SARATOGA, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Saturday’s massive brawl on Caroline Street is just the latest in an uptick in Saratoga violence. Both business owners and neighbors say what they’ve seen this year is not something they want to get used to.
“Crazy. It’s not like the normal Saratoga that I know,” says Sarah Seeley, who’s lived in the area for three years and owns Seeled by Ink.
“For 10 years, I’ve never seen any violence happen at this kind of rate,” says fellow resident Jeremy Kitchen. “It’s unnerving. It doesn’t feel like this is a place where that should happen. This is the nicest place I’ve ever lived, the safest place for sure.”
When asked about what they think could be contributing to the rise in crime mirrored around the nation, Saratoga neighbors say they think it’s a combination of pandemic pressures.
“Everybody’s been so caged in their homes, they forgot how to act downtown, especially when they’re consuming alcohol,” says Kitchen.
“And I get that people want to have an awesome time down here, but you don’t have to resort to violence,” says Seeley.
Assistant Police Chief John Catone said in a Monday public meeting and press conference violent crime is at the highest it’s ever been in his 35 years on the force. He claims evidence suggests Saturday’s fighters were likely from outside the area and some were known gang members. He says the police department is working with outside agencies to saturate all downtown areas on busy weekend nights.
On the one hand, our Saratoga neighbors agree something needs to be done about outside forces stirring up trouble.
“Maybe [gang members] can get away with like what happened [here] this weekend up in Albany or Troy, because they’ve done so for years and then they come up here and people here aren’t really prepared for it,” Kitchen suggests.
On the other, they aren’t happy with Catone’s statements laying some blame with racial justice advocates and publicly condemning elements of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“There’s a narrative that emboldens the criminal while they demonize police, and as long as you continue to push that narrative and you do not hold the criminal accountable, these things will only continue to escalate,” Catone said Monday.
“Kinda makes me a little bit angry, because that’s not true,” says Seely in response Wednesday to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton. “From my aspect, I have a lot of friends that are actually in the BLM movement, and they are the nicest people that I’ve come to know.”
Catone was extremely passionate during Monday morning’s public meeting and press conference addressing the crime rate.
“We have become a city at times filled with hate and lies and misinformation. A city where the voices of a few have created a narrative that labels the men and women of this police department as racist killers who should be defunded,” he said.
“I’m pissed off,” he added after a long pause.
However, Lexis Figuereo, a local BLM activist and a Saratoga local for 27 years, is equally passionate that all of this summer’s demonstrations have been peaceful and focused on education.
“We had food at our events, arts and crafts for the kids, information for people to learn and educate themselves, so for them to say the exact opposite about us is just an attempt to create divisiveness. It’s disgusting and disheartening,” Figuereo says. “I don’t know what their gain is in saying that, other than to say they need more police and get themselves more power by painting us as the enemy.”
“Our event honoring Juneteenth, it was a celebration of the end of slavery and a community event. All city officials should have been there, plain and simple,” Figuereo further adds.
He says that makes Catone’s public position even more damaging.
“We need to stop the fear mongering. What you’re doing is putting us in more danger by telling people that we are coming to our own city to cause violence and pretty much destroy our city,” he continues.
Catone went so far Monday as to call on the “silent majority” to rise up and back his department.
“You’re either with us or you’re not, and if you’re not, then you’re part of the problem. And if you’re with us, then step up,” he said.
“I will stop your narrative,” he continued while referencing racial justice activists and those seeking public office who support them. “Because we are not a hateful community, we are not a racist police department.”
Saratoga’s locals say as long as this continues — nothing will get done.
“Both sides are right, and both sides are wrong in certain ways, and I think that people need to come together and figure out how to actually fix it instead of just yelling at each other,” Kitchen says.
Both Kitchen and Seeley say they were equally disturbed by Commissioner Robin Dalton’s comments at Monday’s meeting claiming bar and restaurant owners “bear some responsibility here” for the increase in violence. Dalton referenced breaking capacity limits, underage drinking, the overserving patrons — all offenses that could constitute losing liquor licenses.
“The majority of the business owners that I know and love dearly who work in this business, they always report everything,” Seely says.
“I’ve known a lot of the bartenders and a lot of the bouncers here for years. They do their jobs very well, and I give a lot of respect to them because they are in a dangerous situation too, you know? At all times. They can’t watch absolutely everything,” Kitchen further adds.
Dalton at the time in Monday’s meeting also suggested a need to bolster the police department by at least 20 officers, claiming there is an additional need to better apprehend drug sales.
“If we have enough police, such that we can crack down on people selling drugs here so people can’t come sell drugs here for double the price that they’re selling them in their own cities, they will not come here. It’s an easy cause and effect,” she said Monday.
NEWS10 reached out to the police department and Commissioner Dalton, but have not yet gotten an updated response.