In a letter obtained by 518 Independent Albany Police Officer Union head Gregory McGee lambastes Mayor Kathy Sheehan and Police Chief Eric Hawkins for failing to quash the protest encampment in front of South Station. “You are knowingly jeopardizing the health and safety of each member of this department,” McGee writes claiming that Sheehan and Hawkins have failed to put in place proper “safety measures” and “training.”
Protesters started their occupation a day after a clash that appears to have been sparked by police aggression that resulted in protesters being peppers sprayed pushed and beaten by police. They’ve spent nearly two days camped outside the station as of this writing.
McGee claims that officers that work in South Station are demoralized by signs, posters and chalk drawings protesters have used to decorate the side of the station and nearby street.
He goes on to lament that his officers “had to watch” as protesters placed backpacks around the station and wonder “‘could one of these bags hold an improvised explosive device?” He also expresses fears that protesters or, “the occupying force,” as he refers to them, will “burn” the police out of the station.
McGee repeatedly worries that officers could be seriously harmed or kill and says he’s encouraged his members to sue the city if they are hurt.
We spent most of the afternoon and good part of the evening at the South End encampment where around 30 protesters huddled around a fire pit with portable chairs, water, alcoholic beverages, snacks, cleaning supplies and tents, and found the mood to mostly resemble that of a backyard barbeque.
Protesters say they haven’t actually heard from representatives of the APD but on April 18 department spokesman Steve Smith tweeted the following statement: “The Albany Police Department supports the right to peacefully protest but also has an obligation to the entire Albany community. Residents and visitors to our city must be able to safely access public streets, buildings and emergency services. “We remain committed to ensuring that participants in front of the South Station have a space to make their voices heard, but ask that they do so in a way that’s lawful and does not impact public safety or the needs of our community.”
Protesters say they hope police remain peaceful and let them stay–especially knowing that tensions are rising due to the expected verdict for former Minneapolis police officer Darek Chauvin who is accused of murdering George Floyd. “We’ve been out here peaceful since they attacked us,” says organizer Lexis Figuereo. “We’re showing them. We’re peaceful, we’ve been peaceful. We want to keep it that way.”
How long do they plan to stay? Until Mayor Kathy Sheehan fires the officer who is seen on video pushing a mega phone into a protesters face. “We want justice. They got violent and they need to be held accountable,” says Figuereo.