Why did the APD pepper spray, shove and strike a small group of protesters at South Station on Monday evening? Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins and Mayor Kathy Sheehan told reporters during a press conference today that police took action because they were called names and were being distracted by a bright light and bullhorn carried by two separate protesters. A 14-year-old girl was sprayed in the melee.
Sheehan likened the incident to the January 6th Capitol Insurrection, and also indicated it brought up memories of protests in Albany last May in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. Those protests escalated, resulting in the APD deploying military vehicles and a considerable amount of tear gas–tear gas that flooded nearby homes and made it difficult for elderly residents to breathe.
In multiple videos from multiple angles, Lt. Devin Anderson can be seen grabbing and then pushing a bullhorn back into the face of Chandler Hickenbottom. Hickenbottom says the force of Anderson’s action pushed her teeth through her lips.
All of Us, the protest group who had a number of members at the station on Monday issued this statement in response to Sheehan’s conference.
“Today’s press conference held by Mayor Sheehan and Chief Hawkins reinforces how entrenched racism is in policing and to what lengths those in positions of power will go to justify and protect the systems and institutions that harm our BIPOC communities every day. Mayor Sheehan should be ashamed of herself attempting to invoke fear by comparing the BLM protest of approximately 50 individuals on Wednesday (with maybe a dozen near the station door) to the insurrection of white supremacists that happened in DC on January 6th. The mayor and the chief were intentional with their language. We must be steadfast in our commitment to transforming our cities.”
During the conference Hawkins commended his officers for showing so much “restraint” and implied something much worse could have happened if they were not so well trained in de-escalation. Hawkins said his officers are trained to do away with “distractions” like a bullhorn during escalating situations.
The mayor and chief showed video clips from building cameras and body-worn cameras to put forward their own narrative of events. Their video was highly edited and the body-camera footage was periodically blacked out by officers’’ hands during the montage.
Sheehan decried the media for believing reports and streams from protesters and not “getting the other side of the story.” Multiple media outlets were on the scene during the protests, and video detailing the tear gassing was shot and shared by a Times Union reporter. Sheehan said that protesters’ videos are from a certain perspective and edited.
— Eduardo Medina (@byEduardoMedina) April 14, 2021
The other side missing in media accounts, according to Sheehan and Hawkins, was that police were inconvenienced and frightened by the small group of protesters, and as Hawkins put it, there was violence against a building, by which he meant a window of the police station was broken by a protester.
Protesters have highlighted the fact that Anderson has been the subject of two civil rights lawsuits–one in 2012 and another in 2017, he was accused of abuse and excessive force.
Anderson was also the subject of a 2020 WAMC article on police reform in Albany. In the article, Anderson is quoted blaming the press for making police look bad. “I do not believe the people I work with make decisions based on race. It’s as easy as that. Yes, we are primarily in the inner city neighborhoods, which are primarily minority but that’s because that’s where we’re called for service. That’s where we’re needed. It’s not… It’s not a racial thing,” he says.
Anderson continues to lament the position of police officers, saying, “I do believe that law enforcement has become the main target for society’s problems right now.”
Sheehan was asked about her plan to veto any legislation that outright bans use of tear gas by the APD. That subject was a focus of a Common Council meeting that took place on Monday almost concurrently with the protests. We first reported that Sheehan told members she would veto any outright ban on Monday night.
Sheehan said she’d surveyed cities across the country and found no outright bans, and would not support one because she did not want to tie officers’ hands. She explained that might leave the APD in a position of not responding to a riot or only responding with physical violence.
Experts and activists assert that this is a false choice and police need to train in de-escalation and other techniques.
Protesters plan to rally in Albany this Sunday for a tear-gas ban and Anderson’s firing.