SCHENECTADY — The nation’s most patriotic holiday was marked with demonstrations at opposite ends of the political spectrum in Schenectady on Saturday.
While a couple of hundred people held a festival-like event in Gateway Park Saturday afternoon to celebrate Black Lives Matter Pride and later marched to City Hall, about three dozen people — some of them elected officials — gathered earlier in the day outside the Schenectady Police Department, saying they wanted to show support for police.
“What we’re trying to do is show some support for local police. Their morale is way down,” said Bill Park of Duanesburg, a former town supervisor who held one of the homemade signs at a noon event.
In Gateway Park, the intention was both to mark the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City– the start of the modern gay liberation movement — and combine it with the fresh protest energy of the Black Lives Matter movement in Schenectady, Albany, Saratoga Springs, and dozens of cities across the country.
PETER R. BARBER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Colleen Wygal writes a message on a black boad in Gateway Park Saturday, July 4, 2020.
At the park, music played, chalk was set out for sidewalk art, and a two-sided chalkboard invited people to express their thoughts on open-ended topics like “If I weren’t afraid … ” or “Love i is …”
“I would stop explaining myself,” “My parents wouldn’t worry,” and “I would speak up,” were some of the answers to the first. “For everyone,” “Inclusive,” “Endless,” were some of the answers to the latter.
The board was set up Colleen Wygal of Schenectady, who is part of a group that writes poetry all over the city. She acknowledged the board’s answers could be interpreted as poetry. “Hopefully it fills up,” she said.
“The BLM Pride protest is an opportunity to look back not just at the Stonewall riots, but to unite all the people together,” said Jamaica Miles, an experienced community organizer and one of the organizers of the event. “What better day than the Day of Independence to celebrate the liberation of all people.”
“This is a pride event to commemorate Stonewall and it was also expanded to include Black Lives Matter and gay and trans and other people who are marginalized,” said Makayla Foster, who is 21 and has been among the leaders of this spring’s BLM demonstrations in Schenectady.
After more than an hour in the park, the attendees marched to City Hall and the nearby police station, shouting slogans like “No Justice, No Peace,” before dispersing peacefully.
The earlier pro-police demonstration was part of a loosely coordinated series of events organized by the Upstate Conservative Coalition, in which participants spent an hour outside local police stations or in other public locations in Schenectady and Saratoga counties, moving from one station to another throughout the day.
The organizers were seeking to counter BLM protesters who have called for defunding police, emphasizing the importance of policing in a civil society.
“This was started to support police, but also our EMTs and firefighters,” said Earl Wallace of Schenectady, one of the organizers. “The Thin Blue Line doesn’t see color, is doesn’t see socio-economic status, it doesn’t see sexual orientation. It’s only trying to help people.”
Wallace said the founding fathers recognized the need for self-defense and private rights, and to guard against those who violate the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments. “Because of human nature, you have to have enforcement,” he said.
Among those attending was Princetown Town Supervisor Lou Esposito. He noted that the Princetown Town Board recently passed a resolution expressing its support for law enforcement personnel, calling them “absolutely essential to maintain a peaceful, law-abiding community.”
The pro-police demonstrators, who spread out around the police station and at the four corners of Liberty and Clinton streets, received honks of support from some motorists, but also had obscenities shouted at them from some cars.