SARATOGA SPRINGS – The city of Saratoga Springs was the site of another peaceful demonstration early Sunday evening coordinated by area community activst group All of Us. A group of more than 150 protesters shut down traffic at four different intersections during a two-hour event calling attention to city’s non-reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement and its statements regarding recent vandalism in Congress Park.
There have been several Black Lives Matter movement-themed protests in the Spa City since the murder of George Floyd on May 25, including one of the municipality’s largest demonstrations on record on July 7, when more than 1,250 people filled Congress Park to demand change in police forces both locally and across the nation.
According to the group’s event page on Facebook, the demonstration’s title, “People over Property,” was not only based on the city’s inaction to address what the organization calls systemic racism in its police force, but also the community’s quick response condemning the vandalism and calls for financial support to replace a statue in Congress Park following its destruction due to vandalism on July 16.
“We had a community conversation with Robin Dalton, Commissioner of Public Safety, [who] seems to not know there is a problem in Saratoga,” Lexis Figuereo, protest organizer, said through a megaphone as he addressed the crowd as he stood at the top of the steps of city hall. “She needs to be informed, so let’s inform her because she doesn’t know.”
The protesters invited several speakers of color to address the crowd before moving into the intersection of Broadway and Lake Avenue forcing traffic to a stop.
Saratoga Springs police vehicles and two mounted patrol units were utilized to stop traffic.
The group marched south down Broadway and made another stop at the intersection of Congress and Broadway, sitting in the intersection.
The group then made its way through Congress Park, again sitting at the intersection of Caroline and Maple Streets before honoring George Floyd. The protesters laid on their stomachs, in the street, with their hands behind their backs and were silent for eight minutes and 45 seconds, the length of time Floyd was held in police custody in Minneapolis before his death.
The group moved back to the steps of city hall where Figuereo presented the All of Us Community action group’s 13 demands of the Saratoga Springs Police Department and the city.
The crowd supporting the group’s message was diverse in race, gender and age.
“I strongly support Black Lives Matter and I think that right now we’re seeing across the country a big uproar over the disruption of property and we are not seeing those same people standing up the destruction of lives,” Natalya Lakhtakia, of Saratoga Springs, said. “I think no matter how much I care about history or about a statue or about a building or anything, I care about human life first.”
The 145-year-old statue erected by the city to honor the local soldiers who fought for the Union during the Civil War was toppled and shattered to pieces sometime overnight July 16, outraging both public officials and historians.
The statue, located in a prominent place just inside the entrance to Congress Park, honors the 77th New York Volunteers. The statue sat atop a tall pedestal but was somehow pulled down or knocked down. The damage was discovered by city police officers during a routine patrol, said Saratoga Springs Police.
“The city of Saratoga Springs condemns these recent acts of vandalism in the strongest possible terms and will hold the parties responsible to the fullest extent of the law,” city Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton said. “The Department of Public Works and Department of Public Safety will be taking additional measures to secure Congress Park from these unprecedented acts of violence.”
The language from the city about an inanimate object continued to spark All of Us’ members.
“I guess I was a little bit surprised to see the connection being made between vandalism in the city and Black Lives Matter when to my understanding the leaders of our local Black Lives movement have been very clear that they had nothing to do with that,” Lakhtakia said. “I was surprised that it got to be such a big story in the New York Times.
“I strongly, at all times support people over property, that’s like a defining thing for me. I would have shown up for this regardless of the destruction of the statue because I think that applies to everything.”
As Figuereo’s voice began to crack under the strain of the two-hour event, it was Mikayla Foster, 21, of Schenectady, who closed out the protest with passionate words and requests of the crowd assembled.
As one of the leaders within the All of Us Community Action group she asked the assembled group to commit to return to Saratoga Springs in September and bring three more people, ask for a commitment to the July 31 Capital District Freedom Tour event at the Rensselaer County Jail and to not stop being heard.
The lack of change within city hall at Saratoga Springs since late May is unacceptable.
“Anything more than a second is too long, anything longer than it takes to read the demands again is too long,” Foster said. “One life directly impacted is one too many.
“Why should we even have to do this for you to say that you’re not ready to do it. What are you not ready for?” Foster said. “Are you not ready to re-train cops, are you not ready to vote a racist out of the DA’s office? What takes so long? What do you have to re-arrange?”
The demands include prosecution of all law enforcement and corrections officers for all violations of civil rights by people of color, automatic dismissal of an officer for racist texts, phone calls, emails, etc., along with the abolition of choke holds, strangleholds, and hogties for all law enforcement and correction officers inside jails and prisons.
“Why would it be so hard for you to just re-train people or is it that you have to rearrange a system of oppression within the police force and the mayor’s office at all these different levels because that’s how they operate now,” Foster said. “Is that what you have to rearrange?
“Is that why it’s going to take so long, or do you just not want to do it because we’re not going to stop. All of Us has no intention of stopping, in fact we have every intention to make this bigger, make it louder and make it more disruptive.”
Reach Stan Hudy at [email protected] and follow on Twitter @StanHudy.