Ithaca, N.Y. — A few dozen people attended a rally in Ithaca Friday night where speakers took turns criticizing Ithaca’s police department after a sergeant pulled his weapon on two unarmed teenagers.

“There are no two ways about it … the impact of what you did is grave,” said Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, deputy director of GIAC and a county legislator, in reference to the incident.

“I’m calling out the mayor, because he heads the police department. This is not an, ‘Oh let’s not buy them guns; this is, ‘Let’s train them how to behave like human beings.’”

Mayor Svante Myrick has launched two separate investigations into what happened early Aug. 10. Police initially said the detention of the 15-year-olds occurred during a crime spree, but that later proved incorrect. The police chief has said race was not a factor in the encounter.

But anger from what happened has spilled out into Ithaca’s activist community, members of the south-side and other residents. At least 50 people came in and out of the park during the Congo Market Square event, held a stone’s throw from where the boys were detained.

Like many of the protesters, McBean-Clairborne said the emotional impact of what happened in Ithaca is comparable to what’s happened in Ferguson, Missouri, which has been rocked by unrest since an unarmed black man was killed by police.

A poster for the event
A poster for the event
(Jeff Stein/IthacaVoice)

“We may not be burning as they’re burning, physically,” she said, “but mentally and emotionally we are.”

Also speaking at the event was Mary-Anne Grady Flores, an Ithaca woman who was sentenced to a year in jail for her role in a Syracuse drones protest. (Grady-Flores has been released pending her appeal.) Grady-Flores spoke primarily about her experience in jail.

The event took a brief turn in an unexpected direction when well-known magician William Metro, who was there in part to perform, spoke critically of the Democratic party and called on African-Americans to support conservative Republicans.

“People are talking about the shooting of the black kid in Missouri,” Metro said, “but they don’t make a fuss when you hear another black person getting shot by another black person.”

The group listened without interruption. One woman spoke afterwards and said Metro and had spread what she called misinformation.

The vast majority of speakers at the event expressed a frustration with race relations in both America generally and in Ithaca specifically.

Rafael Aponte, for instance, brought up the shooting of Shawn Greenwood and racial slurs hurled on Cornell’s campus a few years ago.

“From my very short communal memory it sounds like these things have happened before,” said Aponte, who recently moved to Ithaca.

“We have to make sure these things don’t happen anymore.”

Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.