Residents blast Albany and police for treatment during June 19 celebration


The speakers, many of whom wore matching T-shirts, said the police response to the setting off of fireworks – a confrontation that ended with a boy being thrown to the ground and people pointed at them with gas peppered — was a systemic issue and an example of the city’s police handling of interactions with the black community and the city’s failure to support events hosted by black businesses.

Police were called to the event on Sunday afternoon multiple times over issues including double parked cars and loud music. But as the event drew to a close, people started lighting fireworks in the street, prompting the police to intervene. This led to a confrontation between a group of residents and the police where an officer threw a 12-year-old boy to the ground as he tried to pull his father away from the officers.

Stephen Negron, an activist and former Common Council candidate, told council members that if the fireworks incident involved a group of white residents, the situation would have been handled differently.

“I’ve never heard of a white kid being knocked down on July 4 for a fireworks show,” he said.

Other speakers questioned why the response was so aggressive when setting off fireworks is punishable by a $500 fine. Albany police previously said no one was arrested but tickets were issued. A city police spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Charles Whitaker, owner of Juices Forever at 69 Central Ave., had planned a third annual celebration for June 19 with several other area small business owners.

“Every year we do this event, there are no problems. Everyone is having fun,” he said earlier this week.

Organizers applied for a permit earlier this year to close off part of Central Avenue, but the city’s special events committee turned it down because the expected crowd was less than 100 people. The committee generally only grants permits for street closures when the event will attract 300 people or more, an assistant city clerk said earlier this week. The committee instead asked the organizers to move the celebration to nearby Townsend Park, but never heard from the organizers.

Jamila Adams, owner of Johnnie’s on Broadway, said she had a similar problem getting a permit to close a street near her business. She told the council that she had requested a block party three times and had been turned down each time without explanation.

“What you don’t realize is that Albany has the most black entrepreneurs since I grew up here,” she told them. “Where is the support for us?”

Whitaker previously said that after the permit was denied, he believed he could still host a barbecue outside his business. As the event unfolded and after speaking with officers about traffic and noise issues, Whitaker believed the police were going to shut down the celebration. During the past two celebrations, city police had asked them to move the fireworks off the street and make sure they cleaned up afterwards, he said. So he decided to light the remaining fireworks.

Bystander video shows an Albany police officer walking towards Whitaker, who was in the middle of Central Avenue and trying to set off a firework.

The officer sprayed the fireworks with the extinguisher and tried to pull Whitaker away from them. Several bystanders, including Whitaker’s 12-year-old son, moved in to separate the two men and more police came. Whitaker and other family members said the boy was in fear for his father’s life.

As the group scrambled, an officer grabbed Whitaker’s son from behind and threw him to the ground. The boy’s mother said he hit the ground hard enough for his shoe to fly off. The officers, she said, broke his collar when he grabbed it.

Whitaker said his son was traumatized by the incident. He said Thursday he filed a complaint with the city’s Community Policing Review Board.

“I tried to get him here today, and he wouldn’t,” he said.

Lanahria Whitaker, the boy’s older sister, said she went to see her brother after he hit the ground.

“As he grabbed me and I held him so tight, he just cried and cried,” she said.

Several Common Council members said they attended the event and noticed no major issues until the fireworks started going off.

But several agreed with residents that city police mishandled the situation and that the incident should be re-examined.

A city police spokesperson said Friday the incident involving Whitaker’s son would be reviewed.


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