ALBANY – A large group of community members supported by a smaller contingent of Wobblies, anarchists, socialists, and other local activists gathered yesterday at the corner of 9th and Rensselaer in Troy in response to the shooting of Dahmeek McDonald during a traffic stop at the location. McDonald was shot twice—in the head and arm–but at the time of writing is receiving medical treatment at Albany Medical Center Hospital and expected to make a full recovery.
While details are still emerging, the Troy Police Department has yet to confirm that Dahmeek was armed. The shooting further delegitimizes a department whose entire Firearms Interdiction and Narcotics Suppression unit was placed on leave and is under investigation concerning accusations they illegally entered an apartment without a warrant and then covered it up. This follows a history of corruption for the Troy PD and ongoing accusations of racism and bias toward people and communities of color.
The crowd that showed up was diverse in affinity, however it was predominated and led by those from the local neighborhood. As someone taking part in the action said, “The folks who turned up from the community were not Sean Spicer’s professional protestors, these were people from the neighborhood standing up and demanding answers in the way they knew how to.”
Dahmeek’s uncle, Messiah Cooper, was the most vocal of those demanding answers and started off the action, declaring, “There will be change or we will change the way they regularly do business.” One participant characterized the crowd’s energy as, “Angry, determined for answers, but controlled.”
After Cooper’s initial words the group proceeded to march to City Hall flagged by police cruisers in the front and rear. The overly heavy police presence carried over from the night before and continued to be a theme throughout the day. As described by someone on the ground, “I was surprised to see the riot shields come out that day, especially after the incredibly bad optics at the scene of the shooting where police with riot shields blocked off the street where Dahmeek was shot.”
Chants of, “No Justice, no peace, no racist police!” rang through the streets as the marchers descended on Troy’s City Hall. Once at City Hall police continued Troy PD’s attempts at intimidating community members continued. Police cars blocked off Traffic at River and Ling streets, and on the other side near river and Hutton. Officers were also positioned at the top of the hill behind the crowd that had gathered. In other words, protestors were completely surrounded. As one person noted, “It was a clear illustration of Troy PD’s aggressive methods on the community it is charged with protecting.” The community was not deterred as a couple of men unraveled a banner that read, “WE CAN’T BREATH. FUCK THE POLICE.”
Messiah again vocalized his anger at the incident and the conditions that many people of color in the community are subjugated to, “We are not going to lie down. We are not going to kneel down. We’re tired of being treated like animals. We are tired of our children being abused. And before we live on our knees we will die on our feet.” This was a refrain that Messiah repeated throughout the day and one that resonated with the crowd and many participants I spoke to.
Messiah continued to pressure politicians for accountability, “You hold our children accountable, but not the officers. They need to be held accountable.” This was coupled with chants for Mayor Madden to come out and face the community. To pacify the crowd, Messiah was soon ushered inside with a few others to meet with the Mayor.
Messiah eventually emerged restating to cheers, “Before we live on our knees we will die on our feet.” His tone soon softened and appeared more consolatory afterwards as he expressed the need for community participation in law enforcement and more participation of parents. These statements drew conflicted actions from the crowd. One person on the ground noted the crowds angst after the closing comments, “I think the crowd could understand where Messiah’s remarks were coming from, that he’s in a tough spot, but they pushed back on a lot of what he said, especially the idea that the community bears some of the blame, by not joining the police force in greater numbers. One thing that definitely resonated was Messiah’s message that we should ‘Live on our feet, not die on our knees.’ The people want justice, and they’re tired of their family members being killed without any consequences.”
Women of color in particular expressed their displeasure with the comments targeting parenting and noted the frequent surveillance of their parenting by the police and the state. “That’s bogus!” cried one woman. As another person described it, “It seemed like the blame had been shifted off of the police and onto the community itself. I could tell that he had been strategically redirected by the state when meeting with them behind closed doors. Now it sounded like he was working the mayor’s re-election campaign. They talked about reopening the pool. It all put a bad taste in my mouth, and other people from the community reacted negatively to these remarks.”
Overall the demonstration exemplifies some of the cleavages that exist in the community and its response to violence at the hands of the state. As one demonstrator noted, “What stuck out to me the most was the mix of respectability politics and outright justifiable anger. People want to feel safe in their neighborhoods, to have the police as allies rather than adversaries, and to be recognized as individual voices rather than lumped together as though their struggles were insignificant and unvaried. But some people also talked about needing to raise their children a certain way so as not to get in trouble, which oversimplifies the conditions we live in, of systemic, structural racism and violence.”
Others echoed these sentiment, “Some folks were calling for better policing, suggesting that if the police officers working in that area were actually from the community, then none of this would have happened. On the other hand there were some folks carrying a banner that said ‘I can’t breathe / fuck the police.’ Personally, I’d place myself with the latter. I want to live in a world without police, as we know them now. I think we’re capable of a more humane alternative, but this would be predicated on so many other changes.”
Though the community’s response was mixed at times, the urgency and turnout at the action on Wednesday demonstrates the community’s intolerance for the status quo of the carceral state. Even the most passive of participants are at their wits end. Messiah asked to give the city time to investigate and respond, but its clear that for many of the community’s residents the time and good faith they have already been afforded is coming to an end.