Protests that blocked the main street in Saratoga Springs for hours Saturday ended with no arrests, but protest leaders promise to return to the streets despite city officials’ threat that arrests would come if demonstrators continued to force street closures.
Around 150 protesters blocked traffic on Broadway in downtown Saratoga Springs for about five hours Saturday, drawing a response from Saratoga Springs city police, State Police and the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department. Some officers wore riot gear.
The protests served as a direct challenge to city officials’ efforts to tamp down the protests that have repeatedly disrupted the city’s main thoroughfare and central business district since racial justice protests emerged across the country over the summer, including a July protest where police unleashed pepper balls on demonstrators blocking the street near Congress Park.
During an Oct. 1 special city council meeting, Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton and John Catone, the city’s assistant chief of police, said moving forward police may arrest protesters that blocked car and pedestrian traffic.
“Protesters will be given the chance to move, and if they fail to do so, the appropriate police action will take place, and they may be subject to arrest,” Catone told city commissioners at the October meeting.
Police issued a warning Saturday declaring the protest an unlawful gathering but never moved in to forcibly move or arrest the demonstrators.
Some Saratoga locals on social media questioned why the protesters weren’t arrested, while others backed the demonstrators’ racial justice goals.
While no one was arrested Saturday, Dalton said the earlier policy statement remained in place.
“Going forward it still stands… if you block the streets you will get arrested,” Dalton said in an interview Monday afternoon.
Lexis Figuereo, an organizer with All of Us, the organization behind Saturday’s protest, on Monday said protesters who blocked Broadway over the weekend did so knowing they could be arrested.
“We all knew that, everyone knew we were risking arrest… and the people wanted to march, they wanted to be in the streets,” he said.
Scores of Skidmore students joined the protest alongside Saratoga residents and Capital Region activists. Figuereo said protesters did not originally plan to march down Broadway or block traffic but did so after they felt police failed to respond to a group of bikers who Figuereo said were intimidating and harassing the protesters. He said after seeing the police response, protesters decided to block the streets.
Activists and demonstrators behind Saturday’s protest have called for an investigation into the 2013 death of Darryl Mount Jr. while fleeing police, as well as other policy changes they argue would minimize the different harms Black men and women face at the hands of police. Figuereo said the cause of racial justice merits the disruptive protest tactics that some Saratoga residents may be growing wary of.
“The message is that the inconvenience of blocking the streets for a few minutes has no correlation to the things that we are protesting,” Figuereo said. “We are going to keep being in these streets until we get an investigation (of Mount’s death). We are still here and we will still be in the streets until policy is changed.”
For her part, Dalton on Monday said the police were surprised by the large gathering and suggested the lack of arrests was related to police staffing levels.
“It was a tactical decision made by the chief based on staffing,” Dalton said Monday. “We weren’t anticipating that kind of crowd. We weren’t expecting them to shut down Broadway as long as they did.”
Echoing the concerns of other city officials (at the October meeting, Mayor Meg Kelly said of protesters: “We are not going to block the streets”), Dalton on Monday focused on the disruption caused by demonstrators blocking Broadway and questioned the clarity of the protesters’ message.
“It’s about blocking the major intersection in the middle of our town for five hours,” Dalton said. “I don’t know what statement they are making.”