SCHENECTADY — The clock is ticking on a timeline for state-mandated community meetings designed to inform community policing reforms.
As outrage continues to simmer over racial injustice, Mayor Gary McCarthy said the city is working on a timeline for a series of community meetings to fulfill a mandate by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that police departments must reform operations with community input by next April.
“I don’t [have a timeline] but we’re going to have to put that in place very quickly,” McCarthy said.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has complicated planning efforts, he said.
“The goal is to meet with smaller groups over the next few weeks and once we get past Labor Day, we’ll have a more robust forum and format to work from and work on,” McCarthy said.
Among those was a community meeting that took place at Refreshing Spring Church at Georgetta Dix Plaza on Wednesday night and another at Schenectady Hindu Temple held last Sunday.
Community activists All of Us also met virtually with city police last Sunday.
The city has crackled with activism following the death of George Floyd on May 25, and demonstrations have kicked into overdrive following a last week’s controversial arrest that saw Schenectady police violently apprehend a fleeing suspect.
All of Us effectively shut down City Hall on Monday by occupying the perimeter outside of the government center, prompting McCarthy to prematurely send employees home and placing police on standby.
Demonstrators blocked entrances to the building and later linked arms in the street, daring police to forcefully disperse them.
While Chief Eric Clifford pledged to end the “disorder,” the protest ended peacefully without intervention.
Protesters, who pledged to remain at City Hall until city police banned hogties, chalked it up as a victory despite not securing the ban.
And while city police acknowledged the demonstration was initially peaceful, they criticized All of Us for blocking doorways and streets; for failing to obtain a protest permit and for lobbing what they described as “false claims” designed to incite the crowd, which numbered roughly 125 after sundown and as demonstrators braced to be forcefully removed.
Clifford said he didn’t want to go “tit-for-tat” with organizers on specific falsehoods.
However, he said rumors of a tank parked at Jerry Burrell Park, curfews and imminent dispersals were all unfounded.
McCarthy said there was “no basis in fact” to make those statements.
“It’s really just to polarize the crowd and to drive them further apart instead to make a consensus to collectively make the community better,” McCarthy said, adding a broad coalition of city stakeholders want to boost police accountability and end systemic racism.
All of Us didn’t immediately respond for comment on Wednesday.
City police said they will continue to “support the peaceful protests throughout the city as long as they do not compromise the safety of the community or the protestors themselves.”
Within days of the encounter between Officer Brian Pommer and Yugeshwar Gaindarpersaud, city police implemented several reforms, including banning “head holds” and pledging to boost de-escalation training and supervision of warrantless arrests.
All of Us activists have since taken a more hardline approach in asking the city to adopt their demands, which include banning hogties, ticket-writing incentives and fire law enforcement officers for racist posts on social media.
Schenectady NAACP has issued a more moderate slate of demands, and has called for a slower approach and asked All of Us to join its members at the table.
City police haven’t overtly declined any reforms, simply stating that they need to collect input from the broader public before making any reforms — not just activists, citing their virtual meeting with All of Us on Sunday.
In addition to the upcoming panel discussions and city policing reforms announced last week, which include banning neck holds and boosting de-escalation training, Clifford said city police plan on working with Schenectady County Sheriff’s Department to reinstate the Schenectady Neighborhood Transformation Coalition to “build support and communication networks so that all voices can be heard regarding change in the community.”
City police, Clifford said, have long been engaged in reforms even before the recent unrest sparked by Floyd’s death, including training on how to better deal with the general public.
“I think there’s some irony there,” he said.
An internal investigation continues into the altercation between Pommer and Gaindarpersaud, who is suspected of slashing his neighbor’s tires.
Pommer tackled him after a brief foot chase and subdued him by kneeling on his neck area and punching him a half-dozen times in the torso.
Clifford hopes to have a preliminary report on his desk by the end of the week.
“My timeline is somewhere within the next three weeks to have a final summary of the incident as investigated by the Office of Professional Standards,” Clifford said on Wednesday.