Five protesters were arrested in Saratoga Springs Wednesday night after dozens of racial justice protesters blocked portions of Broadway as they marched throughout downtown Saratoga.
Protesters wearing Black Lives Matter shirts and chanting “no justice, no peace” gathered at Congress Park around 6 p.m. before marching down Broadway and throughout other parts of downtown, chanting “shut it down,” eventually blocking traffic, according to a two-hour video of the event posted on the Saratoga Black Lives Matter Facebook page. The protest took place on the eve of opening day at the Saratoga Racecourse, a busy time in and around the city.
Lt. Bob Jillson said police initially allowed the protesters to march freely down the street but eventually declared it an unlawful assembly and gave protesters multiple warnings to disperse before moving to break up the protest.
But Lexis Figuereo, a protest organizer, argued police overreacted to peaceful demonstrators, monitoring the protesters with long batons and a large presence of city police, county sheriff’s deputies and state police officers. He contended that the police tactics did more to block traffic than the protest itself and said the initial calls for dispersion were not audible to protesters. He said demonstrators intentionally marched through different streets downtown and for about 20 minutes were in the alleyway where Darryl Mount died while fleeing police, rather than block Broadway for an extended period of time.
“From the moment we started they were already out there with about 20 officers and vehicles,” Figuereo said. “If anyone was causing the streets to be blocked it was the cops.”
Five people were ultimately arrested on disorderly conduct charges, a violation, and one of those people was also charged with misdemeanor obstruction. While maintaining a strong presence, police did not break up the protest as it marched throughout downtown for over an hour. But eventually officers declared the demonstration unlawful and issued a warning to disperse or get arrested.
“They continued to obstruct traffic,” Jillson said of the protestors.
Saratoga police on Thursday released the names of the five people arrested: Adam Walker, 32, of Albany; Arlo Zwicker, 18, of Saratoga Springs; Anthony Brown-Davis, 32, of Albany; Michael Janidlo, 36, of Clifton Park; and Derek C. VanDermark, 46, of Ballston Spa, who was also charged with obstructing governmental administration.
As they blocked traffic in front of the Adelphi Hotel and later other parts of Broadway, protesters laid out what they called a history of racism in Saratoga, highlighting racial disparities among student suspensions in Saratoga public schools, the death of Mount, a 22-year-old Black man who died after falling from a two-story scaffolding while fleeing police, and other examples.
The protesters organized the march to demand an apology from Assistant Police Chief John Catone for comments at a late-June press conference he made suggesting social justice activists were perpetuating a narrative that Saratoga Springs police were “racist killers” and should be defunded. Catone on Wednesday released a statement saying that at the June press conference he “allowed anger and frustration to interfere with my intended message.”
Jillson said on Wednesday night police allowed the protesters to march around the city for around an hour before breaking up the protest, noting other calls for service in the city the police were receiving and the potential for confrontation with motorists. After the protesters returned to Broadway, according to the Facebook video, a line of police officers stretched across the road to block protesters; officers on horseback were also on hand to control protesters’ movements.
After a brief standoff with police and protesters both remaining in the road, and police asking for protesters to disperse over a loud speaker, officers moved in on the protesters, forcing them to retreat down Broadway and before making a handful of arrests.
“At some point, you make a decision this is getting beyond reasonable,” Jillson said Thursday.
Protest organizers throughout the march and afterward promised to continue their calls for racial justice and said they don’t plan to back down from organizing in the streets and at public meetings in the city.
“At the end of the day, we’re fighting for equity and equality for everyone, we’re fighting for antiracism,” Chandler Hickenbottom said during the protest, Figuereo’s sister and one of the protest organizers. “Guess what: it’s going to happen in this town whether they like it or not, whether we have to trample over you as we do it.”