The general consensus seems to be that George Floyd’s death led to protest, which forced the system to be kinder to Black people, and thus progress was achieved. Many simply assumed that with the new presidency, and promises of reform from law enforcement, the fighting was over. If Derek Chauvin was convicted, then surely we’ve reached a new age of racial equality, and thus no call for rioting.
However, this past month has challenged that belief. From a Black Army Officer being pepper sprayed by police to the video of police shooting Daunte Wright, America’s notion of progress is being tested yet again. A text book example of this is the clash at Albany Police South Station last month. On one side, you have the police and on the other you have the Left-wing activists fighting against the system. For almost a month, these activists have been rallying in front of the APD Station. Their immediate demands are for more police transparency, a certain officer to be fired, and the ban of chemical agents like tear gas. However, their ultimate goal is the abolition of Law enforcement. This article seeks to explain why.
April 11th: Daunte Wright is shot by Minneapolis Police. The bodycam footage sparks protest across the nation.
April 14th: BLM activists protest police brutality on the steps of the Albany PD South Station on Arch St.
There were about 50 BLM protesters on Arch St in front of the station. As has become common, they shouted chants about justice and equality. The organizers were within a few feet of the entrance and Lt. Devin Anderson, along with five other officers, came out to address the situation but then went back inside. Activists then crowded the closed entrance, and one of the activists shined an LED light through the door’s glass. Anderson reached and snatched the light, which enraged another protester who then started kicking the door. At some point the door’s glass was cracked, and that’s when Albany PD emerged, in riot gear, and began Bear spraying the crowd.
Albany mayor Kathy Sheehan sided with the police’s use of force. Chief Eric Hawkins presented the press with video that was a collection of multiple angles from security cams and some body cam footage. The video fails to show the moment that Anderson snatched the activist’s light, which is odd considering that Hawkins stressed repeatedly that there was absolutely no provocation from the police leading up to the cracked glass. Several media outlets who acquired unedited civilian footage, called out the Hawkins and Sheehan leaving out evidence.
Sheehan apologized for a tweet where she compared BLM to the Insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol building in DC, but she never apologized for the edited video presented to the press despite being called out by two prominent Albany newspapers.
April 17th: BLM sets up camp to occupy Arch St, trying to draw attention to the incident of the 14th. They set up tents and fireplaces for warmth, and were assured by the police chief that they would not be removed as long as they were peaceful. For 6 days, they occupied the street. Additionally, they held charity drives where people donated supplies for the homeless, estimated to be $1,200 in value.
April 20th: Derek Chauvin is found guilty for the murder of George Floyd.
April 22nd: Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan and Police Chief order the police to forcibly remove the protesters from Arch St. With very little warning, the police ordered that all of the protesters to vacate the area within 15 minutes (allegedly, they only waited 9 minutes before clearing people out). The police began smashing tents with nightsticks and forcing protesters to the ground. Forty officers in riot gear formed a line and forcibly removed 15 remaining protesters, arresting 10 of them. Some of the officers were seen wearing tape on their badge numbers. Finally, Albany police assembled all of the protesters’ equipment and destroyed it along with the $1,200 worth of supplies that they had raised for the homeless. The charges covered Disorderly Conduct, Obstruction of Governmental Administration, Unlawful Assembly, Riot, Assault in the Second Degree and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree.
Two days after the forced removal, I arrived to Arch Street to find the activists still there and still protesting. The entire street was sealed off, but the activists were still returning every evening to protests against police brutality.
The Activists were gathering across the street from the station on the corner of Arch and Trinity. You’d never guess that this area was so close to the beauty and majesty of the Capitol Building. The roads are in terrible shape and society’s less fortunate sleep on the street. Mentally ill individuals pushing carts and collecting cans intermingled among the black clad BLM activists. Over the barricade on the other side of the street, Albany PD massed, seemingly ready to shut down any potential riot. This scene was the remnants of a battle.
The first man I talked to was a true veteran of the conflict. He was at the January 6th altercation in Albany between Proud Boys and BLM. He was also bear sprayed and detained by police on Arch Street. He showed me the scrapes along the side of his body that he got from being forced to the ground. Nothing about him seemed intense, though. In fact, he came off more as a gentle giant. Dreaded hair, tall, heavy, Black, with a soft tone and easy-going demeanor. He seemed somewhat untrusting of the press at first, but was nonetheless helpful in explaining all that had happened. Most of what he told me seemed too extreme, two one-sided, but sure enough much of it checked out.
Later, the air began to fill with the scent of weed as many started lighting up. The people who began to join him were not much different than himself. Most were in their late twenties. Some Black and some White. I slowly recognized one woman from the news, who started a Free Food program for poor people. A number of these people spend most of their time, if not all, on the street helping the homeless. Community Advocate is a fairly accurate description for them.
From what I could gather, these people are not here for the rush or fun. For them, this is their community, their streets, and they see the police as nothing more than a force to police Black people so as to keep the suburbs safe. A common chant among them is, “Who keeps us safe? We keep us safe”.
Adding to their sense of isolation was the Mission behind them. The volunteers of the Capital City Rescue Mission on that very corner began running DO NOT CROSS tape across their back doors, and kept a constant watch of the Left-wing activists. While both parties seemed to share the same goal of housing and feeding the desperate, they apparently disagree on the manner in which to do it. Several activists told me their problem with the mission is that they make you pray every day in order to get help, and one man told me he believes that they wouldn’t take him because he’s a Muslim.
More people showed up and started cooking burgers. They played their music, their typical anthems of “Fight the Power” were blasted and the occasional person would chant via Bullhorn, “No Justice, No Peace. F**k these racist ass police!”.
Paranoid or aware?
Except for the occasional bits of green camo, all were completely dressed in black and, despite the fact that they had masks on, asked that I refrain from taking pictures that could reveal their identities. I thought this was paranoid until I learned that the Police were using photos in the media to identify protesters.
Everyone there was aware that the last US president empowered federal officers in Portland last year to drive around masked without identification in unmarked vans to hunt down certain protesters and detain them for questions and/or arrest them. One man told me that CERT (correctional emergency response team) was operating the same way in Albany. This claim has not been confirmed.
I was informed that one of the protesters was walking away to his car on the night of the 22nd and was grabbed by police and arrested, brought to the basement of the APD station, turned to the wall, and had 12 officers surrounding him.
Throughout 2020, they saw police shoot rubber bullets directly into crowds, even though rubber bullets are supposed to be ricocheted.
Last month in Minneapolis during the riots, State Police seized journalists, forced them to the ground, removed the journalist’s covid masks and photographed their faces.
So, when they say, “We’re living in a police state” they’re not trying to be hyperbolic. They really mean it. They truly believe it, and in their world there may be some truth to that. Considering the cost of a good attorney vs the boundless resources of the DA’s office, these activists feel they have virtually no reasonable means of fighting charges.
Reform the Police or Abolish Them?
The above question can be better expressed as, “Is the system worth saving or not?”. The term “system” alludes to the judicial, political, corporate, and penial systems. Essentially, our system is how our country is structured and managed.
For Left wing activists to believe that reform works, they have to have a viable means of holding police accountable. But the instruments of prosecution are the same instruments that empower police in the first place. More specifically in Albany, APD lieutenant Anderson was sued for sexual assault as a patrol officer, and yet ended up being promoted. The activists know this and this has not exactly helped them to believe that the system can be saved.
Then there’s the idea of just police working with the community. Many cities have adopted police reform committees. An activist had something to say about that as well.
Mikayla Foster is a Black organizer of a group called Free The People Upstate NY. After giving a passionate speech about her determination to keep fighting after her arrest on the 22nd, she spoke with me personally.
She insisted that she was listening to the orders that were given to her, fully complying when officers knocked her live streaming phone out of her hand, threw her down, and put knees on her back. Additionally, she was charged in Schenectady for putting chalk on a police station at a protest. She’s a member of the Schenectady government Police Reform Task Force.
“The police review Task Forces that Cuomo mandated across the state of NY, I was in the Schenectady one . I have seen and recorded the Albany one. There is no community involvement. 98% of the community doesn’t even know that these things have happened or even that they were allowed to be in them, and they weren’t. They [police] made us jump through so many hoops to even get in these task forces, and then told us that it didn’t matter if we came to consensus, it didn’t matter what we wanted, they got to decide the agenda (what we would discuss), they get to decide the policy and that we have no power. So, there was no point and it was not productive. This is the issue: it’s the culture of policing as a whole and it’s our officials, it’s our government that’s doing this. Normally, I’d be more articulate but I’m kinda traumatized from sleeping in jail for chalk. This is a war on organizers, and we have targets on our backs because the same police officers who do this to us also know where we live. I’ve been having my mail cut open outside my house since the beginning of the 2020 protests.”
There are rules, and there are ways around rules.
One of the best examples for why these people have lost faith in in moderate reform has to do with Schenectady PD. After Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck, the public demanded the end to the Knee-to-the-Neck tactic. Schenectady PD banned it in June of last year. However, in March 2021, they instated a policy allowing an officer to place his knee on a suspect’s head. Everyone on the city council voted for this except one woman who happens to be the only Black member of the council. Schenectady PD says they will only use it if Use-of-Deadly-Force is authorized and if the suspect is larger than the officer. But determining when Deadly-Force is justified is up the officer, as they simply have to feel they’re life is threatened. Moreover, there’s the risk that a full-grown man could too easily end up kneeling on the suspects neck just because it’s so close.
This is not to say that the tactic is inherently bad, but you can see how protesters would feel as if any reform they get will simply be bypassed by something else. It’s widely understood that when people see that they cannot change the system, then they will abandon the system.
An Unnamed Black protester said this to me:
“We are tired of being complacent. We are tired of every single time we get killed, we have to stay calm, and we have to “adjust to them”. Every single time this f***n happens, yo. Every single time, we have to stay complacent. F**k this S**t!” he went on to shout some more expletives. “Cuz I’m tired of my f**n people getting killed. I’m tired of it, yo. I don’t care! I’m tired of this fascist f**king racism…s**t...oppression that they want us to be on. They want us to be oppressed. They want us to be suppressed! Oppressed and suppressed. They want to turn our democracy into fascism, and then when we fight back, it’s “Oh, how dare they fight back. What the F**k is wrong with [them]? Those agitators”.
Arch street is a microcosm of what’s been happening with the Left ever since the George Floyd riots. It breaks down to two camps: believers in the system who want reform, and unbelievers who want revolution.
- A Black man is killed by police.
- People protests for reform.
- Reform is delivered, then rescinded or simply….mitigated.
- Another Black man dies, moderates become radicals, and the cycle repeats.
So, if there has been any progress, these activists have yet to see it. Every activist I talked to said that at first they just wanted reforms, but that there was absolutely no progress made, at least in Albany, and now they want the abolition of police. I asked how they keep going if there was no actual change. They said that they’re playing the long game, they know that what they have to do is create a system free of police, and that this is a cultural war. In that, they believe they made great progress last year in seeing more people realize just how flawed the system is.