Saratoga Springs Assistant Police Chief John Catone in a Wednesday statement said he “allowed anger and frustration” to obscure his underlying message at a June 28 press conference on recent violent incidents in the city.
Catone’s remarks at that press conference, which suggested some people in the community were pushing a narrative that police were “racist killers,” drew immediate criticism from social justice activists and Democratic candidates who thought Catone was referring to them.
At one point during the press conference, where Catone joined city Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, Catone said he would “pull out every single connection my family has made over the last 130 years, and I will stop your narrative,” taken by many as an oblique threat.
“I allowed anger and frustration to interfere with my intended message,” Catone said in the Wednesday statement.
The statement did not include an apology, and Catone reiterated his feeling that “certain misinformation” was leading to an erosion of trust in the Police Department – trust that Catone said was necessary to address criminal activity in the city.
“While I fully appreciate that the Police Department must always work toward building and maintaining that trust, my frustration at the conference stemmed from the fact that certain misinformation has unfairly eroded it,” Catone’s statement said. “My comments were not meant to cast blame, or serve as a threat. My comments were meant as a call upon every member of this community to work together.”
Many people in Saratoga Springs did not interpret Catone’s comments as a clarion call for unity. Ron Kim, a former public safety commissioner now running for mayor as a Democrat, the day after the press conference said Catone “crossed into political statements” and offered “no solution except to blame” bar owners, patrons, activists and politicians.
In a protest last week demanding an apology from Catone and Dalton, Black Lives Matter activists said his comments divided the community and put at risk the safety of activists. That evening at a City Council meeting, Rev. Joe Cleveland of the Unitarian Universalist Church said Catone’s assertion that there was no racism in the city Police Department was “a classic white fragility response to truth telling.”
Lexis Figuereo – who has organized numerous protests and rallies in Saratoga Springs over the past year, including the recent one where activists demanded an apology from Catone and Dalton – said Catone’s Wednesday statement did nothing to undo the damage caused by his original comments.
“It’s not an apology,” Figuereo said Wednesday. “He could have easily come out and done a real quick video and said, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make people think that Black Lives Matter activists were who I was targeting, and if people took it that way I’m sorry.’”
Figuereo said the comments from Catone and Dalton reignited activists to host protests, noting that organizers had no plans for events this summer prior to the press conference. He also asserted that the message of racial justice activists has been twisted by many of their critics.
“It’s about making a better life for all of us, and a more inclusive community for all of us to feel welcome,” he said of the aim of activists. “It’s about community, all the community: the minorities, the underprivileged, the forgotten, the homeless.”