On Sunday, Schenectady showed the nation how it should be done.
While many weekend protests of the death of George Floyd throughout the country turned violent, with both police and protesters bearing culpability in places, Schenectady provided one of the few positive examples of how to send and accept a message.
If ever there is going to be some kind of resolution to the issue of police misconduct involving minorities, the way in which police and citizens in Schenectady interacted on Sunday provides some hope.
There were actually several protests involving hundreds of people throughout the day in the city, with each group listening to speeches from organizers and carrying signs. The goal was, of course, to send a strong message to police and their fellow citizens about the crisis in our communities regarding police brutality toward blacks and other minorities.
That message of dissatisfaction and frustration and anger was sent clearly, without the violence and looting and arson and other criminal acts that have plagued other cities.
The local protesters were resolute, but controlled, often policing their own to ensure that instigators wouldn’t take over and undermine their message.
For their part, city police conducted themselves with a high degree of respect for the citizens and their message.
At one point, Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford admirably led his officers in taking a knee in solidarity with protesters. The chief also answered some tough questions from protesters, not always to their satisfaction, that were shared with the crowd over a patrol car public address system.
And city officers at one point joined protesters along part of their march.
We’re not naive to think that one day of peaceful interaction puts this issue to rest.
There is and always will be some degree of tension as long as the types of incidents that led to George Floyd’s death at the hand of police keep happening. This is and always will be a work in progress.
As Rev. Dustin Wright, pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Rotterdam, and Imam Genghis Khan, chaplain at the Schenectady County Jail, write in an upcoming letter to the editor, there is still deep pain about a system of law and order in which individual officers can deprive people of color of their civil rights.
And despite the positive efforts of Clifford and his department with regard to building relationships within the community, there is still much more that needs to be done to build and restore trust.
This issue runs deep in the community and throughout American history. It will not go away in one day or with one positive action.
But if what happened Sunday in Schenectady is any indication, there is reason for hope.
And without hope, there can be no progress.