ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Black Lives Matter protest organizers return to Arch Street Friday — the same place where they say they suffered physical injury at the hands of Albany Police disbanding their six-day long encampment.
“I actually was going to bring my son out here to spend the night with me one night. Imagine if my son was inside one of those tents and beat in the head,” says one organizer Lexis Figuereo.
Protesters initially gathered following a social media video April 14 that appears to show an officer grabbing a protester’s megaphone, then shoving it back causing her to fall. These organizers say they were not given clear warning or time to leave their encampment before police with tactical shields moved in back on April 22.
“We would have moved. We would not have stopped protesting, as we were within our constitutional rights, but we would have moved if Kathy Sheehan and Chief Hawkins would have given us the time of day that we were asking for,” says another organizer Mikayla Foster.
“We were literally asking for a very civil conversation before you came out here and demonized us,” adds Kasey Charles. “Look up ‘the right to protest’ under constitutional law. It has nothing to do with proximity. It has nothing to do with, ‘well it’s more convenient for me if they were just a little bit down the street’. It has nothing to do with that.”
Figuereo, Foster, and Samira Sangare spoke at the Albany Police South Station claiming during the removal of their encampment April 22, they were beaten with batons, pushed to the ground, and arrested with officers knees on their backs and necks. Charles further says as a member of the trans community, he was improperly searched and deadnamed when police later referred to him as “Nikiya Charles.”
During Wednesday night’s Common Council Meeting, Police Chief Eric Hawkins addressed why he did not meet with protesters as they had asked him to.
“This was not a slight to anyone, but a matter of protocol to maximize the chances of successfully disbanding the encampment without injuries to officers or protesters,” Hawkins explained.
He says he despite previous engagements “with stakeholders on both sides” he says he was later limited from contacting demonstrators directly once the situation evolved. Hawkins also showed video of protesters barricading the streets 20 minutes before the police warning as evidence why police did not believe the demonstrators would leave willingly.
“It didn’t matter if we gave them 15 minutes or 15 days, they clearly had no intent to leave,” Hawkins addressed the council.
He further explained many officers went out without their badges or with name tags covered because of alleged threats against them.
“Many felt that they could minimize the risk to their families by concealing their badge numbers,” Hawkins said.
“He did not produce any evidence of those threats and was unclear what he was talking about,” responds Sangare.
A police department representative clarifies Friday there is “credible, documented evidence” of these threats, but would not confirm if there is an investigation underway or if reports had been filed.
“When I don’t know who is arresting me, who is safe? When badge numbers are covered up, who is safe? Because it’s not me,” Foster says.
The organizers say they still ask for resignations from officers who used physical force against demonstrators, transparency from the department, and say despite promises for police reform announced by Mayor Sheehan on Wednesday, a large portion of the public is not fully informed.
“If the community, starting with those most marginalized, are not the most involved in the discussion and the thought out process and logistical aspects of how these things are carried out and created, it’s not actually reform,” says Foster.
“Yes there’s a lot of anger, yes there’s a lot of bitterness. Yes, but we can talk, same way we’re talking to you,” says Figuereo.
They further add they want an apology from Chief Hawkins, and several times even called for his resignation. They say they believe the chief focused only on a perceived threat from the protesters and ignored the good they tried to do.
“We were feeding the community. We were helping the community. We deescalated three mental health crises out here,” says Charles.
Below is the full Friday press conference where BLM organizers aired their grievances against the police department and made their calls for change. There are noticeable cuts where NEWS10’s team needed to switch camera batteries and during pauses between speakers. Every effort has been made to share this conference in its entirety:
To watch the full Wednesday Albany Common Council meeting which includes Chief Eric Hawkins comments addressing the April 22 removal of protesters, watch the Facebook live video shared below:
Mayor Kathy Sheehan also responds Friday with a written statement:
I meet with Albany residents all the time about policing reform and other topics – it’s one of the best parts of my job. The residents of this city are my number one priority. If a resident wants to meet with me, they can email a request to email@example.com.
In the coming days, we will be issuing a Request for Proposals to secure an outreach coordinator to lead what we expect to be a robust and engaging conversation with Albany residents around our policing reform plan and the priorities of our residents in this important work.