SARATOGA SPRINGS — There will be a “Back the Blue” rally Saturday morning at the state Capitol, less than 48 hours after a similar event in Saratoga Springs drew counter-protests that police ultimately had to break up with force.
“Back the Blue” events are intended to show support for police, as a counter to the criticism of police coming across the nation from supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, who say police use harsh tactics against Black and minority communities.
“The Capital District will come together to recognize our Law Enforcement Officers who selflessly put themselves in harm’s way to protect our families and communities,” according to announcement on Facebook. “Our Law Enforcement Officers are the ‘Thin Blue Line’ safeguarding our society from the lawless and the silent majority of citizens will always BACK THE BLUE!”
On Facebook, more than 900 people indicated plans to attend the 10 a.m. event, and thousands more said they were interested.
In Saratoga Springs, city police cracked down Thursday night after Back the Blue and Black Lives Matter protesters verbally clashed in downtown. Police said they will no longer permit the demonstrations and protests occurring in the city to shut down roads and intersections.
The announcement from Police Chief Shane L. Crooks and Assistant Chief John T. Catone came after competing demonstrations shut down Broadway near Congress Park, and three BLM supporters were arrested in what were the most disruptive protests the city has seen so far this summer.
“At this point the city of Saratoga Springs and the Saratoga Springs Police Department can no longer allow these groups to shut down roads and put themselves and others’ lives in danger,” a statement from the chiefs said. “When the safety of pedestrians and motorists are constantly being put in danger, the protest is no longer peaceful.”
The police want to work with the community, they said. “We will however not tolerate the continued disruption of city streets we will not tolerate the safety of our residents and visitors being put at risk by this unlawful behavior.”
Police said Thursday night’s activity began with a permitted “Back the Blue” pro-police rally outside City Hall, organized by people looking to counter the Black Lives Matter protests that have been highly critical of police. There have been such rallies across the region and across the country since the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis on May 25, including several in Saratoga Springs.
The “Back the Blue” rally began at 6 p.m. and was attended by several Republican elected officials, and a counter-rally soon developed. The groups ultimately faced off in Congress Park, with heated words between them, but no violence, police said.
The pro-police group broke up about 7:45 p.m., police said, but the Black Lives Matter participants remained, and some lay down in the street at Broadway and Congress Street. Police said the group then began walking up Broadway, closing down the street as they went.
Police said that at about 8:30 p.m., police Lt. Jason Mitchell asked the demonstrators to leave the street and move to the sidewalk, but group leaders refused. “Lt. Mitchell and command staff members were concerned that someone would get hit by a car as it was dark out and it was difficult to see those people laying in the roadway,” police said.
The arrests — two adults and one juvenile — came when protesters refused to leave the road despite repeated warnings, police said.
“The city of Saratoga Springs and the Saratoga Springs Police Department recognizes and supports the right to peaceful protest,” the police statement said. “Every time these protests have occurred, the protesters have been treated with professionalism by members of the SSPD and on a few occasions members of the SSPD have stepped in to protect protesters from angry citizens.”
Lexis Figuereo, the Saratoga organizer for the activist group All of Us, said they had not planned to demonstrate on Thursday, but he and others turned out after hearing that other BLM supporters were gathering at the “Back the Blue” rally. He accused police of a “militarized” response that escalated the situation, and was the exact kind of behavior they were protesting against.
He said the group decided to stay after the “Back to Blue” rally broke up because they were met by a large group of officers from the city police, Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department and state police in riot gear, including a police tactical vehicle. He acknowledged they declined to leave the road when asked. Police used pepper balls, which release an irritant gas, but police eventually backed off and the demonstration broke up.
“I told the officers we were out here doing peaceful protests,” he said on Friday. “Freedom of speech: We can sit here and say whatever we want. We weren’t hurting anyone.”
The response was “the exact showing [of police force] of why it needs to be demilitarized and defunded,” Figuereo said.
Joe Seeman, the Democratic and Working Families candidate in the 112th Assembly District, accused police of reacting excessively.
“They were non-violent and they were walking on the streets as they have many times before,” he said. “People demonstratng non-violently in the street should not be met with violence.”