SCHENECTADY & ALBANY – A Schenectady community activist has been arrested in last week’s chalk defacing of the Schenectady police station, Schenectady police said on Friday.
Mikayla Foster, 22, was charged Thursday after being taken into custody as an Albany Black Lives Matter protest encampment was being broken up.
Foster and Nikiya Charles, 25, also of Schenectady, were each charged by Schenectady police with third-degree criminal tampering, a Class B misdemeanor, in connection with an April 13 protest outside the station. Class B misdemeanors are punishable by up to three months in jail and a $500 fine. Charles is also known as Kasey Charles.
Foster, speaking outside the police station on Liberty Street Friday morning, acknowledged having chalked the building, but Foster said the chalk was water-soluble and was removed from the building within eight minutes after she wrote it.
The police station’s exterior entrance has since been surrounded by a chain-link fence. On Friday morning, about 15 people stood outside the fence in a chilly breeze and denounced what happened in Albany Thursday night, when police forcefully broke up a street encampment of protesters.
Foster reported being brought to Schenectady immediately after being arrested for disorderly conduct at the Albany encampment and spent Thursday night “in a cage” at the Schenectady County Jail. Foster was released early Friday morning.
“If we are arresting peaceful protesters for putting washable chalk on a building meant to serve the community, then I don’t know what to say,” Foster said. “I’m very well-known for having a lot to say, and I’m speechless.” Foster nevertheless spoke for nearly a half-hour about racism and policing before stepping away from press conference microphones, breaking down sobbing, and being encircled by friends and supporters.
Later Friday, city police issued a statement in which they said Foster and Charles were taken into custody after Albany police alerted them that two people arrested at the encampment faced outstanding Schenectady arrest warrants. “The warrants were issued after video evidence showed these individuals were involved in the incident that led to both damage and tampering with city property at 531 Liberty St. on April 13,” the statement said.
The protest in Schenectady on April 13, as well as the Albany protest that started the next day, were over the police shooting death of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, in Minnesota.
During the April 13 protest, in addition to the chalking, a glass panel on a door at the Schenectady station was broken. Some of the messages said, “We won’t forget,” “Stop killing us,” “Blood is on your hands,” “Cops and klan are hand-in-hand.” Until now, there had been no arrests.
Schenectady police said letters were sent to both Foster and Charles advising them of the warrants and asking them to turn themselves in. After their arrests in Albany, Foster and Charles were turned over to Schenectady police around 5:30 p.m. While Foster was jailed most of the night, police said both were released after processing, and will appear later in Schenectady City Court.
Foster, who is Black, is an organizer of the local justice group All of Us, and has been prominent at Black Lives Matter and social justice protests in the Capital Region over the last year.
On Friday, there were no police officers visible outside the building while protesters spoke. The protest took place the day after the state Attorney General’s Office found that Schenectady officers were justified in the March 2020 shooting death of a Hamilton Hill man because they believed he was armed; the weapon turned out to be a pellet pistol. But the AG’s report also said the city needs to develop better responses to situations involving people in mental health crises.
Albany police, meanwhile, on Friday released the identities of nine people arrested as the street encampment was being broken up. They include three people from Schenectady: Foster; Charles; and Brandon Brown, 21. Each was charged with disorderly conduct.
Brown also was charged with second-degree riot, obstructing government administration and unlawful assembly in connection with the April 14 protest outside Albany’s South Station that led to the six-day protest encampment. Alexis Figuereo, 34, of Saratoga Springs, also faces those charges.
Foster said that when Albany police broke up the encampment, a cellphone was knocked from Foster’s own hand and a mask removed while an irritant gas was being used. Albany police have said they didn’t use tear gas, and that nobody was injured.
On Thursday, Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins said police support peaceful and lawful protests, but the six-day encampment was unlawful because it was blocking a public street. The city had received complaints, including from the neighboring City Rescue Mission, about the conduct of protesters and having access blocked due to the encampment, Mayor Kathy Sheehan’s office said on Friday.
Police had taken no previous action against the protesters, who were demanding firing of an officer, prior to giving them 15 minutes to leave the area Thursday afternoon. Police then moved in force, and tents, food and other protester belongings were hauled away. A barricaded area was set aside for remaining protesters, and some people were there on Friday afternoon, according to broadcast and social media reports.
Also Friday, Albany City Auditor Darcy Applyrs and six Albany City Council members, all Democrats, issued a statement saying the police response had damaged community relations. They called the police actions “disheartening and overly aggressive. While we respect APD’s duty to prioritize public safety, we strongly denounce the approach they used.”
All of Us co-founder Jamaica Miles of Schenectady, who addressed the protesters in Albany Thursday night and also spoke at the Schenectady police station on Friday, said Black Lives Matter and All of Us activism will continue as long as what they perceive as police misconduct continues.
“We will be united. We will be the same constant presence we were in 2020, and we will increase that constant presence,” said Miles, who is a candidate for the Schenectady school board.
Updated 4:21 p.m. May 4, 2021