#BlackLivesMatter Opens Albany Chapter

Jan 28, 2016

Calling on all people to join together to fight racism in upstate New York, the Black Lives Matter movement has arrived Albany. "Change" has come to the Capital.

The Black Lives Matter movement is in New York's capital. They've established a permanent base in Albany and they're out to make a mark on local governance.

They debuted with a splash Monday night in Albany's city hall rotunda: keeping their promise that change is in the wind, joining with members of Dontay Ivy’s Family, faith leaders and community activists in an orchestrated hijacking of Mayor Kathy Sheehan's "State of the City" address.

The national movement began in 2013, adopting the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media, after Florida man George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

The ranks swelled as other cases of African American-police encounters made headlines across America: deaths that include Eric GarnerTamir Rice and Freddie Gray.

The death of Arbor Hill resident Ivy, an unarmed man with a heart condition who died after being tased by police last April, seeded the Albany branch. Alice Green, Executive Director of the Center For Law and Justice in Albany, sees the installation of a local BLM chapter as a means for the community to channel what she calls "an urgency" that until now has "fallen on deaf ears."    "Along comes some new people, some younger people, because of social media and the public media, are now seeing some of the problems across the nation in terms how the criminal justice system relates to blacks, and they've been able to use this new technology to organize themselves and they've become much more active, and I think what they're trying to do is communicate that urgency and make people feel uncomfortable. And I think in order for other people to 'get it,' the thinking is that they have to feel uncomfortable. I think that's important to understand"

Angelica Clarke, executive director at the Albany Social Justice Center, is a member of the new chapter, BLM Upstate NY.  "Essentially now we're a part of this national network of folks from across the country who are working together for the validity of black life, and now we have that chapter officially here. We've already had the Black Lives Matter movement here but now we have the Black Lives Matter organization."

Despite numerous rallies and meetings with city and police officials, activists are frustrated with Mayor Sheehan and the police department’s handling of and response to Ivy's death. A grand jury declined to charge the officers involved.   "Even though it's clear to the NYCLU and many other organizations that stopping Dontay Ivy was unlawful and unconstitutional, we have support at every level of government here, and that just isn't working."

Calling Ivy’s death a tragedy, Sheehan has been unwavering in her support for the police department. She touched on the Ivy incident after the State of the City.    “How do  we break down these barriers and work together? If we get off in our own corners and say we’re never gonna trust one another, and you need to disarm the police department, I’m not sure that we’ll be productive in finding a solution, but there are plenty of people who are willing to work with us and who are working with us to do this very difficult and important work.”

From a less optimistic point of view, Community advocate Marlon Anderson accuses the young protestors of employing "sensationalism"  -   "When the cameras are there, here they are. But when the cameras are not there, and the hard work needs to be done and they need to be down in the trenches, where are these individuals? You don't see them at any community meetings. You don't see them involved in any community issues.  But when it comes time to be out protesting and making noise, there they are. And this is not helping the process. This is not helping the city."

Green theorizes some of  BLM's demands may be part of an overall strategy.   "You make those demands that you know certainly won't be met. And you might have something on that list that you think you can achieve by making those other demands. You know, that's a strategy that's been used for years in community organizing. It's not new. It's a strategy. Some think it's wrong and that it's going to perhaps cause defeat of the groups' goals, but it's a strategy."