The Ithaca Voice is providing live updates from the scene of a massive protest at Ithaca’s City Hall early Wednesday evening.
The protesters are criticizing “abuse of power from authorities” and calling police racist. The rally — with more than 200 people — stems from an incident in which two minority boys had a weapon pulled on them by an Ithaca police sergeant.
There are links to background about the protest at the bottom of the story.
It passes: 8-1
Update 10:30 p.m. —
The IPD SWAT funding was approved in an 8-1 vote. Only Common Council member Cynthia Brock dissented.
The vast majority of the more than 200 protesters who appeared at City Hall Wednesday called on the Common Council to reject the SWAT proposal.
Right before the vote, Common Council member Seph Murtagh wanted to clear up what he thought of as some confusion about the grant.
“This is essentially disaster preparedness,” he said.
Brock’s criticism & a response
Update 10:25 p.m. —
Common Council member Cynthia Brock said it would be a mistake to follow the priorities of the federal government just because they were conferring free money.
“It continues to divide rather than bring our community together,” Brock said.
Brock said she hopes the city puts “our money where our mouth is” and devote “more opportunities in training and ability for our officers to engage and build trust.”
Josephine Martell, another Common Council member, responded it wasn’t free money because of the extent of effort that goes into obtaining the grant.
Finding a middle ground
Update 10:20 p.m. —
Said Common Council member Graham Kerslick: “I’ve heard concerns, nationally, that police forces are drifting away from the public … we could get these grants” but there could be more public-police interactions.
Kerslick said he supports the SWAT funding grant but hopes more is done to address the protesters’ concerns.
Common Council member Deb Mohlenhoff talked about the importance of some police equipment during the ice jam flooding and during the Simeon’s crash.
Could community policing grant be pursued instead?
Update 10:15 p.m. —
Common Council member Seph Murtagh put the conversation over the SWAT funding in the context of national uproar in Ferguson, Missouri.
Murtagh asked, “With all the other urgent priorities we have in the city … are we doing enough” to get funding for community policing?
He went on to ask, “Are we doing enough to try to find the grants that support things” beyond the SWAT equipment? .
Barber said that, yes, police have at least twice applied for community police grants.
Mayor Myrick added he’s driven to Washington, DC, for community police grants but was denied in part because Ithaca has a lower murder rate than many other cities.
Police, council members discuss SWAT funding
Update 10:10 p.m. —
Common Council member George McGonigal questioned whether the SWAT funding would lead to a shift in officers’ priorities, even if it didn’t cost the city.
“Could we be in danger of having so much specialized equipment and the training related to that … that it took the majority of the officers training time.”
Chief John Barber responded that officers are taught interpersonal skills in the police academy. Every day on the job, Barber said,
“Let’s face it: Police officers are social workers,” Barber said. “… Our officers are talking to people, they are resolving incidents and they are doing community policing.”
Barber said he sees community policing every day.
“I’m the leader of an excellent, excellent police department,” Barber said.
Barber said the incident with the teens is “overshadowing” the work of the police.
Barber said the heap of criticism made him think he needed to do more work explaining what IPD does.
“Perhaps I have to do a better job of getting the message out to the public” about what police are doing, Barber said.
“Another thing that’s evident is we need to have” better dialogue, Barber said. “Hopefully, it will be a two-way conversation.”
Ithaca police talk about importance of SWAT money
Update 10 p.m. —
Sgt. Young of IPD is now speaking about the importance of a homeland security grant for Ithaca police. Young runs the department’s SWAT team.
“Training, obviously, is always an expensive item, and it’s necessary,” Young said. “This provides funding for us to do it.”
Young said the federal funding would also provide “best practices” standards.
The federal funding would also give IPD personal protection equipment — “a suit if you will” — in the event of a biological, chemical or radiological incident, Young said.
“Something we use frequently? Absolutely not,” Young said.
Young also spoke about the importance of a robot that would allow police to use equipment, rather than an officer, to explore a dangerous situation.
“A number of uses, clearly,” Young said. Young referenced a bomb scare from the Commons a few years ago.
Additionally, Young spoke about a “heavy ram” and thermal imaging devices that would help in the dark.
Shot Ithaca police officer speaks
Update 9:15 p.m. —
Police Officer Anthony Augustine, who was shot while pursuing a suspect in Ithaca, responded to many of the protesters’ criticisms.
“I was offended by some of them — I think the bigger issue is not black and white, it’s right and wrong,” Augustine said.
“Me being a person that was shot by a person of color — my son didn’t take that very well, and it became an issue with black people and I addressed it and it hasn’t been an issue since … it’s really disheartening to hear people talk about black and white.”
“… I try to do some positive things for the community … I think it was well received by GIAC — I think that stuff should be a building bridge.”
“People only hear the negative things about cops. … It’s always the negative things.”
“…Being a person who was affected by a black person I never held it — it’s not the race, it’s the person; it’s the individual that did something that was tragic to me … people focus way too much on race.”
‘Like a thread on a sweater’
Update 8:47 p.m. —
Common Council member JR Clairborne says he thought the whole protest and anger over the incident could have been avoided.
“Instead of people becoming entrenched and taking things and running a whole different direction,” Clairborne said, “… we (could’ve) let the truth show itself.”
Clairborne in particular emphasized that race was not one of the parents’ concerns.
“The question of race came up as a question and not a primary concern” for the parents of the teens, Clairborne said.
Clairborne criticized how Ithaca police had to issue corrections to their narrative of the incident, causing one mistake to lead to another, “like a thread on a sweater.”
Deb Mohlenhoff, Graham Kerslick speak
Update 8:40 p.m. —
2 other Common Council members, Deb Mohlenhoff and Graham Kerslick, praised the Ithaca Police Department’s work but also thanked the council members for speaking.
We’ll provide a full update on their comments later.
Alderperson praises Myrick’s proposals, plans to vote against SWAT funding
Update 8:30 p.m. —
Alderperson Cynthia Brock spoke about her concern for her children’s safety.
She also praised Mayor Svante Myrick’s proposed police reforms.
“I think this will go along way” to building a community of collaboration.
“I would very much like to see officers out of their cars and … engaging with our residents.”
Brock said she has deep respect for the police and that she appreciates what they do.
But she worried military-grade police gear would cause officers to look “at our community as something to be controlled,” Brock said.
Brock said she thinks police work in Ithaca can be improved.
“I think residents will tell you they do not feel safe,” Brock said.
“We need to spend more time building community, with our community.”
Brock said she plans to vote against a proposed IPD SWAT grant from the federal government.
Myrick: ‘building a better police department is our challenge now’
Update 8:20 p.m. —
Mayor Myrick spoke at length after the large number of protesters. This is a rush transcript of what he said:
“Police are a necessary and vital function. We must have a robust police department.”
“Building a better police department is our challenge now.”
“The incident the night of August 10 has concerned me … every step of that incident you could see how it developed and why it developed the way it did; we had officers doing what we needed them to do.”
“What went wrong was that he was not in a police car … that obviously did not happen … if it had happened we could’ve averted much of this.”
“We have a responsibility, all of us … to look to make sure we can reduce the chances that something like this will happen again.”
Myrick spoke of a “frayed trust” here as evidence of possible improvement to police. He added, still, that police do a good job.
“Obviously, you have some great structures and policies and procedures in place … in our police department we have all of those things.”
“It’s been suggested that the reaction we saw tonight is an overreaction. It’s also been suggested that this is not about race. I can’t say … the sergeant pursued these boys because he was ordered to.”
“…It would be impossible for me to ignore that i am a young black man, less young by the minute …
“The fear is real. THe fear has a real detrimental impact on the quality of life …we have to make sure people feel safe, because of they don’t they can’t lead lives of purpose.”
“…As we move forward with beginning to implement the policing plan … many of these will work there way through committee and find their way through council.”
Cornell English prof speaks
Update 7:50 p.m. —
A Cornell English professor said a SWAT van recently came outside her house in Ithaca.
“I come from a military family,” said the professor, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon. “I served in the US Peace Corps.”
Van Clief-Stefanon said she was terrified by that incident and asked the Ithaca government, “Do not militarize the police.”
‘The police force has to address this issue’
Update 7:30 p.m.
Ken Glover, whose dismissal at Cornell touched off uproar a few years ago, also spoke at the meeting.
“We want to make sure that unarmed, African-American and other youth in the city … do not have to fear for their lives,” Glover said. “The police force has to address this issue.”
Glover called for young black men to meet with Police Chief John Barber.
“They want to sit down and talk about it … so we do not have the ‘Wild Wild West’ out on the street,” Glover said.
“No one is calling for violence. We’re calling for change.”
Plaintiff in IPD suit speaks
Update 7:15 p.m. —
Amy Crockford, who accused the police of abuse and discrimination in a lawsuit, spoke Wednesday about IPD.
Crockford claimed that police taunted her for her sexual orientation.
GIAC’s Travis Brooks
Update 7 p.m. —
GIAC’s Travis Brooks said the boys became “hunted” by police.
“At the end of this pursuit, to have someone who is still not identified by an officer and … order them to lay their head on the groud, it’s very serious,” Brooks said.
Brooks said the issue was not about race, but about safety. The focus on race is distracting from the issue on safety, Brooks said.
“This is a safety issue for people’s kids,” Brooks said.
Mayor apologizes for ‘breakdown’
Update 6:30 p.m. —
Mayor Svante Myrick has apologized for the “breakdown” of the investigation into the incident.
“We have no reason to believe your sons were involved in the arsons. We have no evidence linking them to it and they’re not considered persons of interest.”
“I want to again apologize for that miscommunication.”
Mothers speak at City Hall
Update 6:10 p.m. —
The mothers of the teens involved in the incident are speaking at City Hall. One read a statement that she also read at a forum at GIAC.
“Our sons are good students,” said one of the mothers.
“Our sons feared for their safety thinking they were being pursued by a dangerous individual.”
“Our children deserve much better.”
The other spoke off-script.
“My son is now forced to carry himself as an adult,” she said, “because being a kid got him with a gun pulled on him.”
34 people to speak: Protest moves to City Hall
Update 6:10 p.m.
Mayor Svante Myrick said 34 people are signed up for public comment.
The mothers of the children in the incident are set to speak.
Mother: ‘It’s not about race’
Update 5:40 p.m. —
The mother of one of the teens who had a weapon pulled on him said that the protest should not be so focused on race.
“I don’t care about race. I care about the fact that my son was afraid for his life,” she said. “If he blinked … or he sneezed or he said something to his friend, what would have happened?”
With school starting again, the mother said she was saddened that — she said — she was forced to continue to have to speak around the dinner table about the incident.
“We should be talking about our kids going back to school tomorrow,” she said. “Instead, we’re still talking about this because almost a month later we still have no answers.”
She called on the mayor to apologize to her and her son.
Protester cites events in Ferguson
Update 5:30 p.m. —
James Ricks, one of the protesters, is comparing what happened with the 2 teens to the events in Ferguson, Missouri.
“I’m sure Michael Brown is going to be really vilified,” Ricks said.
“We have to drop our differences. … Dividing us can eliminate the collective pressure we can put.”
Former Community Police Board member criticizes mayor
Update 5:10 p.m. —
Gino Bush, formerly of the Community Police Board, has criticized the mayor and the police.
“The mayor had me kicked off the police review board,” Bush said.
“I can take an (expletive) whooping … I speak up too much and they don’t like that. They don’t like people who speak up.”
“You got to stand up, regardless of what you’re confronting with … You may have to give your life up. This is no game.” The police are very racist in this town.”
Update 5 p.m. —
One student/speaker from Ithaca College has called for the end of police militarization.
“We march today because we believe all of our lives matter, no matter who we are, because we are all God’s children,” he said, to loud applause.
“We march today because being black is not a crime, being brown is not a crime. Walking while black is not a crime, and neither is cycling while black.”
GIAC director gives emotional plea, apology to boys
Update 4:50 p.m. —
Marcia Forte, director of GIAC, has delivered an emotional speech in which she said she is sorry for the boys who had the gun pulled on them.
“I’m sorry you were treated as criminals who needed to be hunted down,” she said in a speech addressed to the boys.
“I’m sorry you were not believed and that some wanted others to believe that you were liars.”
Ithaca, N.Y. — A huge crowd — with more than 200 people, according to organizers — marched from the South Side Community Center to Ithaca’s City Hall Wednesday afternoon in a protest against police violence.
As we publish this story, protester Ken Glover is leading a vocal call-and-response with a massive group gathered outside the city’s doorstep.
“Hands up! Don’t shoot!,” they chanted. “Hands up! Don’t shoot!”
Then they moved to shouting, “No justice! No peace!”
“We’re tired of no justice!” Glover said, as a drum banged away in the background.
The crowd — full of small boys and girls, parents, grandparents and everything in between — voice passion and anger.
They snaked up Green Street Wednesday afternoon around 4:30 p.m. as passing cars honked their approval.
“We’re not scared. We waited too long,” Glover said.
“To have to worry that someone will do … what? Will an officer pull his gun out?”
Here’s the text from a press release announcing the intention of the event:
The purpose of this event:
● To show community support for the families involved in this incident. We will keep showing up and working until the teens involved in this incident, their friends and their families can feel safe in their community.
● To insist on reforms to police policy and procedure that will ensure that all of the people who live in our community are safe and respected.
Some of the items on our list of reforms (see below) have recently been proposed by Mayor Myrick. We applaud his intention to make meaningful reform. The Mayor, Common Council, Police Chief and other decision-makers must work with the entire community throughout the process until reforms are implemented and consensus is reached that the police really do serve and protect all our youth.
Require that all officers receive ongoing training to develop their understanding and commitment to ending structural racism and bias within the police department.
Create a fair, fully independent body to investigate allegations of police misconduct. Impose real consequences for misconduct.
Include a significant number of community members from all stakeholder groups in the development and implementation of a comprehensive community-based policing model.
Hire police officers who live in the city.
Refuse grants and equipment from the Department of Homeland Security that militarize the police force.
Require police to wear video cameras and develop policies regarding when cameras may be turned off. Ensure that a person or group independent of the Ithaca Police Department has access to the video recordings.
The Mayor, the Police Chief and other officials must attend regular, open community meetings convened by community members to discuss ongoing community/police relations (including tensions between police officers and the Black community) and to assess the progress of proposed reforms.