SARATOGA SPRINGS – After Jermaine Hammond, 28, set up a home music studio a decade ago, the first person to come and record a song was his cousin, Darryl Mount.
“He recorded his first song in my studio,” said Hammond, a sound engineer who lives in Ballston Spa.
Hammond said Mount lived life full of joy and that he had enough energy and love “to give to everyone.”
“‘If you’re trying to party over there, we’re partying over here,’” Hammond said, recalling the bars Mount laid down all those years ago. “‘Everyone’s having a good time.’”
Wearing a yellow shirt emblazoned with a raised fist and the words, “Shine a Light for Darryl,” Hammond joined more than 100 other people at Congress Park to remember Mount’s life and demand a search for answers to the many unanswered questions about his death.
Tuesday marked eight years since Mount, at the time a 21-year-old biracial man, suffered life-threatening injuries while fleeing from police, who said he was assaulting his girlfriend (which she has since denied). Police have said they found Mount unconscious after he fell from scaffolding near where the Northshire Bookstore now stands on Broadway. But Mount’s family and racial justice activists, who have sought to highlight his case in recent years, have questioned the police story, arguing his injuries, which left him in a coma for nine months before he died in May 2014, were not consistent with a fall.
Activists for more than a year have repeatedly called for an independent investigation into Mount’s death, pointing to testimony from Greg Veitch, city police chief at the time of Mount’s injuries, where he admitted to lying to a reporter about an internal investigation. He acknowledged police did not conduct a formal internal investigation at the time even though he had told a reporter that an internal investigation had cleared the officers involved. Mount’s mother, Patty Jackson, is pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, which city officials have cited when declining to answer questions about the case or the potential for further investigation into the case.
Hammond, who grew up in Saratoga Springs until he and his family were “gentrified out” and relocated to Ballston Spa, said Mount loved the city and considered it his hometown. He said Mount was also devoted to his family.
“It was a tragedy he had to be murdered in the place he called home,” Hammond said. “Every single day he was out, he tried to be a joy to everyone in his family. No one is perfect, but he was one of those people that always tried to help everyone, and that night unfortunately there was no one there to help him.”
Activists, members of Mount’s family and other residents gathered at Congress Park Tuesday night before marching down the sidewalks on both sides of Broadway, loudly chanting Mount’s name and admonishing city police as they passed onlookers at restaurants and walking in downtown Saratoga. The protesters gathered in front of city hall, where they promised to continue rallying, protesting and demanding racial progress in Saratoga.
“We ain’t going nowhere. You ain’t going to scare us,” Lexis Figuereo, one of the event organizers, screamed into a bullhorn. “Darryl Mount,” the other marchers responded to each declaration.
Samira Sangare, another one of the event organizers and a leader of Saratoga Black Lives Matter, said the police involved in the Mount case should be called to answer for what happened to Mount and be held accountable. She said police over the years have sought to paint Mount in a bad light and have responded to protesters seeking to shine a light on his case with “riot gear and tanks.” Even if he did run from police, she said, it didn’t make his death any less of a tragedy.
“It doesn’t matter if he ran, it doesn’t matter if he resisted, because that doesn’t mean he should die,” Sangare said. “He should be here right now to tell his side of what happened eight years ago.”
Black community leaders at Tuesday’s event said the unanswered questions surrounding the Mount case have festered over the years and degraded the trust people have in both city leaders and the police. Activists have said an independent investigation, followed by accountability for any wrongdoing, could help rebuild community trust.
“The family and community never got justice behind his death,” said Rev. Michael Bell, of the Dyer Phelps AME Zion Church on Crescent Street in Saratoga, where Mount was eulogized. “It made it hard for us to believe (police and city officials) were credible, and credibility is the fabric of any community.”
Bell said the police response to racial justice protests in the past year – including large displays of force, the use of chemical irritants and the arrest of peaceful protesters – has further frayed the relationship between the police and the community they must police.
“They treat these protesters as though they are nothing more than enemies of the state,” Bell said. “We have had enough. We are still fighting for freedom.”
Bell said the Mount case remained an “open wound” in the city. “This wound must be healed,” he said.