SARATOGA SPRINGS – Black Lives Matters activists took to the steps of City Hall to condemn public statements made by the assistant police chief and public safety commissioner, and they pledged to derail the latter’s bid for mayor.
About 90 minutes after the protest, several white supporters of BLM joined in the condemnation during Tuesday’s tense City Council meeting.
The activists, 34-year-old Lexis Figuereo, his sister, 25-year-old Chandler Hickenbottom, both of Saratoga Springs, and brother-sister duo TJ and Samira Sangare, 19 and 23, respectively, of Clifton Park, reacted strongly to the officials’ statements about a recent street brawl that resulted in a stabbing and gunshots fired.
Police said they believed the June 26 melee of up to 20 people involved gangs from Albany.
During a June 28 press conference, Assistant Police Chief John Catone pledged to saturate the downtown area with more police, and he asserted some people running for public office had adopted a narrative that police were “racist killers who should be defunded.”
At one point, Catone promised to draw on all of his family’s connections in the city to combat that narrative and people who pushed it.
“I will, on my final eight months on the job, pull out every single connection my family has made over the last 130 years, and I will stop your narrative,” Catone said.
The BLM demonstrators said they wanted an apology from Catone and public officials regarding that particular statement, as well as comments Catone has since made.
During the demonstration, Figuereo asserted that Catone has said that local BLM activists were armed with weapons and guns during two protests last year.
“By doing these things, you cause more divisiveness in the city,” said Figuereo, noting he was wearing a 30-pound bulletproof vest.
“You also cause more harm and danger to these activists who are out there fighting for their rights,” he continued. “We already have people who send death threats on the normal. You already have people who do not want us to be speaking and doing what we are doing.”
The BLM speakers also said they wanted to debunk what they said was a false narrative about the brawl involving gangs from Albany. They said there’s no proof of that, although Saratoga police officials had said they worked with the Albany police gang unit and state police and identified “people of interest.”
Hickenbottom said there wasn’t a need for an increased police presence. She went on to say that it was damaging that police had suggested Albany gang members were coming to Saratoga to sell narcotics because users here would pay more.
Hickenbottom went on to suggest that authorities were less vocal about brawls that occur downtown every year during big events like Dave Matthews and Phish concerts.
“This has been happening, and it didn’t start because BLM came out,” she said.
Samira Sangare said Catone’s assertion that he would use 130 years of his connections to stop their narrative “sounded like a lot of privilege” and was “literally fascism.”
She said of Dalton’s run for mayor: “If you elect to clown, expect the circus. If she wins this will be a wildfire. And we’re not going anywhere.”
The theme carried into the council meeting when Rev. Joe Cleveland of Unitarian Universalist Church and several other speakers agreed with the BLM demonstrators.
During Cleveland’s initial attempt to address the council, Mayor Meg Kelly recessed the meeting for several minutes after the demonstrators said “um-hum” in support of the reverend. Kelly said the audience members were being disruptive with their loud comments, a suggestion dismissed by the demonstrators, Cleveland and others supporters.
Cleveland said that Catone’s and Dalton’s remarks during the June 28 press conference had “no place coming from the mouths of our public servants,” and were “divisive” and mongered hate.
Catone’s statement that “you’re either for us or against us,” Cleveland continued, was a betrayal of the community’s trust, and the notion that there was no racism in the city was “a classic white fragility response to truth telling.”
“Your own city-appointed, police reform task force, their work revealed a pattern of police treating people of color in our community more harshly, more strictly, with less compassion than other people,” Cleveland said.
“I have always been treated with respect. Look at my white face. Look at my cisgendered male body. Are you going to listen to me different than you’re going to listen to my friends in the rows behind?” he said of the demonstrators.
Tracy Krosky of Halfmoon said that fellow BLM protesters were initially denied entry to the meeting by police, and she asserted that adjourning a meeting because audience members said “um-hum” was “the whitest thing” she’d ever heard.
She went on to call Catone’s remarks a step beyond a racist dog whistle.
“That was a bullhorn, of them yelling to white supremacists to come in here and to hurt our activists,” said Krosky.
Lale Davidson of Saratoga Springs said the council and assistant chief should apologize the “clearly political” remarks. Davidson said Catone should also be reprimanded.
Davidson said Catone’s framing of violence on Caroline Street, which she said has been happening for years, as being a result of calls for social justice and the BLM movement “shows that he is not impartial server of justice.”
This made him a danger, she said, because he’s serving a political rhetoric. City officials mostly did not respond to the demonstrators’ comments.