants a more aggressive response,” Brown said. 

City Councilman Owusu Anane monitored the scene after it was largely dispersed.

He hailed city Police Chief Eric Hawkins for bolstering community policing during his tenure. 

But, Anane said: “The status quo cannot continue to go unaddressed. I hope this is sending a clear message.” 

The conflagration was the first violent protest in the Capital Region following four days of unrest throughout the U.S. 

“Police officers are currently handling a violent protest in the area of South Pearl and Arch Streets,” read a post by the Albany Police Department on Facebook. “Please stay away from the area.”

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