SARATOGA SPRINGS – A year to the day that a Minneapolis police officer stunned the nation by casually pinning his knee to the neck of a black man for more than nine minutes, bringing him to his death, Sally Apolinsky of Saratoga Springs reflected on the sobering moment at Congress Park.
Apolinsky, a 22-year-old recent graduate of Skidmore College, took out her cellphone and pulled up an image of George Floyd, the 46-year-old victim in that case, and Floyd’s daughter.
Apolinsky sketched the slain father and his surviving daughter on a sheet of paper.
Floyd, whose death was prompted by suspicion he used a counterfeit $20 bill at a Minneapolis convenience store, was killed by Officer Derek Chauvin, who placed his knee on Floyd’s neck and shoulder and kept it there for more than nine minutes.
Floyd was pronounced dead in a hospital an hour later, and Chauvin was recently convicted by a jury of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.
The Saratoga Springs demonstration Tuesday was a different kind of assembly by the local Black Lives Matter movement.
Organizers Lexis Figuereo, his sister Chandler Hickenbottom and Julie Lewis asked attendees to express their outrage through art.
As Apolinsky, a local kindergarten teacher, created her piece, she told a reporter of her concern for the country on race matters.
“I think we have a lot more to do,” she said. “I don’t think really anything has changed. Some big, big steps need to be taken.”
Apolinsky said those steps weren’t limited to law enforcement’s interactions with minorities.
There’s work toward “the way our country’s built,” she said. “Law enforcement. Schools. The way our towns are structured.”
She said she’s thankful her students were too young to truly understand the divide in the country.
Hickenbottom, a self-proclaimed abolitionist, spoke from a megaphone. She said she previously hadn’t thought of art as a means of expressing discontent with police brutality.
Hickenbottom and Figuereo also called attention to the 2013 death of Darryl Mount Jr. in Saratoga Springs. There’s an ongoing demand that the city conduct an independent investigation into his death.
The 21-year-old Black man was a suspect in a domestic violence investigation on Caroline Street. Mount ran into a construction zone where police said they found him unconscious, believing he had fallen from construction scaffolding.
Mount’s family has questioned and challenged that version of events.
During the remembrance of Floyd, Hickenbottom called for a giant mural of Mount in Congress Park, and for the park to be renamed in his honor.
Lewis, a director for C.R.E.A.T.E. Community Studios, a non-profit organization in Schenectady and Saratoga Springs, said words can be divisive, and not the only way to express feelings.
That’s why the organizers called for the wide display of artwork.
“Today is an opportunity for you to explore not only what this means for you, but maybe how you are in relationships with other people around these issues in your community,” Lewis said. “And the idea is to use art as a way of communication and healthy dialogue, about racial injustice, about hate crimes, about police brutality, about treating each other fairly.”
The one-year mark of Floyd’s killing was also felt in Schenectady, where Councilwoman Marion Porterfield said she couldn’t believe it’s been a full year since the world witnessed the shocking death.
“Even though it didn’t happen locally,” Porterfield said, “I believe it’s had a local impact on police community relations, and it’s brought an awareness that more needs to be done to improve the relationship between the community and the police.”
The councilwoman said she’s received correspondence from the city that there’s been traction the past year regarding police reform. More beat officers are stationed in certain areas, she said she was told. And a renewal of a dialogue about police reform is to occur in June.
Porterfield said she’s chosen not to watch repeated video footage of Floyd’s death, “because it was hard for me to watch, and hard for me to even believe that in 2020, something like that could happen.”
“It was painful,” she said. “I cried actually.”
Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford acknowledged the work to be done to repair communities both locally and nationally.
In a text message, Clifford said:
“Today marks the anniversary of a day that many of us will never forget where we were when we heard the news. It was an emotional day that still evokes sadness. It was also a day where America recognized that we [the police] need to do better.
“As a society,” Clifford continued, “we need to recognize that investing in public safety needs to be a priority and taken seriously. This means training for police officers, program development for harm reduction and social problems, and officer wellness. Injustice to any member of our community is a danger to justice to all. For members of our BIPOC [Black and indigenous people of color] community, the death of George Floyd has highlighted injustices they see and fear daily.”
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