SARATOGA SPRINGS — City police released new information Tuesday on their response to the Black Lives Matter counter-protest Thursday evening at which the police made three arrests after protesters wouldn’t stop blocking a street.
The Police Department confirmed that officers used “pepper projectiles” to break up the event just before making the arrests, and said their response stemmed in part from concerns that one of the protesters might have a handgun.
The department also released several videos showing events that occurred outside City Hall and in Congress Park that evening, when an already planned “Back the Blue” rally was met with a BLM counter-protest that had organized quickly through social media.
The confrontations in Saratoga Springs appear to be part of a pattern in which Black Lives Matter sympathizers seek to disrupt “Back the Blue” rallies, at which participants seek to show support for police. There was also a BLM disruption at a pro-police rally outside the state Capitol in Albany on Saturday, though state police intervened and that event ended without arrests or injuries.
The Saratoga Springs Police Department noted that despite police using pepper balls and making arrests on Thursday, there were no injuries reported.
“The use of [pepper] spray and pepper projectiles is on the lower end of the use of force continuum and may be considered for use to bring an individual or group of individuals under control when they are about to and are engaging in violent behavior,” said a statement attributed to Police Chief Shane L. Crooks and Assistant Chief John T. Catone and released by Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton.
Police said outside agencies had received reports that one of the protesters planning to attend would have a handgun “and agitators from outside the area were going to be involved.” Some people in the crowd were observed wearing bulletproof vests and belts with pepper spray, police said.
The pepper balls were used at about 8:45 p.m. at Broadway and Congress Street after protesters refused to stop blocking the road, though police were concerned that darkness was going to make the situation more dangerous for protesters and motorists.
“The chief of police authorized the use of pepper projectiles once the situation started turning violent,” the police statement said.
Protest organizers have said the police acted even though they were demonstrating peacefully, but have acknowledged refusing to leave the road when asked. They said their protest was entirely peaceful.
Police also released new details on the arrests, which were for not cooperating with a police order. The only person whose name was released was Andre Simmons, 19, of Schenectady. Also arrested were an 17-year-old from male from Saratoga Springs and a 16-year-old female, also from Saratoga Springs. All three were released, either on their own recognizance or to a relative, after being issued appearance tickets.
The “Back the Blue” rally organizers had worked with the city for more than week before their event, and asked for and were granted permission to march down Broadway between City Hall and Congress Park with the assistance of police. Four patrol officers, two mounted officers and one supervisor were assigned, police said — the same level of coverage as for previous demonstrations since late May.
When they learned of the counter-protest being organized, police said they asked for assistance from the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department, state police and state park police, including the sheriff’s tactical vehicle, which they said has been in the city for other demonstrations.
“It was always the intention of the Police Department command staff to make sure that, regardless of what groups came to rally or protest, they would have an opportunity to express their opinions in a peaceful way,” police said.
“The Saratoga Springs Police Department respects the rights of all individuals to peacefully protest and we remain committed to working with all community groups in an effort to ensure that all protests are indeed peaceful,” the department said.