SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Black residents in Saratoga Springs expressed deep frustration with police mistreatment during a virtual forum Wednesday night with city and police officials.
The residents, including some organizers of local Black Lives Matter protests, cited a litany of examples of feeling singled out and mistreated by Saratoga police officers.
“What is going on here with this police department?” Nedra Hickenbottom asked. “I cannot send my kids out without someone having to follow them or worrying about them since they were little, because I have to worry about my kids of color being harassed [by police].”
The comments came during a virtual community forum hosted by city Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, Police Chief Shane Crooks and Assistant Police Chief John Catone. The forum was billed as the start of a community conversation about race and policing. The forum, hosted through Zoom, drew over 100 participants, including some who were not able to join due to a 100-participant limit. (The forum was also live-streamed on the city’s website.)
Lexis Figuereo, who has organized local protests in recent weeks, said Dalton and other city officials were not facing the reality that he faces as a Black man in Saratoga Springs. He said he is frequently singled out and harassed by police officers and has for much of his life.
“You are not addressing the problem. You know what the problem is: The problem is Black people are being mistreated by your police,” he said. “It is systemic. Since the day I moved here, I’ve been treated like crap by the police. What are you going to do about racism in your police department?”
Natasha Myrie, who grew up in Saratoga Springs with a Black immigrant father and white mother, called out by name police officers she said forced her father to sign off on documents consenting to search his home even through the officers knew he couldn’t read. She also said ignorance about the experience of Black residents pervades Saratoga Springs and that she has experienced mistreatment throughout her life in the city.
“What do you guys plan to do about all of this ignorant and racist stuff going on in our community that seems to think racism, systemic racism, is not a problem?” Myrie asked. “The ignorance here is ridiculous.”
Another speaker suggested the city Police Department’s reputation is a point of discussion among Black people moving to the city. Skidmore College students Adia Cullors said that a lot of Black Skidmore students feel that the city’s police are “openly hostile to us.” She said city police have told her to leave downtown areas.
“I’ve been targeted, I’ve been intimidated, I’ve been harassed,” Cullors said. “When I first came to Saratoga, one of the first things I was warned about was your department.”
Cullors pointedly asked Dalton whether she though the Police Department had a problem with “systemic racism” or whether it was a problem with a few individual officer. Dalton did not answer.
Some of the participants in the forum also criticized Dalton for not responding to questions with direct answers. Dalton refused to answer questions about Darryl Mount Jr., a Black man who died after fleeing police on foot, citing ongoing litigation.
But Dalton said she was looking to start a community conversation and was there to listen. The city police have recently released department policies dealing with use of force and plan to soon release all of the policies. She said she planned to hold meetings and hoped to one day hold meetings in person.
“I understand I have privilege I enjoy as a white woman and am learning more and more about that each day,” she said at the outset of the meeting. “I need to understand what the concerns are. I’m here to listen to the concerns.”