Saratoga Springs Black Lives Matter activists and their supporters continued to lambast city officials and police at Tuesday night’s city council meeting, while officials discussed the merits of establishing a civilian review board empowered to hear complaints over police actions.
Activists and community members who support their cause called on city leaders to drop charges against a litany of protesters facing charges for disorderly conduct and unlawful imprisonment connected to a July 14 protest that blocked traffic on Broadway.
Samira Sangare, a leading organizer in recent protests, said the organization would not participate in proposed mediation with city officials until all protest-related charges were dropped.
“There will be no mediation until the charges are dropped,” Sangare said, highlighting how she was handcuffed and detained at the city police station for hours earlier this month.
Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, who in recent months has sought to find a professional mediator that could help facilitate discussions between city officials and local activists, acknowledged the activists’ new position at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I do think I heard what it’s going to take for mediation to move forward,” Madigan said.
Sangare’s statement followed a long line of supporters who urged city officials to repair community trust.
Rev. Joe Cleveland, of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Saratoga Springs, at the City Council meeting, said the arrests of protesters have made Saratoga Springs look like a city from “Alabama in the 50s and 60s,” and called for the charges against activists to be dropped.
“The charges against BLM activists in the city need to be dropped, and the city needs to end its practice of intimidation and harassment,” he said.
He urged city officials to consider the stories that Black people have told about their experiences with bias and outright racism within the city. And he called on city leaders to strive to create a city that supports all people.
“Black people in this town are telling you about their experiences. Have you heard them? Do you believe them?” Cleveland said. “How can Saratoga Springs be a place where Black people, people of color, working class people can thrive?”
Tracy Krosky, the mother of Samira Sangare and T.J. Sangare, who both face charges from the July protest, recounted watching her son appear in court Tuesday morning in shackles and noted that she was proud of the activism of her children.
“Increasingly in Saratoga we are seeing there is no space to question police,” she said. “I’m proud that my husband and I raised children so committed to liberation.”
She called on city leaders to envision a better future and work to build it.
“I hope you all stop and think about how you want to make this community better,” she told the City Council members. “Because right now I’m worried you are not able to imagine a better city community.”
Nedra Hickenbottom, the mother of organizers Lexis Figuereo and Chandler Hickenbottom, also addressed the City Council and denounced the actions of police toward her kids. She said police didn’t answers questions about why they were arresting her son earlier this month, which she said further escalated a tense situation. She said police act like they want to create more conflict.
“If you would stop and think and give some answers, they wouldn’t blow up,” Hickenbottom said. “But this is what you want, because you want it to look like something is wrong with us. You guys need to think about what you are doing, because you are only making things worse.”
One speaker who identified herself as a student at Saratoga Springs High School accused the police of selective, and biased, enforcement at the protest, noting that, while the vast majority of protesters were white, many of the arrests have been of Black activists.
“I was at the July 14 protest, and I have to wonder why I wasn’t arrested when so many of the Black activists were,” she said.
Activists and their supporters were also frustrated over the limited number of people allowed to attend the City Council meeting and efforts to bar supporters from attending the court hearings of protesters earlier in the day.
Saratoga resident Kristin Dart, who participated in the city’s police reform task force, said that city leaders have failed to protect the public’s right to access its government institutions.
“Twice today we have limited public access to public proceedings that are designed to be open to the public,” Dart said. “We didn’t choose to do this work, this work chose us because you all are abdicating your power.”
In an interview Wednesday, Saratoga Police Lt. Bob Jillson, a department spokesperson, defended the police department’s handling of the July 14 protest, noting that officers must balance the rights of activists and other people in the community. He also noted that during numerous protests in the past 18 months there have been no arrests.
“I continuously say we look to balance the rights of everyone else and the constitutional rights every citizen has,” Jillson said.
After the public comments segment of the Tuesday night meeting concluded, attorney Jason Golub, a Saratoga Springs resident who volunteered to help implement police reform proposals, offered what he said would be his last presentation on research into the civilian review boards in other communities.
Golub said he thought there was sufficient support for establishing a civilian review board in Saratoga that could process community complaints about the Police Department. But, he said, city leaders and police would need to be engaged from the beginning for a review board to be effective.
“I think there is plenty of evidence a civilian review board will add value to our community,” he told the City Council. “I think it protects civilians, I think it protects police.”
Golub, who has made multiple presentations to the City Council and studied numerous examples of other civilian review boards, said he thinks that it would benefit the community and asked the City Council to make a decision soon about whether to move forward with one.
“What I don’t want to do is keep talking about it,” Golub said. “I want us to make some decisions, I want us to make them together in the best interests of the community.”
The City Council did not decide whether to back a civilian review board yet.
“I am a supporter,” Madigan said, thanking Golub for the information she said could be helpful to the “future council,” a reference to November elections that will change much of the council’s makeup.
“If done well, I think a [civilian review board] can work well for both our city and police,” Madigan said.
Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton suggested she was ready to move forward before new council members would take their seats.
“We know everything we need to know. I think we need to take the next step and agree we are going to do this,” Dalton said. “This can be a positive tool for the city.”
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