Disappointed in Albany’s police-reform collaborative, activists plan community speakout 

A coalition of community activist groups deeply critical of Mayor Kathy Sheehan’s police reform collaborative is set to hold a community speakout at 5:30 on November 6 at the Ten Broeck Triangle in Arbor Hill. The group is highlighting the lack of community input and general transparency around the state-mandated reform taskforce, which meets weekly on Sheehan’s Facebook feed. 

Those interested in having their voices heard at the Oct. 29th speakout can fill out a survey detailing their experiences with local police departments. 

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and surging protests Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order mandating that localities have a community discussion around police reform and pass a plan based on those discussions or risk losing funding for their police departments. These groups face the deadline of April 1, 2021. 

We reported last month that Mayor Sheehan and some council members agreed to table already proposed police reforms until after the collaborative finishes its work. That story appears to have angered some council members, who are now pushing for a vote in the council independent of the collaborative. 

Sheehan launched the 30-member police-reform collaborative in August with little fanfare. The meetings, conducted over Zoom and broadcast on her Facebook feed, appear scripted and stilted, with little to no interaction between law-enforcement officials like Albany County District Attorney David Soares and APD Chief Eric Hawkins and members of community groups. 

Chilling dissent 

Luke Grandis, statewide coordinator for Voices of Community Activists and Leaders New York, says that the creation of the collaborative has tokenized its participants, prevented actual discussion around police reform and failed to make a place for discussion without the police present–something Grandis says is critical in getting honest input from the community. 

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“We’re coming up to the phase where they break into working groups, but they are including a representative of the APD in every single working group. Who will feel comfortable speaking up in front of the police who over police their neighborhoods or who they have a bad relationship with?” asks Grandis. 

Activists want community members from across the capital region to come and discuss their interactions with local police. They expect testimony from activists from cities across the Capital Region that are struggling to effect real change through their cities’ police-reform processes. 

Members of Albany’s reform collaborative have brought up concerns that police presence at every meeting could chill community interaction during meetings, but their concerns have been dismissed by members with more power. 

“How is it that we are telling these people they have to have a relationship with their abusers?” asks Grandis, who points out there is nothing in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order that requires police representatives to be included in every meeting. 

To remedy the matter, Grandis and his colleagues are inviting members of the reform collaborative to come listen to the speakout, but are asking police not to attend. “They can watch the stream from home on their computers like we all have to watch meetings of the collaborative,” he says. 

Critics and experts excluded

Grandis and a slew of local activists note that Sheehan’s taskforce lacks community activists who have been deeply involved in the police-reform movement, whether their activism has recently garnered attention, in the case of Lukee Forbes, or has meant decades of work on the issue, as with Dr. Alice Green of the Center for Law and Justice. 

The most outspoken members of the group have been the youngest: Aden Suchak and Jahair Roldan of the Youth Political Alliance. Both of them have raised concerns that debate has been prevented, transparency blocked and those with major interests in the meeting excluded.

We spoke to Suchak and Roldan about their concerns last month. “The first meeting that we had was about debate and dialogue. In a lot of ways, it was a how-to, on surface-level bureaucracy and how to dodge real conversation,” Roldan told us in an interview. “They know that if they were to reach out to community activists, leaders, organizers, that there would be an inevitable conversation starter in that they are there and that their existence is revolutionary.” 

Roldan also expressed her concerns about police presence in all of the meetings. “In what other situation would we expect victims to have a relationship with their abusers?” she asked.

Grandis says it feels purposeful that the only people committed to pushing for reform on the collaborative are the youngest and most politically inexperienced. 

“I feel for these two young people who have this burden on them to speak out, and they went for it, and they are told ‘It’s not time for that.’ I feel like they are going to tell them ‘It isn’t time for that’ until April 1st,” says Grandis, “so we need to do something to change that. 

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