Activists demand police accountability in Schenectady as it remains elusive in Louisville 

Ten activists dressed mostly in black sit silently in a fourth-floor courtroom in Schenectady, waiting for Supreme Court Justice Mark Powers to enter. Officers of the court stand tall over the activists, their hands tucked into the sides of their vests like old West gunslingers.

Downstairs men dressed in full riot gear, holding batons, wait, watching the rest of the protesters brought there by Schenectady-based activist group All of Us as they chant and sing. “1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,12, FUCK 12!” 

They’re here to demand the release of the personnel records of Officer Brian Pommer, who was filmed with his knee on the neck of Yugeshwar Gaindarpersaud during what activists say was an unfounded and unnecessary arrest. The video came just after Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford had earned some public good will by kneeling with protesters in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. 

The Schenectady PBA sued the city earlier this month, trying to prevent the release of the records in what appears to be an effort by police unions across the state to temper the impact of the repeal of the state’s 50-a law, which allowed police agencies to refuse to disclose the personnel records of their officers.

The grief and tension hang thick in the air today, perhaps due to the fact that the decision of a grand jury in Kentucky is expected to announce the fate of officers involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor. Officerrs invaded Taylor’s apartment and shot her to death while she was sleeping. 

Perhaps it’s due to the fact that right-wing protesters sent out a call on social media the night prior for “Minutemen” to come “Back the Blue,” stating falsely that activists want the public release of the home addresses of Schenectady police officers in relation to the Governor’s “bail reform.” 

The group of Back the Blue protesters numbering about eight scream at All of Us activists but are drowned out by chanting and singing. They roll up their Thin Blue Line Flag and huddle for a prayer circle, pack up and leave hours before the hearing begins. The crowd of All of Us supporters continues to grow. 

Back the Blue protesters hold a prayer circle.

Suddenly the word “endangerment” is on the lips of everyone in the crowd. First it’s whispered and then uttered in disbelief, then shouted. The news out of Louisville has arrived and it’s not good. 

Jamaica Miles of All of Us takes to the wall in front of the court house, “‘They killed a woman sleeping in her bed and arrested the man who was trying to protect her. That ain’t endangerment. If you don’t think that has to do with why we’re here,’ you got it wrong.

As a famous person once said, ‘Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.’ Right now we have been told that police officers are allowed to murder residents without any accountability. What’s going to happen in the court behind us?

Will the judge here in Schenectady hold justice as their priority, knowing that in another state there was no justice? None! Can Schenectady do better than that? Can this judge sitting at that bench do better than that?

Can they uphold what New York called for with the repeal of 50-a? Because here in Schenectady we demand accountability! We demand justice! We demand accountability! We demand transparency! We demand liberation! We demand humanity, and that is something policing does not understand.” 

Back in the courtroom the sound of an activist cracking their knuckles breaks the silence. People shift in their seats. Minutes pass in complete silence and then Powers enters. He’s brief.

Powers explains that after the repeal of 50-a officers’ disciplinary records have become subject to public review. However, the Schenectady Police Benevolent Association is trying to block the release of records of allegations that were either unsubstantiated, unfounded or didn’t lead to discipline. They also seek to prevent the release of any recommendations that led to counseling. 

Powers tells the attorneys for the city and the PBA he is giving the PBA a week to react to a brief filed by the city and will review the filings on Oct. 13. 

With that a guard tells the activists in the gallery that they are excused. They make their way down the marble steps, past the men in riot gear, and past the metal detectors with one word on their mind. 

That word bursts forth with fury as soon as they are back on the sidewalk. “REDACTED!” Reporters huddle with the attorney for the city but the conversation is drowned out by activists shouting through their megaphones. As the activists descend on the press gaggle, the lawyer for the PBA slips away, unbothered. 

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