SARATOGA SPRINGS — Dozens staged a die-in in front of Saratoga Springs City Hall on Sunday to commemorate the two-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death, and to call for greater action to address white supremacy and gun violence following a pair of recent mass shootings in Buffalo and Texas that left more than 30 dead.
Around 60 individuals, including leaders from Saratoga Black Lives Matter, first gathered near the carousel in Congress Park, where they shared a meal and listened to a series of speakers who called for better investment in mental health services and the teaching of critical race theory in schools to combat the gun violence and white supremacy, as well as greater community involvement to create change on the local, state and national levels.
“We can protest, but we need to be in the schools. We need to be in the City Council meetings. We need to make this change, because I’m tired of this. I’m angry,” said Samira Sangare, a cofounder of Saratoga Blacks Lives Matter. “We’re all numb to this because it’s normal, and it’s sad and disgusting.”
The group eventually marched down Broadway, diverting traffic to side streets, as they made their way towards City Hall. Several onlookers were spotted cheering as marchers called for defunding the police and ending mass shootings. Others, amid the holiday crush of tourists that flooded sidewalks, were overheard telling the group to “get back to work” and to “get a life.”
At one point, a middle-aged white man, who refused to walk around the group in front of City Hall, pushed a female demonstrator to the side as she turned to confront him with a sign. Another woman interrupted the gathering to say something about “Black on Black crime” in Albany despite the fact that the speaker was addressing the recent racist shooting in a Buffalo supermarket that left 10 Black people dead.
“We are anti-violence for everybody,” Lexis Figuereo, a leader of Saratoga Black Lives Matter, said in response to the disruption.
He questioned why those who say “all lives matter” were not protesting the recent string of shootings that have taken place throughout the country, and noted that an incident like the shooting in Uvalde, Texas could take place in Saratoga Springs unless changes are made.
The gathering remained peaceful, even as demonstrators laid down on Broadway for nine minutes and 29 seconds — the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck while he called out for help and said he could not breathe. The officer, Derek Chauvin, was later convicted of murder.
Floyd’s death sparked protests nationwide, including several throughout the Capital Region, with demonstrators demanding the end to systematic racism and greater police accountability. In New York, the incident sparked an effort to reform police policies following an executive order issued by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
In Saratoga Springs, protesters have sought to raise awareness about the 2013 death of Darryl Mount, a biracial man who died nine months after an encounter with city police. Authorities have said Mount fell off scaffolding while running from police, but protesters have raised questions and have asked for an independent investigation.
Saratoga Springs police, on Sunday, helped to divert traffic around the gathering.
Police, in the past, have diverted traffic for demonstrators, but arrested protesters last summer as they moved to block traffic, confronting demonstrators in riot gear, an armored vehicle and issuing arrest warrants for minor offenses weeks after the protests occurred. The state’s Attorney General’s Office is investigating whether the agency used excessive force and targeted demonstrators with retaliatory arrests.
Charges against the demonstrators have since been dropped following a demonstration last July.
City police did not return a request for comment.
Sunday’s gathering took place just days after the two-year anniversary of Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020, and less than a week after an 18-year-old gunman murdered 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas on May 24. Police did not enter the classroom where the gunman was for more than an hour, despite multiple 911 calls seeking help.
The U.S. Department of Justice on Sunday announced it is reviewing the response.
Ten days earlier, on May 14, an 18-year-old gunman, inspired by racist conspiracy theories, traveled halfway across New York with an AR-15, where he murdered 10 Black people in a Buffalo supermarket, an incident that was livestreamed on social media.
Those who gathered said the recent string of mass killings, coupled with police-involved deaths, represents America, and said changes must be made for the benefit of future generations.
T.J. Sangare, an activist with Saratoga Black Lives Matter, said students have been taught to normalize mass shootings and police-involved death, and said there’s still more work to be done two years after Floyd’s murder.
He added that people are too quick to move on from the tragedies, and rattled off a number of incidents that have taken place in his life, including the Sandy Hook and Parkland school shootings, the Charleston church shooting, and the police-involved deaths of Treyvon Martin, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland. He noted these were just a handful of incidents in recent years.
“Throughout my life, throughout my short time on this earth, I’ve been taught and I’ve learned and normalized those things over and over and over again,” he said. “Kids are growing up in this world where there are more mass shootings than there are days in a year.”
A total of 224 mass shootings in the U.S. so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that tracks shootings.
Elsewhere, Chandler Hickenbottom, a cofounder of Saratoga Black Lives Matter, criticized the police response in Uvalde, Texas, and said police do nothing to prevent violence, and called out U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, for embracing “replacement theory,” a false idea that inspired the Buffalo shooter that states people of color are going to replace white people. Stefanik has denied embracing the theory.
“They cause more harm than good,” Hickenbottom said of police.
She said Saratoga Black Lives Matter plans to continue its advocacy and is hoping to gain additional support in the future in order to create systemic changes.
“These past two weeks have shown us what America is like,” she said.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.