SARATOGA SPRINGS — After an All of Us street protest last Friday that city officials say generated hundreds of complaints about intimidation of people dining outside at restaurants or visiting the city, the city will crack down on unpermitted protests that block streets, the assistant police chief said Thursday.
That change in policy was announced at a tense special City Council meeting, at which council members said they have repeatedly but unsuccessfully sought to meet with All of Us to discuss their concerns, even as protests have continued.
“It is time to make some changes,” said Mayor Meg Kelly. “We cannot have this happening over and over again in the city of Saratoga Springs.”
Speaking at a meeting called specifically to discuss the recent All of Us and Black Lives Matter protests, Assistant Police Chief John Catone said the Police Department supports the right to peaceful protest, and no permit is needed for demonstrations that don’t block streets or impede pedestrians.
But protests like the one last Friday evening, which began in Congress Park and then made an impromptu march through downtown streets while chanting slogans, may be met in the future with arrest, unless All of Us leaders are willing to meet with police to plan for a safe event, Catone said.
Anyone blocking streets in the future, Catone said, will be given a warning to stop, “and if they fail to do so the appropriate police action will be taken, and they may be subject to arrest.”
Catone delivered the message to a City Council chamber filled with both residents and All of Us supporters, as council members repeatedly said they want to start a dialogue with All of Us, which was formed this summer as part of the national reaction to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis while he was in police custody. All of Us has held protests in Schenectady, Albany and other communities, as well as Saratoga.
All of Us members have denounced the city and its Police Department as racist, and racism was implied by group members who addressed the council in response to the new policy.
Lexis Figueroa, a Saratoga Springs organizer of All of Us, said he has heard city officials are linked to a Facebook page he views as racist. He accused city officials of not caring about their cause or wanting to meet until Friday’s demonstration made people dining in the city feel uncomfortable.
“It seems business and property is more important than people,” said Figueroa, who was later ordered to leave the room for interrupting other speakers.
Before that, however, all City Council members said they want to meet with All of Us.
“I would just implore everyone, instead of making threats against each other, let’s get a dialogue going,” said Accounts Commissioner John Franck.
“I would like to meet,” said Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan. “We all serve an essential roll in this form of city government,” she said, noting her office controls city spending, including that on the Police Department.
Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, who said she has reached out repeatedly to Figueroa without being able to start a dialogue, asked for Thursday’s special meeting, saying she had received hundreds of complaints from businesses, residents and visitors about last Friday night’s protests. “One person’s constitutional rights do not supersede another’s,” she said.
Dalton showed two videos from the street march, during which loud profanity could be heard, and in one, All of Us co-founder Jamaica Miles can be heard shouting through a bullhorn at people dining outdoors outside Hattie’s and Thai Sushi Bistro, saying “You all can have dinner while Black people are dying,” and “You are really (expletive) comfortable out here having dinner.”
The protesters also chanted Darryl Mount’s name.
Protests in Saratoga this summer have been driven in part by the 2013 death of Mount, a local biracial man who police say was gravely injured in a fall from construction scaffolding in downtown Saratoga Springs. He fell while fleeing from police, who had seen him assault his girlfriend, officials said. He was in a coma after the fall and died seven months later.
Mount’s family, however, has sued the city, maintaining that Mount was actually beaten by police. Police deny he was assaulted, but then-Police Chief Greg Veitch was criticized for saying there would be an internal investigation, though one was never conducted.
In a statement about the protests issued on Monday, police said they were aware of plans for the protest starting at 5:30 p.m. in Congress Park, and assigned marked police units after the group began marching in the streets, chanting slogans calling for racial justice. The Police Department thanked the traveling public for dealing with any inconvenience caused by street shutdowns, which continued until the group returned to Congress Park at about 9 p.m.
“There were no arrests or known negative interactions between law enforcement and any of the protesters during the event,” police said.
“I’d like to thank police for the patience they’ve had,” resident Gayle LaSalle told the council. “Only cooperation gets things done … Yelling and screaming makes you feel good, but it’s short term.”