Incident At Kokopellis: Finding Racism Where Some Say There Is None?

Feb 4, 2014

A patchwork of media coverage paints a picture of an evening gone awry after police were summoned late last month to quell a disturbance at a Troy, New York nightspot.

The chain of events that has ensued crystallizes tonight with a series of citizen-action events.

Police say they responded to 124 4th Street in Troy during the wee hours of Saturday, Janaury 25th, answering a call that an employee at Kokopellis nightclub had been assaulted. Initial reports stated a brawl broke out after some patrons were observed to be smoking marijuana.

The Times Union said that the bar owner gave police a statement, explaining he decided to "call it a night" due to the pot smoking, and as customers were being ushered outside, the crowd became unruly and started a fight with employees that led to the attack on a bouncer.

Troy police responding to the disturbance were overwhelmed by the crowd, eventually calling for back up from State Police and officers from the Green Island, Watervliet, Menands, Colonie and Cohoes police departments.

The brawl resulted in the hospitalization of about a half-dozen police officers and the arrests of about half a dozen bar patrons;  a few days later, the newspaper reported that the owners of Kokopellis said that police are lying about that night's events and that it was officers who sparked the melee.

Religious leaders have said "race has to be on the table."  But could certain individuals be looking to find racism where there is none?

Community activist Andres Rivera of Albany is planning to march in solidarity with citizens of Troy tonight – he has been monitoring incidents of violence in the Collar City.    "I don't think it has anything to do with ethnicity, race, color. It's been ongoing in different areas in the country. We're starting to see it more and more  - more of the disrespect of the officers toward citizens."

Mayor Lou Rosamilia told media outlets Monday that a preliminary internal investigation shows Troy police "used necessary force" - it was then reported that members of the city's black community were enraged by "continuing evidence of unrestrained police brutality." The mayor did not return a call for comment.  

Rivera, like many others, has seen online video of the brawl.   " Sometimes there's not the best citizens you run across in communities that you have to work out of. But with the cameras out there, it sends a message and you can see a clear picture as with the incident that happened in Troy.  This time it was caught on video. I don't know how someone can negate the fact and agree with the police department saying that it was okay, that what he did was okay when you literally see a man being beaten with a baton, being held down."

The Troy African American Pastoral Alliance filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice requesting a civil rights investigation. Troy Councilman Rodney Wiltshire is demanding a full investigation into the incident.

Troy police Chief John Tedesco says authorities have collected and are reviewing all of the video.  "We're certainly looking at the actions of all the parties involved. We're trying to identify people that were jumping on cars, the people who threw objects at the officers, broke the window out of a police car. The investigation is ongoing. Certainly it won't be finished in time for tonight's public safety meeting, but I would think hopefully within the next 10 to 14 days we can come to some conclusion on it."

And more cameras are coming: local tv news stations have been promoting that they'll be there to cover a community gathering, march and meeting, set to get underway 4:30 this evening at Bethel Baptist Church along 5th Avenue. The event is being heavily promoted via facebook. Andres Rivera says whether eight, 80 or 800 people show up, the message is clear: the community is tired.   "My whole motivation to go over there is to let them see that we can have an open dialog, giving them the example of what Chief Krokoff from Albany was able to do. You know he has a tab, an accountability board for the officers fro the community, to make them aware that this can happen: working together as a group of people for the common good. If you want to have a relationship with the community, don't you think that it's best if we sit down and have dialog?  I don't even want to take my daughter tonight, because I don't know what the outcome is gonna be. We might go to jail, just for practicing our what. our First Amendment? I fear that maybe something might happen tonight."

Rivera says he doesn't view the march as an incident that warrants violence in any way and adds he's willing to help diffuse any hostilities that may erupt. Chief Tedesco is on the same page - he says the marchers will have a forum to speak out. "Let's not get into taunting. There are going to be emotions on both sides of the issue. I think it'[s being portrayed in the environment of hype, if you will, to get a lot of emotions stirred, and I'm hoping cooler heads prevail, because we're not going to get anywhere if this turns into yet baseless accusations on both sides."

Some local leaders have called for the police chief's resignation. Tedesco hopes to restore the confidence the community has in the police department and for police to get a better understanding of community concerns they can address in the future.

Police radio calls & 911 transcripts [via WNYT]

Storified by The Saratogian newspaper