CLIFTON PARK — Activists were elated on Monday when word trickled back that Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan had signed an executive order formally banning chokeholds, amid other police reforms.
“One month later, policies are being changed because of people coming together,” said Jamaica Miles, co-founder of the Schenectady-based group All of Us.
The state Legislature on Monday also passed legislation banning chokeholds, a bill Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he would sign.
Demonstrations continued Monday across the Capital Region protesting police brutality and systemic racism.
In Bethlehem, demonstrators blocked intersections and listened to speakers recount stories of racism and injustice.
And in Clifton Park, crowds marched nearly three miles along Route 146 from Clifton Common to a state police barracks.
Upon arrival, attendees peacefully lay prone on the pavement for nine minutes before simply walking away (but not without hurling some invectives at state police, who stood stoically without reaction).
“There is some discomfort,” said Samantha Ivey, a graduating senior from Shenendehowa High School on what it was like growing up black in the suburban community.
Organizers put the crowd at 2,000.
The effort is part of a broader push to expand activism into outlying rural areas, organizers said.
Protesters gathered at Clifton Common for the three-mile trek and engaged in moments of civil disobedience along the way, including a brief sit-in at the Route 146 roundabout, where they encouraged motorists to join them.
Jason Mills of Schenectady climbed off of his truck and left the door open as he took a knee with attendees.
“I believe this whole police brutality s**t needs to end,” said Mills, who is white.
Along the way, the group was met with workers and residents lining the route, handing out water, holding signs, offering moral support and also hugs.
Some simply stood silently holding up a single fist.
Also attending was a trio of white men clad in military-style gear, who were left largely alone until the group arrived at the state police barracks. At that point they were identified by event leaders and driven out with a police escort.
“I’m just an American patriot,” said one of the men, who declined to say little else as the crowd jeered them under the protective guard of state police.
Protest leaders hollered at marchers to stay put and continue on, and they did.
Disruptions aren’t limited to disenfranchised white people.
Corey Buckner, an Albany activist, said unrest outside of an Albany police precinct last week leading to what authorities described as a “riot” was caused by agitators.
The burgeoning movement is growing increasingly deft at spotting and weeding out troublemakers, he said
“As it’s progressed, we’ve got stronger at pointing those people out so they don’t do that,” Buckner said.
Security guards now roam the periphery at events unfolding in the Tri-City region, communicating through walkie-talkies and scouting out potential disruptions.
Thousands have flocked to Schenectady, Troy and Albany over the past week to protest systemic racism and police brutality following the death of Ahmaud Arbery, killed in February by two white men in Georgia, and George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nine minutes on May 25, setting off nationwide protests.
Buckner said an increased sense of solidarity is emerging as groups in the Tri-City area refine their communication, consolidate stances and grow more unified in goals.
Organizers from all three cities participated in the Clifton Park march on Monday and underscored theirs is a regional movement that is gathering momentum by the day.
“We’re gathering more people and nationwide are getting more demands met,” said Mikayla Foster.
Tasheca Medina, who huddled with Troy police last night in an effort to quell potential unrest at the station following a peaceful protest that drew 11,000, stressed she’s not a leader — just one of many activists working to fight against systemic inequality.
Medina called the event in Clifton Park “challenging,” citing the small group of alleged white supremacists, and said organizers plan to push deeper into smaller, rural communities like Clifton Park, which is 86 percent white, according to 2019 U.S. Census estimates.
“We’re doing what we need to do to promote change,” Medina said. “But we need to get to small towns like this. That’s where we need to go out at this point in time, and we’re trying to get that done”
Ivey, the graduating senior, said small communities like Clifton Park could use a more diverse elected leadership, more responsive community policing and bolstered curriculum on black culture.
“There is so much black history erased from the culture of America, and we need to address that and find ways to truly create change,” Ivey said.
Some white marchers pointed to what they called a “historic” event that hobbled traffic in the suburban community.
“To have the main strip blocked off so we could march was historic,” said Chris Murray, a 2015 Shenendehowa High grad who works in broadcast journalism.
Afterward, marchers took a breather at Clifton Commons, rehydrating and conversing before darting to Bethlehem, where they joined a silent vigil to honor Floyd.
“In every movement, the youth have led us,” Miles said. “There is no movement in history where youth were not on the front lines.”
Maya Dorn, a 2015 Shenendehowa grad, said she hoped the Clifton Park event would drive home the message to a bedroom community where many police officers live.
“I think it’s important to use space where white police officers live.”
Shenendehowa Central School District Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson said he was pleased district students stepped up to the plate.
Robinson wants the ongoing movement to become an inflection point for awaking students and have them push for changes in public policy without prompting.
“The injustices we have in this country aren’t created by the people who are being victimized by it — it’s created by the people in power, and this is a white problem,” said Robinson, who is black.
“When you have righteous people standing up for the right reasons, that’s when good things happen.”
Miles, the All of Us co-founder, said the movement remains in its infancy.
“One month,” Miles said. “Imagine what we’re going to do in a year.”