SARATOGA SPRINGS – The Saratoga Springs City Council meeting on Tuesday night devolved into momentary chaos after Black Lives Matter activists shouted down city commissioners as they decried the city’s police response to a downtown protest last week.
Dozens of protesters filled the council chamber as multiple speakers condemned what they described as an overly aggressive and militarized response from police to a racial justice protest that marched through downtown last Wednesday night.
Speakers during the meeting’s public comments accused city officials of enabling racism in the city and demanded a conversation mediated by an outside expert; some of the protesters also called for the resignation of Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton.
As protesters screamed at city commissioners, the meeting ground to a halt until police officers forced the protesters into the hallway outside the City Council chambers. After protesters left City Hall altogether, doors to the building were locked, even as some members of the public attempted to return inside to observe the ongoing council meeting.
Alexus Brown, who along with her boyfriend was pulled over by police after participating in Wednesday’s protest but were not given a reason for the stop, recounted their police stop for city officials, and she demanded Dalton’s immediate resignation.
“Did you know the SSPD racially profiled and targeted a Black Cornell University student athlete?” she said during her comments, referring to her boyfriend. “He is so traumatized by the absolute invasion of privacy and tactic of intimidation, he had an hour long panic attack following the encounter and he never wants to return to the city his girlfriend was born and raised in. But I guess that was the point, wasn’t it?”
When the couple was pulled over by police last week, they were close enough to drive into the driveway of Brown’s mother’s house. Brown’s mother, Erin Brown, told the City Council that her “heart dropped” as she watched her daughter and her boyfriend pulled over and questioned by police.
“As a mother that was absolutely heartbreaking, the fact that they were targeted like that,” she said. She noted that her father served in the Navy and “said he was treated better in third world countries than he was in Saratoga.” Alexus Brown chimed in to say that her grandad referred to the city as “Selmatoga.”
Dozens of police officers, including many in riot gear and carrying long batons, responded to last week’s protests; protesters marched through downtown for over an hour before police demanded they disperse and moved in to make five arrests.
Anthony Brown Davis, who was arrested at the protest and charged with disorderly conduct, said that four officers tackled him to the ground and pointed a gun at his head. Davis said the officers told him: “If I didn’t do as I was told, I wouldn’t make it home alive.”
Arlo Zwicker, a 19-year-old Saratoga Springs resident, was also arrested and charged with disorderly conduct at last week’s protest. Zwicker, who identifies using the they/them pronouns, said that officers repeatedly misused their preferred pronouns.
“While I was arrested every single officer misgendered me,” Zwicker said. “I told every officer my pronoun, they never once used it.”
Zwicker said when they and another protester were driving away from Congress Park after last week’s protest, they were also pulled over by city police officers – the same ones that had pulled over Brown and her boyfriend.
“There is either a great misunderstanding of how racism is perpetuated or a great disregard, I lean toward disregard, because you were educated several times on how racism works,” said Daesha Harris, who served on the city’s police reform commission. She said city police responded to repeated concerns of militarized police force with “double the amount of force.”
After the public comments finished up, Dalton started to address the crowd by describing activists as making a show of aggression as they prepared to march in Congress Park last week.
“When you are in Congress, you make a show of putting on your tactical gear, you wait until it’s dark,” she said as activists in the crowd loudly shouted her down.
Lexis Figuereo, one of the protest organizers, stood up and spoke loudly over Dalton as Mayor Meg Kelly attempted to gavel the meeting back into order. Multiple protesters yelled back and forth with council members as police started to demand the protesters, who ground the meeting to a temporary halt, to leave the City Council chambers. Police ultimately moved the large crowd of protesters into the hall, where they continued to yell back and forth with police officers in the hallway as the City Council carried on with its meeting. Around a dozen police officers were on hand for the meeting, including about five deputies from the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department, who said they were there to provide backup to the city police.
Eventually, the protesters left City Hall and gathered outside. Sometime after the protesters left the building, two front entrances and a side entrance to City Hall were locked to the public as the City Council continued its business.
Before protesters left the meeting room, though, Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan did appear to back their call for a mediated forum to discuss policing and other issues.
“We clearly have a lot of work to do,” Madigan said during the meeting. “I think we need some mediation. I would like to discuss this with the rest of the council but it seems like we need some professional mediation.”