SCHENECTADY — NAACP of Schenectady President, the Rev. Nicolle Harris, told protesters outside of City Hall Thursday that she’s received phone calls this week suggesting that police would be unable to do their jobs if her organization and others continued with its demand that the city ban knee to neck holds.
“I’m not asking any police officer not to do their job,” Harris, pastor at Duryee Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, told dozens of protesters.
“I’m asking that you do your job effectively. I’m asking that you do your job without harming people unnecessarily – and without knee holds.”
Harris, a pastor, said the knee should be used to pray.
The protest, organized by local group All of Us, was titled “Get Your Knee off Me!”
Schenectady Clergy Against Hate and the NAACP joined in decrying the recent revelation that the city has maintained the police’s right to use a knee to a subject’s head during deadly combat.
Before speaking began, some protesters gathered under a temporary tent listening to anti-establishment hip hop songs such as Public Enemy’s Fight the Power.
Signs read, “no justice, no peace,” and quoted Malcolm X.
A white protester held a sign that read “no killer knees.”
All of Us co-founder Jamaica Miles gave the chronology of the protesters’ ire.
She said All of Us organized runs against police brutality in May, after the public lynching of Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, Georgia.
It was three days before George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man died while a Minneapolis officer knelt on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. The officer, Derek Chauvin, is presently on trial, charged with both murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death.
On May 31, Schenectady resident Mikayla Foster and others led a march for Black lives in the city, Miles said.
On June 11, outside City Hall, the local groups made 13 demands, including a call to an end of police using knee-, choke- and strangleholds and hogties.
On July 6, officer Brian Pommer put a knee on the neck of 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. The video went viral.
“That ain’t right,” a supporter yelled as Miles spoke of the arrest.
Soon after, the city announced it was banning the use of knee to neck and head as a control move. But by the end of the year, it updated the policy to allow for the caveat that a knee to the head would be haloed.
Rev. Dustin Wright of Messiah Lutheran Church told the crowd that justice could only arrive when the most marginalized are listened to.
“After 450 years of violence, people might be a little angry,” Wright said to approval. “People might use naughty words, and that’s OK.”
All of Us cofounder Shawn Young said an outright ban on knee to head was the bare minimum expectation. Young, citing his speaking to people throughout the city and his own experience, asserted that abuse from the police had come to be the expectation.
Damonni Farley, a Black candidate for council, told white people in attendance they needed to do more than just hold signs at rallies such as this. He implored them to speak out against smaller, every day incidents of racism, such as the racial joke made at work or during family get togethers.
Miles scoffed at the notion police needed to use a knee to head hold during any type of encounter with a subject.
She said officers are often accompanied by two to four other officers, and equipped with what she said were “weapons of mass destruction.”
Police, under a state-mandated police reform recently adopted by the council, have reserved their right to apply a knee to the head only during a deadly confrontation.
The department’s use of force policy was first issued in 2006. It spelled out that an actively resistant subject – one who is attempting to interfere with an officer’s actions by physically resisting or indicating an intention to do so – could be met with intermediate level force consisting of “pain compliance techniques” such as joint manipulation, arm bars, takedowns, and or personal weapon strikes using fists, knees, elbows, and feet.
In April 2020 the policy was updated to spell out neck holds, or the proper application of the “carotid control hold” in restraining a violent or combative individual.
It was to be used when other force options were limited, or during exigent circumstances where it reasonably appeared that immediate control of the subject would be necessary to prevent an officer, the subject, or others from being injured.
Under the since eliminated practice, the neck hold could also be used to prevent a subject’s access to weapons.
The policy manual noted the potential for injury from the neck control hold. It states it should be avoided unless all other available options would be ineffective, or would present a danger to the officer. It says to avoid the choke hold on pregnant women, the elderly, and an apparent young person.
Correction 10:28 a.m.: An earlier version of this article misspelled the first name of All of Us cofounder Shawn Young’s name. It is Shawn, not Sean.