SCHENECTADY – A city council member’s failed bid to denounce a Black school board member’s call to defund the police drew a rebuke from a member of the local chapter of the state Civil Liberties Union during Monday’s City Council meeting.
On Sept. 7, the council’s Public Safety Committee declined to take action on a proposal by Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas to denounce School Board member Jamaica Miles’ call to defund the police department.
The matter was debated at length during that meeting and a subsequent City Council meeting.
Zalewski-Wildzunas had said her request was timed ahead of the city’s 2022 budget presentation in October. She had also said Miles’ remarks were undermining the police’s work in the community.
Melanie Trimble, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Capital Region Chapter said during Monday’s meeting it was “truly chilling to see individuals of an elected body use their authority to condemn an activist” for her views.
Trimble said the civil liberties union was relieved the council dismissed the action.
“The issue of defunding the police and deciding where to allocate city dollars for the safety and health of the community is central to the work of the city council, and it is outrageous that some of its members would seek to use their authority to silence someone, rather than consider their ideas – when police have continued to abuse their power with impunity in Schenectady and beyond, the question of how to fund and oversee them is a fiscal and moral imperative.”
Trimble said it was “unnerving” that council members were so willing to abdicate their responsibility of overseeing and funding the police “in favor of the status quo,” and at the expense of Miles.
“The individuals on the council who supported this resolution may think that singling out an individual associated with the Black Lives Matter movement is not racist,” Trimble said of Zalewski-Wildzunas and Majority Leader John Polimeni, who also supported the resolution.
“But ask yourself if you would have even proposed such an action if the individual were white,” Trimble said. “We think not.”
Trimble said the organization implored the council “not only to reject the thinking embodied in this resolution concerning Ms. Miles but also to look for ways to repair the damage the council has done in providing evidence that confirms the public’s perception of the city’s racist underpinnings.”
Reach Gazette reporter Brian Lee at 518-419-9766, [email protected] or @bleeschenectady on Twitter.