SARATOGA, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Saratoga Black Lives Matter Leader Lexis Figuereo says Wednesday night paints a picture of the way he claims law enforcement tries to control the image of Saratoga Springs.
“They’re trying to scare us so we don’t protest anymore for the rest of track season,” Figuereo says to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton. “That was a prime example of what we are fighting as far as over policing and as far as a whole difference when it comes to Black Lives Matter protesters or other people who are out here for different things.”
The planned “Take Back the Narrative” rally is the latest outcry against Assistant Police Chief John Catone’s public comments on June 28 where he tied social justice activists to a rise in Saratoga crime.
“We thought that was information the community should know and that people who are tourists should know things that are going on since they’ve been gone,” Figuereo explains.
Protesters started Wednesday evening in Congress Park before spilling out to march the streets, where they were met with an overwhelming police force. Livestreamed video from the scene shows a large majority of the officers in full riot gear and shields.
A police press release Thursday says initially officers responded to ask protesters to move out of the roadways.
“We were walking away from them. The moment it came up to the five minute expiration they gave us, you can see in the video we are walking towards Congress Park. They start walking slowly, but then speed up and run towards protesters,” Figuereo says.
“Some people at the back of the group couldn’t hear what they had said, but then when we did start complying and we started moving, right then and there is when they started moving down on us and they started arresting people,” adds fellow activist Samira Sangare.
Track season tourists passing NEWS10 on the street Friday say they were frightened by the overwhelming police force. One woman says she thought officers were responding to a bomb threat, rather than a peaceful protest.
“They didn’t even look like cops! They looked like they were ready for combat war,” says Diane Rollo who comes to Saratoga every year for track season. “I thought we’re under attack or something, and then I thought well maybe they’re practicing, you know because it’s night, and then we saw the streets blocked. But then we saw Caroline Street with all the drunks and I’m like, well this doesn’t make any sense.”
“I was looking for a sniper or something. I was genuinely scared, because they were everywhere and I couldn’t even see the protesters, so we had no idea what was happening,” chimes in fellow tourist Paula Goldberg. “When I realized what was going on, I was just so disgusted. For police to act like that in Saratoga, I don’t even have words.”
Video from the scene also shows officers lined across the street with shields moving Black Lives Matter demonstrators away from businesses around Broadway and back towards Congress Park.
“They’re herding us like animals, which just watching them in their riot gear with their bully clubs is really scary. It reminds you of the 60s,” says Sangare.
“People think just because they don’t end up hitting us with those batons, it’s not anything, but just coming at us with those batons is again the point of doing that is to inject fear and instill fear in us to make us not exercise our rights to free speech and to assemble,” says Figuereo.
The evening ended with five arrests for disorderly conduct, according to the release. One man was also charged with obstructing governmental administration. The Saratoga Springs Police Department press release does not indicate any violence on the part of the protesters to illicit a necessary response.
Several hours before the rally and police response and more than two weeks after his initial public comments, Assistant Chief Catone issued a press release where he admits he “allowed anger and frustration to interfere with [the] intended message.” There was no notification for the statement through the Saratoga Springs Police Department host site platform. A link was posted to Twitter, shortly after which, the statement could not be found and read only as “message expired.”
“Tried to soften it a little bit to make it seem that it was an apology. It wasn’t an apology at all. He could’ve said, oh sorry. He could’ve said, I messed up,” Figuereo says.
“And just look at how they came out against us after that, it just shows you they clearly just don’t like what we’re doing. They don’t like what we’re saying and they just want to stop us instead of listen to what we have to say,” says Sangare.
NEWS10 repeatedly reached out to Assistant Chief Catone and Mayor Meg Kelly with no response. Meanwhile, these Saratoga BLM leaders say they will continue their efforts, particularly throughout the track season to revisit local issues that have yet to be resolved, such as the death of Darryl Mount. As NEWS10 reported, Mount died after an extended coma as a result of a 2013 chase with police into a construction zone. Officers allege Mount fell and fatally injured himself, which Mount’s family and community activists still dispute.
“A lot of people, especially the tourists, don’t even know who Darryl Mount is or the fact that after that, there was a call for a citizen review board. That request has never been answered, so unfortunately for them [the city], we are not scared of fighting for our rights no matter what we have to do, and even when we are scared, we will continue to have the determination to continue to push forward,” Figuereo concludes.