Activists in Schenectady release demands for police reform

Schenectady group “All of Us” holds a protest outside Schenectady City Hall and Schenectady Police Department Thursday
Schenectady group “All of Us” holds a protest outside Schenectady City Hall and Schenectady Police Department Thursday

SCHENECTADY — Protesters are cranking up the heat for police reform in Schenectady.

Activists released a list of demands to prosecutors and city police on Thursday designed to remedy what they contend is an unjust police system that disproportionately affects minorities.

The demands issued by Schenectady-based activists All of Us include:

  • Prosecution of law enforcement and correction officers for violating the civil rights of minorities and other people.
  • Automatic firing of police and corrections officers for racist texts, phone calls, emails, letters, social media postings and “so-called private conversations.”
  • Automatic firing for disengaged or damaged body cams. 

The grassroots organization, part of a coalition leading demonstrations in the Capital Region, are also calling for the city to end ticket-writing incentive programs that tend to disproportionately penalize minorities, including speed traps, parking violations and traffic stops for petty violations.

They want a community panel with recommendation powers to review police involvement in crimes they refer to as “living while black hate crimes.”

Protesters are also calling for the city to ban shooting at moving vehicles and to abolish choke holds and hogties.

They want all law enforcement, including staffers at juvenile detention facilities, to take anti-racism training, and are pushing for the demilitarization of law enforcement and to defund law enforcement agencies, instead relocating monies to community-based conflict resolution programming. 

And specific to the county District Attorney’s Office, All of Us wants to abolish no-knock warrants and divert seized drug profits back to the community. 

There are 13 demands in total, with All of Us co-founder Jamaica Miles reading each aloud as protesters cheered.

The number reflects the 13th Amendment, which banned slavery.

Demonstrations have taken place throughout the nation for the past two two weeks following the death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

But activists are entering a new phase where rage and raw emotion is beginning to morph into calls for specific policy changes.

The state Legislature passed a package of police reform measures earlier this week, including banning choke holds and repealing a law that prevents the release of police disciplinary records. 

Congress is also weighing reforms.

Schenectady Police Department garnered high marks and national attention for kneeling with protesters last week, a measure both sides agreed diffused tension and averted the violence that marred Albany the night before. 

Organizers said while they respected city police taking a knee and walking around the block, sustained policy change is still required.

And that change won’t happen without sustained pressure, Miles said.

“The only time any legislator has done anything we wanted was because we demanded it,” Miles told the crowd of roughly 150 people gathered in front of City Hall.

“Whoever gets in office,” Miles said, “foot on neck.”

Organizers also scoffed at what they perceived as token measures to ease tensions, including the city of Albany’s decision to paint “Black Lives Matter” on Lark Street earlier this week.

“I don’t want them to think just because they painted a couple of streets, the protest is over,” said one activist.

While leaders have stressed protests in Schenectady, Albany and Troy are part of a connected movement, demands are tailored to each specific police department.

Demonstrators on Thursday marched to city police headquarters, where they took a knee, shared stories, read the names of black people killed by police and chanted, all hallmarks of the movement.

Mayor Gary McCarthy signed an executive order banning choke holds on Wednesday, a measure that drew criticism from activists after he told WRGB Channel 6 he wanted to watch actions taken by the state Legislature before signing orders.

“We’re just trying to have it conform to what the state is doing,” McCarthy said.

The mayor, who did not address protesters on Thursday, said he welcomed the dialogue, but many of the demands, including training programs, require funding that is in short supply amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Activists read the mayor’s phone number to the crowd and implored them to call him.

McCarthy said he’s OK with that. “How do we take this opportunity now and focus on the frustration being discussed in communities in Schenectady and across the country and turn it into substantial change that deals with sexism and racism and inequalities in life and general?”

As protesters gathered, Chief Eric Clifford was at Proctors filming a segment with a local filmmaker on the broader protest movement. 

“Changes take time,” Clifford said, “and I would ask that the dialogue between community leaders and myself and city leaders to remain consistent, and for the community to listen, understand, evaluate and discuss changes, debate those changes, and debate legislation on the proper way to make some changes.”

Since protests reached Schenectady on May 31, Clifford said he’s had multiple discussions with the mayor on community feedback, and is willing to meet with protesters in a “civil” setting.

“I’ve been listening, trying to understand and we are open to discussing our current policies with members of our community,” Clifford said.

But, he warned, some demands go beyond what’s possible at the local level and require broader action.

Clifford is scheduled to address the City Council on Monday.

Several lawmakers have endorsed the protests and encouraged activists to reach out to them directly.

“Rather than having to spend the time building up after violence, we can spend the time doing something positive and making the changes that need to happen within our community,” said Councilwoman Marion Porterfield, who attended Thursday’s event.

Councilwoman Carmel Patrick praised both protesters and city police.

“They reinforced the ideal that societal changes can be influenced without violence or divisiveness,” she said. 

Striking a familiar refrain, activist Shawn Young urged the crowd to translate anger and activism into direct action at the voting booth. 

“Find ways to get involved beyond just showing up here today,” Young said.

District Attorney Robert Carney couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on Thursday.

Categories: -News-, Schenectady County

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