Two more racial justice protesters were arraigned in Saratoga Springs City Court Thursday on charges connected to a July 14 protest, including Schenectady activist and school board member Jamaica Miles.
Miles entered a not guilty plea on both a violation charge of disorderly conduct and a misdemeanor charge of unlawful imprisonment stemming from the protest, during which protesters blocked traffic on Broadway.
Miles surrendered herself at the Saratoga Springs police station Thursday morning after determining that she was wanted on the protest-related charges. Four other activists were arrested Tuesday night in connection with the July protest: organizers Lexis Figuereo, Chandler Hickenbottom, Samira Sangare and Molly Dunn. Police have said that there are other outstanding warrants for protesters wanted in connection to charges stemming from the July protest and that more charges are possible.
After her arraignment, Miles sought to connect her arrest and charges, and those of other Saratoga activists, to what she called a region-wide backlash among elected officials and law enforcement to calls for racial justice.
“There is a troubling trend emerging here in the Capital Region,” Miles said after her arraignment, standing on the steps of City Hall. “It is a coordinated backlash from City Council members, DAs and law enforcement. And that coordinated effort happens to be against recent protests about racial inequality, structural violence and poverty.”
Miles and other activists on Thursday argued that the arrests represented an attack on their rights to free speech and assembly, pointing to the police decision to issue warrants for misdemeanor charges rather than give those charged a chance to voluntarily appear in court as a tactic of retaliation and fear-mongering directed at protest organizers.
“The people of this country have a right to peacefully demonstrate without fear of government retaliation – or so we thought,” Miles said. “This attack on protesters is an attack on our first amendment rights of free speech and assembly, it is an attack on our democracy.”
Saratoga Springs police have argued that protesters violated the law when they blocked traffic on Broadway, preventing motorists from traveling freely down the street, including one person with a heart condition. The police released video footage on Wednesday that shows protesters blocking traffic on the road, including some who stood directly in front of cars. The sworn statements of motorists stuck amid the protest were also included in court documents filed in the cases.
“Why does a person have to wait nine or so minutes, stuck there for that, why is that person deserving that,” Saratoga Police Lt. Bob Jillson said of how the protest affected other people.
Police on Wednesday night also arrested 26-year-old Alexander Patterson, of Clifton Park, on the violation of disorderly conduct and misdemeanor unlawful imprisonment charges, detaining him at the Saratoga Springs police station overnight until he could be arraigned Thursday morning.
Patterson said that while he was working delivering food on Wednesday night two Saratoga County sheriff’s deputies arrested him and transferred him to Saratoga Springs police.
“They held me in a cell for approximately 14 hours, which by the way is a very cruel thing to do in this society, and it’s very normalized, throwing someone in a cell behind bars,” said Patterson, who is running for the Clifton Park town board. “What’s happening in Saratoga and around the Capital Region, it’s a dangerous trend, suppressing people’s right to gather, right to assemble, right to protest.”
The activists arrested Tuesday night also spoke out publicly on Thursday for the first time since the arrests, arguing that the arrests were an attempt to intimidate them out of further protests and marches in the community. They also criticized police for issuing warrants – rather than summons, appearance tickets or asking the defendants to surrender themselves – arguing that the warrants provided police cover to make aggressive and potentially dangerous arrests.
“This is clearly an attack on first amendment rights,” Sangare said.
Figuereo was arrested Tuesday evening by a pair of Saratoga County sheriff’s deputies while on his way to a college class, the same day that police communicated his outstanding warrant to other agencies. His arrest, on charges that stem from the July protest but also include two instances of obstructing governmental administration related to allegedly disrupting city council meetings in July, set off a chain of events that resulted in a handful of other arrests that night.
Sangare and Hickenbottom headed to the Saratoga police station on Tuesday night after hearing about Figuereo’s arrest, waiting outside the police station as they tried to get an update on his status and the reason for his detention. They both said they were not aware that they faced charges when they showed up to the police station. While they gathered outside with other activists and supporters, a sheriff’s deputy stepped out of the police station and demanded they and a third woman, Molly Dunn, come in with the police officers. Sangare said the police appeared to have a list of people they wanted on warrants. But they said the officers did not immediately provide a reason for their arrests as they were taken into custody.
“A bunch of sheriff’s deputies and Saratoga police officers come out and say, ‘You, you, you, come on in,’ and we said, ‘For what?’” Hickenbottom said. “I’m ready to be arrested, but you need to tell me what I’m being arrested for, that is my right.”
A fourth woman, Gabrielle Elliot, the mother of Figuereo’s young children, was also arrested Tuesday night after she attempted to intervene in the other arrests; police allege she threw a water bottle at an officer and then resisted arrest. She was also charged with endangering the welfare of a child for allegedly holding onto her child’s stroller as police attempted to detain her. The young kids, ages two and six, can be seen crying in a video that captured the chaotic situation Tuesday night.
Hickenbottom said the experience of the kids is reflective of the kinds of experiences that foster distrust of police among people of color; those kids will long remember and be traumatized by that moment, she said.
“My nephew and the baby are screaming and they are crying, and time and time again this just goes to show, this is exactly what police do to the Black community,” Hickenbottom said. “And they wonder why we get scared when we are old enough to drive, when we are old enough to be in a bar, and when they come after us, why we run…. These are things that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.”
Other people are still wanted by Saratoga police on similar charges, including T.J. Sangare, Samira’s brother and a college student currently at school in Vermont; still others are wanted, but Jillson, the police spokesperson, on Thursday did not say how many more outstanding warrants remained in connection to the protest.
Jillson did say the protest was still under investigation and that it was possible more people would be identified and charged.
“I won’t say we are done with this completely,” he said of the investigation into the July 14 protest. “There is always a possibility that in addition to the warrants we have out now there may be additionals that come out, and how we navigate those we will have to wait and see.”
Jillson also defended the actions of the police and the manner in which they pursued the arrests, adding that the decision to issue warrants and not summons was a matter of “judicial discretion.” (While either a summons or warrant must be signed by a judge, police could ask for one over the other, according to lawyers.)
He denied that city police were targeting activists or seeking to silence them, arguing that police were seeking to hold them accountable for violating the law when they blocked traffic and potentially put other people at risk.
“These arrests were based upon actions conducted by those people we are charging,” Jillson said in an interview with media Thursday. “It has nothing to do with suppressing their civil rights or their right to protest peacefully, however, it’s to hold them accountable for actions they took which violate the law.”