Albany

Foss: Young people drive protests

Hannah Merill of Saratoga Springs chants at Wednesday's Black Lives Matter protest.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Hannah Merill of Saratoga Springs chants at Wednesday's Black Lives Matter protest.

Categories: News, Opinion, Schenectady County

The protesters marched all over Albany on Wednesday, and at times I found it difficult to keep pace with them. 

I caught up with the peaceful group on Whitehall Avenue, and followed them for about 40 minutes as they moved toward Albany Medical Center, pausing periodically to kneel at intersections, fists raised in the air. 

The protesters chanted many things — “No justice, no peace!” “Hands up, don’t shoot!” “One city, united!” — and were cheered on by drivers and residents, who emerged from their houses to take in the scene. “Come outside, walk with us!” the marchers shouted, and sometimes people did, running from their front stoops and lawns and into the street. 

If the group moved quickly and pulsed with passion and energy, it might have been because most of the marchers were fairly young. Some rode skateboards, some wore backpacks. If not for their protest signs and the presence of police vehicles, they might have been mistaken them for a large group of students walking home from school. 

The anti-police brutality protests taking place throughout the country are not a monolithic entity — they attract all kinds of people, of all races and ages. 

But it’s increasingly clear that young activists are playing a key role in many of these events. If you listen to them, you can hear their voices joining together to call for a better future — for a more just and fairer world, a world where racism, discrimination and segregation are truly things of the past. 

The mood at the protests was upbeat, but that shouldn’t obscure the anger and frustration driving the demonstrations. 

Earlier on Wednesday, the city of Albany dropped rioting charges against an Albany man who filmed an unrelated arrest in the city’s South End.

A video of his encounter depicts escalating tensions as police tell the man to back up, and ends with the man and his girlfriend face down in the street being handcuffed by officers. The man claimed that he was punched in the face and shocked with a Taser; the woman claimed her arm was fractured. 

The footage was disturbing enough that it prompted Mayor Kathy Sheehan to issue a statement calling it “troubling.” “It does not appear to depict efforts by police to de-escalate a situation,” she remarked. 

That’s one way of putting it. 

The officers on the scene appear to have zero interest in de-escalating the situation, and while it might be annoying to have random people videotape you while you work, the First Amendment protects individuals’ right to film the police. Then there’s the rioting charge, which was completely bogus.

If the city of Albany was hoping the protesters would quiet down, the video of the confrontation in the South End all but ensures that they won’t. 

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that we’re seeing social unrest now, after two-plus months of lockdown, mass unemployment, illness and death. 

COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted black Americans, who are twice as likely to die of the disease as white Ameircans, and also more likely to work in riskier, low-wage essential jobs. Schools and colleges are closed, leaving lots of young people without much to do. Playgrounds in Albany remain closed; sports and arts programs are still on hiatus. 

If you look around, it isn’t hard to figure out why people are on edge. 

That doesn’t mean the concerns of the protesters are illegitimate, or should be dismissed. 

The young people marching in these demonstrations have something to say. 

We should take a moment, and listen.

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

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