News that the state attorney general’s office was looking into police treatment of Black Lives Matter protesters in “upstate cities” should be welcome news for police, protesters and the citizens of those cities, including Saratoga Springs and Schenectady.
An outside look from an independent arbiter like Attorney General Letitia James will provide perspective and guidance that seems unreachable by those closest to these situations.
Not only should the attorney general’s investigations determine whether police acted appropriately toward protesters, but they also should provide more guidance for police and protesters as to what actions are acceptable and which are not, and perhaps create a framework for more cooperation and understanding among the two sides.
BLM protesters in several cities, including the two local communities, have been complaining about what they allege are heavy-handed tactics by police in managing protests, saying they’re using these tactics as a way to intimidate and discourage protesters.
Protesters complain that they have been unnecessarily charged criminally for simple acts of protest, that charges were excessive given the actions with which they were arrested, that they were arrested instead of issued summonses for relatively minor offenses, and that were issued arrest warrants and ordered into court months after the original protests.
Police in Saratoga Springs also recently tried to prevent protesters and their supporters from attending public court proceedings, and protesters in that city have been cut off from speaking at government meetings.
Police have justified their responses as necessary to control the crowds and maintain public safety.
So let’s let the attorney general sort it out.
Let the attorney general’s office look at the conduct of the protesters and the police response, and determine who did what.
Let the attorney general’s office look at the charges that were levied against protesters to determine if they fit the circumstances of the events.
Let the attorney general’s office speak to the judges about the cases that have come before them. Have attorney general investigators speak to the public officials about the policies in place for dealing with protesters.
Let the attorney general sort through the messes in the respective cities and look for common threads.
If police crossed the line and the charges in any of the cases were inappropriate, the attorney general should state that and then determine if any legal action needs to be taken against either police or the protesters.
After completing its reviews, the attorney general’s office should provide advice and guidelines for how to manage protests in the future in hopes that these conflicts can be less frequent and less contentious.
Only an independent examination can provide police, the protesters and the public with a path forward.
All parties involved should welcome it.