ALBANY — Five hours following a peaceful protest, violence ripped through the Capitol City and spilled into the suburbs.
“It was the closest I have felt to being in a war zone since Iraq,” said County Executive Dan McCoy, who used four fire extinguishers to put out a fire at the Probation Department on Pearl Street because the chaos prevented the Fire Department from accessing the building.
And the community, already reeling from COVID-19, was left to pick up the pieces after dozens of rioters did hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage to municipal buildings and private businesses, setting fires and looting stores as they rampaged through the south end of Albany and spilling into the suburbs.
Molotov cocktails were thrown at the mounted patrol at the South Station, and officers were pelted with bricks, rocks, garbage and were shot at with roman candles and other fire works. They showed amazing restraint. A tractor trailer was set on fire on Pearl Street at around 10 p.m. The county Probation Department was set on fire sometime through the night and at around 3 a.m. a car burned itself out on Central Avenue. Similar riots took place at cities across the country.
Colonie Center was broken into, a video was circulated on social media but the perpetrators apparently fled the scene before police arrived. Guilderland police and deputies from the Albany County Sheriff’s Department had all the entrances to Crossgates Mall blocked off and at around midnight a number of cars were circling the closed mall, some taunting police as they drove by.
The State Police and officers from Bethlehem, Colonie, Rensselaer, Watervliet and Guilderland police departments all responded to help thwart the violence. But, as soon as one area seemed to calm, something would happen in another part of the Capital District.
The violence overshadowed what began as a peaceful protest to the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis. Thousands came to Townsend Park in Albany to participate in the two-mile run/walk organized by Citizens Action and other community groups.
“What went on in Minneapolis should not have happened. What that officer did was nefarious and criminal and he will have his day in court,” said Sheriff Craig Apple. “But I don’t want the public to paint all law enforcement officers with the same brush. We are not like that here. We have worked hard to make strides in the community. To build bridges. And this set us back years.”
He, McCoy and Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan praised the Albany protesters at the afternoon gathering for standing up and having their voices heard in a peaceful, yet forceful, manner. All the while adhering to social distancing protocols and wearing masks. Sadly, the sheriff said, the memory most people will take away from the day is what happened after the sun went down and not of George Floyd.
McCoy said the Health Department, Probation Department and Board of Elections all suffered substantial damage.
“What happened at South Station was not a protest It was a riot,” Sheehan said. “I cannot see a connection over the anger of the killing of George Floyd and throwing a brick through a public library window. I don’t see the connection with being angry with police and throwing a brick threw a window of a black owned business and stealing everything inside. That is not protest. I don’t see any connection because I don’t see how anyone trying to build a better future for themselves and their community would ever think those activities would lead to peace and empowerment.”
A 21-year-old Delmar man, James Vail was arrested Sunday for throwing a brick at a police officer, causing a concussion.
Apple said he has been flooded with tips about the identity of other participants.
“I am especially grateful to the young man who threw rocks through the window at Colonie Center for posted a video of it,” Apple said.
McCoy said video tapes are being reviewed.
Sheehan said a number of the rioters were clearly not from the neighborhood they terrorized, or even from Albany.
“Violence was from the people not from our community, who don’t know our police department and who have never worked with our Police Department,” she said. They were people we never met or have never interacted with our Police Department throwing bricks at our police officers, literally.”