Albany

Protestors in Albany decry Floyd death, police brutality — peacefully

Organizers call for direct, sustained action
Protestors hold signs at Central Avenue and Henry Johnson Boulevard in Albany Saturday to protest the killing of George Floyd.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Protestors hold signs at Central Avenue and Henry Johnson Boulevard in Albany Saturday to protest the killing of George Floyd.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

ALBANY — Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Albany on Saturday to protest police brutality and the slaying of George Floyd by a Minneapolis cop. 

Protestors rallied in Townsend Park before peacefully marching through downtown.

A roster of speakers recalled local victims of police-involved shootings. 

More from Saturday evening: Rock throwing, tear gas at protest Saturday evening in Albany

Messiah Cooper’s nephew Dahmeek McDonald was shot and injured by a Troy police officer in 2016 during a parole violation arrest.

Cooper said he struggled with darkness in the aftermath. 

See photos: George Floyd protest in Albany

“I don’t promote violence,” Cooper said. “But we will tear it down quicker than we built it.” 

The demonstration, organized by Citizen Action of New York, was a sharp departure to the riots and looting that spread through U.S. cities this week and overnight Saturday, leading to clashes with police and demonstrators setting fire to businesses. 

Attendees packed Townsend Park and spilled out into neighboring side streets.

There were no apparent disputes or indications of conflict. 

Nik Jones spoke of Ellazar Williams, a 19-year-old shot by an Albany police officer in 2018 and paralyzed from the chest down.

“He was fleeing and they shot him,” said Jones, who told attendees their presence needed to be paired with direct action.

“We can protest all day,” he said. “But we put these people in power by voting.”

It was a viewpoint echoed by activist Damoni Farley, who told the crowd not to “romanticize” their involvement by posting images to social media and doing nothing else.

“If all you’re going to do is hold a sign, then take your ass home,” Farley said. 

Crowds shouted “black lives matter” and carried signs with various messages, including “burn it down” and “convict murderous cops” and “say their names.”

The crowd did.

Luz Marquez led them through the names of victims of police brutality, people like Ahmaud Arbery, who was gunned down in Georgia in February.

Marquez exhorted the crowd not to forget them, and asked that their legacies serve as fire to fuel their ongoing activism. 

“We are never alone,” Marquez said, her voice breaking.

Speakers spoke over the rhythm of bongos and a near-continuous cacophony of honking and chanting that moved through the crowd in waves, an undercurrent sizzling with urgency. 

“We’re not going to be gaslit anymore,” said Amy Jones. “We’re not going to beg you to see our humanity — you cannot erase us.”  


The Rev. Cheryl Hawkins gripped a bullhorn and implored the younger crowd to get involved and not wait until they were older like she was. 

“You don’t have to wait until you’re old as I was to wake up,” Hawkins said. “I was 45 before I stopped being a fool.”

Jeannine Trimboli, 48, of Schenectady, said she could no longer stand on the sidelines.

“I’m not sitting quietly anymore and watching these things happen,” Trimboli said. “This has to stop, our world needs to change. This cannot be OK in 2020.” 

Floyd died on Monday after Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for several minutes. 

He was not armed and pleaded with officers that he could not breathe. 

Kevin McElvene, 48, of Clifton Park, hasn’t watched the video.

“I refuse to watch it,” said McElvene, who is black. “I’ve seen enough people who look like me being killed by people in positions of authority.” 

At times, the event had the feel of a block party, and organizers implored the crowd to social distance and stand on white chalk Xs scrawled onto the pavement.

More from Saturday evening: Rock throwing, tear gas at protest Saturday evening in Albany

“Safety teams” made their way through the crowd offering masks and squirts of hand sanitizer if needed.

But as people crammed in, keeping distant became all-but-impossible.

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy worried about the implications amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, dispatched county Public Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Whalen to meet with organizers.

“It could set us back,” McCoy said. “Be heard, but do it in a peaceful and safe manner.”

Several police cruisers closed nearby streets while a bicycle squad looked on.

Organizers touted the event as a way to bring people from Albany, Schenectady and Troy together. 

“Racial injustice knows no borders,” said organizer Shawn Young, “and neither will our fight against it.”

Protests spread throughout the U.S. overnight Saturday, including violent clashes between protestors and police in Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan that resulted in hundreds of arrests.

See photos: George Floyd protest in Albany

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Saturday ordered the state Attorney General’s Office to review the actions taken and procedures used by the NYPD. 

“The public deserves answers and they deserve accountability,” he said.

Cuomo denounced violence by demonstrators and lamented the killing of unarmed black men, attributing to the nation’s “history of discrimination and racism dating back hundreds of years.” 
 
“How many times have we seen the same situation?” Cuomo said on Saturday. “Yes, the names change, but the color doesn’t. And that is the painful reality of this situation.”

ANTI-CUOMO GROUP GATHERS

Nearby at the state Capitol, a smaller group of protestors gathered to rail against Cuomo’s handing of the crisis. 

Protestors appeared to be unaware that Cuomo was in the Bronx to deliver his daily briefing. 

“Cuomo, where you at?” yelled a burly man carrying a large American flag.

The crowd also lamented the death of Floyd, with organizer Cara Castronuova calling his slaying “horrific and wrong.”

The group of 60-plus people, many waving flags and wearing attire supportive of President Trump, cheered when told Chauvin had been arrested on Friday and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

Castronuova urged attendees to not let politicians and the media “use George’s murder as a way to distract us and to divide us.” 

More from Saturday evening: Rock throwing, tear gas at protest Saturday evening in Albany

She attributed the smaller turnout at the event due to fear over the mounting unrest. 

“They’re a little bit afraid because of the climate in the country right now,” Castronuova said.

The group, Liberate New York, has been critical of Cuomo’s management of the pandemic, which led to the widespread shutdown of businesses that is only now being gradually lifted on a regional basis. 

Members of Liberate New York are also discontent with the governor’s executive order on Thursday that allows businesses to deny entry to those refusing to wear face masks.

“If we are too fearful and distracted to protest his unconstitutional policies and inadequacies, he will continue to control and manipulate us,” Castronuova said.

While organizers at the “Albany Run/Walk Rally for Black Lives” were asking people to sign up for action alerts, those at the “Liberate New York” event opted to hand out CDs containing patriotic songs.

One attendee distributed flyers advertising a chance to win an AK-15 at a church picnic next month.

“Qualified attendee [sic] will receive a NY legally modified AR-15,” it said — subject to a federal background check, or course.

Those with “questionable character” may also be refused.
 

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