ALBANY — A day after Mayor Kathy Sheehan compared Wednesday’s Black Lives Matter protest at the police department’s South Station to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, local activists convened a press conference to demand an apology from city officials.
The activists also say the city is honing in on a broken window to try to paint a false picture of chaos rather than addressing the deployment of pepper spray on mostly peaceful protesters.
“We are here today and tonight to demand that the police take the first step for accountability and justice,” said Legacy Casanova, a local Black Lives Matter leader who helped organize Wednesday’s protest and march. The activists Saturday demanded the city fire the police officer who pushed at Chandler Hickenbottom’s megaphone and snatched it, causing her to fall and chip her tooth.
Activists also said Sheehan’s comparison of the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 — where a mob of people entered government buildings illegally and where five people died, including a Capitol police officer — to the Black Lives Matter protest at the South Station was “dangerous” rhetoric.
“To compare us, our protest for civil rights, to the attempted coup and overthrow of the United States government, is dangerous. It’s dangerous for the people who protest here. It’s dangerous for the people when they go home. That is dangerous rhetoric from the mayor,” said local resident and activist Matt Marshall.
Alice Green, executive director for the Center for Law and Justice, said Sheehan’s comparison was “ludicrous, outrageous, irresponsible and harmful for police-community relations.”
Sheehan apologized for those remarks on Saturday, hours before another protest stepped off at 6 p.m. and marchers began heading along Lark Street.
“My comments referred to the physical actions of the use of violence to attempt to gain unlawful entry into a governmental building,” Sheehan said in a tweet. “In no way did I intend to compare the insurrection to the BLM movement or protests. I am sorry.”
Activists said they did not accept Sheehan’s apology, adding that the damage had already been done.
Star Mizzero said she felt traumatized by Wednesday’s confrontation, where she was pepper sprayed.
On Friday, police shared new video clips of the South Station confrontation from officers’ body camera footage. In one clip, Adam Walker can be seen wearing a camouflage uniform, shining a bright light on officers’ faces.
“The police shine their lights on us all the time with their high-powered flashlights,” Walker said. “When young Black children see me in camouflage, they get inspired; they get reminded of their heritage, of their powers. We are not militant. We don’t have weapons. We have cameras. We have lights.”
Police Chief Eric Hawkins said on Friday that the light can cause damage to officers and distracts them from their duties.
The clips released by the police department show at least two protesters banging the South Station door with their feet. One police officer inside the building says, “The guy with the black hoodie just broke the window.” That man with the black hoodie was a white protester. An officer in the video also says the window was broken with a bottle.
At the 6:16 p.m. Wednesday timemark shown by the station’s security footage, protesters can be seen crowding the entrance as one protester kicks the door. As this footage plays, Hawkins said Friday, “It’s important to note here, the officers are not engaging these individuals out front at this point. What you’re seeing here is totally without provocation from any officers.”
But footage from a protester obtained by the Times Union Saturday shows Walker partially inside the building, shining his light against the window with the officers on the other side. Then the officer wearing a white polo — who would later grab Hickenbottom’s megaphone — quickly steps outside as Walker walks backward. Walker then shines his light on the officer, who is still behind the door.
The officer then opens the door and pushes Walker’s light contraption downward, spurring more intense yelling from the crowd. The window had not been broken when this occurred, footage shows, but the white protester wearing a hoodie, who police would later say broke the window, can be seen in the same clip kicking and shoving against the door after the officer pushes the light contraption. This footage was not shown at the police department’s press conference, but Hawkins did show body-camera footage from the officer in this scene at several points throughout the presentation of footage, including when he grabbed the megaphone.
Lexis Figuereo, leader of Black Lives Matter Saratoga Springs, said he took issue with Hawkins’ characterization of Wednesday’s protest as a “riot.” Figuereo said the protest was peaceful, adding that no one was storming the building or harming people or causing more damage besides the one broken window.
“Of course we are screaming (at the protest). You’d be screaming, too. Why would you not be screaming when we continually watch Black people and people in marginalized communities be terrorized by police?” Figuereo said, wearing a shirt that read “We march, y’all mad. We sit down, y’all mad. We die, y’all silent.”
Figuereo, who is Black, was one of the protesters shown in clips released by police on Friday, and in it, Hawkins said at the press conference, he can be heard shouting racial slurs at the Black officers standing in front of the entrance.
Figuereo said on Saturday that he would not apologize to the Black officers because, he said, they were the ones who he saw push women near the rail.