SCHENECTADY – In a strongly worded letter that echoes concerns first expressed by the lone Black city council member Marion Porterfield, the Schenectady branch of the NAACP Tuesday called for an outright ban on police knee holds.
Concurrent with the letter, addressed to the city council, Mayor Gary McCarthy and Police Chief Eric Clifford, local group All of Us is planning a protest titled “Get Your Knee Off Me!” for 4 p.m. Thursday outside City Hall.
Amid last year’s nationwide unrest about law enforcement’s interactions with minority suspects that were captured on recordings, including the June killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis officer’s knee on Floyd’s neck, the city conducted a review of a struggle between Patrolman Brian Pommer and city resident Yugeshwar Gaindarpersaud.
A cellphone user recorded the July arrest, during which Pommer pinned Gaindarpersaud to the ground with his body weight on the suspect’s head.
In June, after Floyd was killed, police departments across the country, including Schenectady, banned choke holds, and knee-to-neck holds, through an executive order signed by then President Donald Trump.
As such, Schenectady police updated its use-of-force policy to include a ban on a knee to the suspect’s head as a control hold.
But Clifford has explained that the policy doesn’t apply to life and death struggles during which an officer is trying to retain his weapon.
In such extreme incidents, Clifford said, a knee to the head would be an appropriate use of force, because the head essentially controls the body.
Clifford said officers can use only the amount of force that reasonably appears necessary given the facts and circumstances perceived by the officer at the time of the event, to accomplish a legitimate law enforcement purpose.
During the council’s March 22 meeting in which the panel approved the city’s Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative plan, 4-1, Porterfield commented that officials “added back in” knee holds.
In a letter to Porterfield Tuesday, Clifford said, “Claims that we added knee to head holds back into the department’s Use of Force policy are false, and I urge you to understand how detrimental spreading misinformation is to our efforts to build trust within the community.”
Clifford’s letter points out that a Schenectady officer nearly lost his life in 2015 when he was violently attacked and assaulted.
The NAACP letter, signed by branch president Nicolle D. Harris and its officers, joined Porterfield and representatives from other local organizations, community organizers, and clergy in insisting that all knee holds be banned.
“We are not merely suggesting that you constantly repeat that you will not tolerate officers using knee holds abusively,” the letter reads. “We hope you will recognize that there is a desperate need for a ban on knee holds and clear consequences if this ban is violated.”
The NAACP letter notes that CNN.com, among other national media, reported Schenectady police were banned from placing a knee on a person’s head or neck as a control hold, in the aftermath of the Pommer-Gaindarpersaud incident.
“We trusted that those words would stand true and be the introduction of a more stringent policy,” the NAACP letter read.
In a prelude to the planned protest, All Of Us co-founder Jamaica Miles said, “We are tired of the broken promises. Not only the broken promises made by the chief, the mayor and the majority of the city council, but the broken promises that have been made to Black and Brown people time and time again.
“The agenda to create policies that protect everyone has failed,” Miles continued. “These are steps backwards not forward. We know what it took last year to make Schenectady ban knee holds the first time. We are willing to do that and more to ensure that all communities are safe. It all begins Thursday.”