Defying the orders of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Albany mayor Gerald Jennings, New York state troopers and Albany police refused to enforce a park curfew where an estimated 700 Occupy Albany protesters are camped, reports The Times Union.
In a tense battle of wills, state troopers and Albany police held off making arrests of dozens of protesters near the Capitol over the weekend even as Albany’s mayor, under pressure from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, had urged his police chief to enforce a city curfew.
The situation intensified late Friday evening when Jennings, who has cultivated a strong relationship with Cuomo, directed his department to arrest protesters who refused to leave the city-owned portion of a large park that’s across Washington Avenue from the Capitol and City Hall.
At the Capitol, in anticipation of possibly dozens of arrests, a State Police civil disturbance unit was quietly activated, according to officials briefed on the matter but not authorized to comment publicly. But as the curfew neared, the group of protesters estimated at several hundred moved across an invisible line in the park from state land onto city property.
“We were ready to make arrests if needed, but these people complied with our orders,” a State Police official said. However, he added that State Police supported the defiant posture of Albany police leaders to hold off making arrests for the low-level offense of trespassing, in part because of concern it could incite a riot or draw thousands of protesters in a backlash that could endanger police and the public.
“We don’t have those resources, and these people were not causing trouble,” the official said. “The bottom line is the police know policing, not the governor and not the mayor.”
A city police source said his department also was reluctant to damage what he considers to be good community relations that have taken years to rebuild. In addition, the crowd included elderly people and many others who brought their children with them.
“There was a lot of discussion about how it would look if we started pulling people away from their kids and arresting them … and then what do we do with the children?” one officer said.
Around midnight Friday, police leaders reported that the protesters were confined to city sidewalks and therefore they were not in violation of the city’s curfew governing park land. But in truth, the protesters had set up tents in the park and several dozen slept there.
Meanwhile, Albany County District Attorney David Soares on Sunday said that over the weekend he had conversations with Jennings, Albany Police Chief Steven Krokoff and State Police officials about his concerns regarding prosecution of “peaceful protesters.”
Soares said protests at the state Capitol are common, and historically anyone arrested for trespassing generally faces a low-level charge that’s later dismissed.
“Our official policy with peaceful protesters is that unless there is property damage or injuries to law enforcement, we don’t prosecute people protesting,” Soares said. “If law enforcement engaged in a pre-emptive strike and started arresting people I believe it would lead to calamitous results, and the people protesting so far are peaceful.”
Soares said another concern discussed by law enforcement officials was whether arrests could trigger an influx of young adults from Albany’s significant college community.
Joshua Vlasto, a spokesman for Cuomo, did not respond directly to questions about contact between Cuomo’s secretary, Larry Schwartz, and Jennings. “The state is working collaboratively with the city to enforce the curfew,” Vlasto said in a statement Friday evening.
Late Friday afternoon, after his contact with the governor’s office, Jennings took a hard-line stance and indicated he had instructed his police force to enforce the city’s curfew. He declined to talk about his conversations with Schwartz, saying: “It’s not important.”
Inside police circles, there was speculation by some officials that the pressure from the governor’s office to enforce the curfew was about political perception. They noted that some critics had questioned New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s handling of a similar protest in lower Manhattan that has become an organized fixture, with medical supplies, food and even donated office space supporting the protesters.
Jennings and Krokoff could not be reached for comment on Sunday afternoon. About 30 tents remained as the sun rose Sunday morning, and protesters who stayed the night remained commited to staying in the park as long as their message had not yet affected change.
“I think this has to go on indefinitely,” said Chris Scully, 23, an engineer from Troy, as he wrote “Our Way Of Life is Dying” on a sign.
Local media outlets captured a small fight on video that happened during the Saturday night protest, a scuffle that apparently involved a passer-by trying to take a sign away from someone. But police made no arrests. The protest, called Occupy Albany, is an offshoot of the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City that participants say aim to eradicate economic inequality. The protests have taken place across the country and spread overseas, including London.
The police strategy in Albany was evident early Friday. Krokoff issued a department-wide memo instructing officers “to be continually aware of the possibility that a small element may intentionally seek to draw us into conflict,” according to a copy obtained by the Times Union. “At this time I have no intention of assigning officers to monitor, watch, videotape or influence any behavior that is conducted by our citizens peacefully demonstrating in Academy Park. … In the event we are required to respond to a crime in progress or a reported crime, we will do so in the same manner that we do on a daily basis.”
Brad Friedman at BradBlog asks, “What part of the Constitutional First Amendment “right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” do so many of the other cops across the nation not yet understand?”
Naomi Wolf’s arrest in New York City last week, “for standing lawfully on the sidewalk in an evening gown,” resulted despite that she explained to the NYPD before she was cuffed that she was both a “NYC citizen and a reporter,” she wrote.
As her article’s sub-header notes, “Arresting a middle-aged writer in an evening gown for peaceable conduct is a far cry from when America was a free republic.”
In an earlier piece, Brad advised:
In her Guardian piece, Wolf explained that the NYPD had told her the permit for the event she was attending (an annual Huffington Postevent which Gov. Cuomo was also scheduled to attend, thus the protesters) when she came across the #OWS folks, forbade protesters from using the public sidewalks outside the building. Suspecting the claim from the police was bullshit, she says she requested to see a copy of that permit prior to her arrest, but was not allowed to.
Since posting the article above, Wolf contacted me to note that she has finally tracked down a copy of the type of permit HuffPo had last night and — surprise, surprise — the claim by cops appears to, in fact, be bullshit…
“It seems that the mysterious ominous unspecified ‘permit’ the cops referenced and used to lock us up was a RED CARPET EVENT permit that says nothing about restricting pedestrian access!!!,” she tells me.
Linking to the permit at her Facebook page, Wolf writes: “I do believe I have found the permit. See any reference to pedestrians being denied access to the sidewalks? http://www.nyc.gov/html/…remiere_permit_final.pdf”
Chicago, however, under jackboot Rahm Emmanuel, is among many cities including Dallas, Fort Worth, San Jose, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Minneapolis, D.C., L.A., San Francisco, Philadelphia, NYC, Denver and San Diego, Boston, Tampa and Orlando (also notorious for arresting those who feed the homeless), Portland, OR, Charlotte, Oakland, that have illegally and unconstitutionally arrested peaceful protest which is supposedly guaranteed under the 1st Amendment:
…the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.