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Village Reflects on April 7 Protest

There was a protest in Nyack on Saturday that has caused us to reflect on how we live together in our amazing village.

The event was focused on an idea and a belief that all in Nyack support. The fair and equal treatment of all residents and the acknowledgment that there is an inequity in the treatment of women, particularly women of color.

To be clear, the village of Nyack supports efforts to acknowledge and focus on solutions to these issues: We were all mindful of, and I might add, proud, that the Toni Morrison Bench by the Road honoring abolitionist and ex-slave Cynthia Hesdra was selected as the site for the demonstration.

The protest was presented by the organizers as an act of civil disobedience. This is a long honored tradition that allows people to make their concerns known to the government and public. A tradition that stands tall as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy, 50 years after his assassination.

For those who are interested, here is a timeline of the Villages involvement in the events of this weekend: the village was informed of the march by the South Nyack Police on March 30, 2018 and we were told the march would begin in Tarrytown and end in Nyack’s Memorial Park. Staff contacted the organizers who informed us that they were planning an act of civil disobedience that would include a final rally of around 1,000 people in Memorial Park.

Obviously, a crowd of this size requires the village to plan for issues related to public safety for everyone involved, most especially those who are gathering. We informed the Orangetown Police Department (OPD) and met with them to develop a plan.

We requested that the OPD avoid confrontation and, if possible, avoid arrests. We also talked about having a proportional response that balanced public safety and the right of protestors to exercise their first amendment rights.

A plan was developed by law enforcement and the Village was given limited input. This is neither mine nor our village administrator’s area of expertise. The captain in charge informed me several times that their plan was predicated on public safety and restraint preparing for 1,000 participants allowing protestors to have their say. I was informed by the Chief of Police the night before the event that OPD had everything under control and officer’s had been trained in dealing with exactly this type of protest.

The policing plan was created for the expected 1,000 marchers and the primary concern for law enforcement and us was the safety of everyone involved alongside the protection of the right of protestors to exercise their first amendment rights.

As the protest unfolded it became evident that the numbers of people participating would be far less than the estimate of 1,000 or more.   I do not think that the police were being intentionally provocative, but rather, overcautious in their efforts to keep those who attended safe, based on the crowd size projection of the organizers.   I wish, once that it was clear that the numbers were closer to 50 people, that the law enforcement personnel that were present had been able to reduce the proportion of their numbers.  I have spoken to the police about this and raised my concern about the level of response in relation to the number of protesters.

I am devastated that some marchers felt overwhelmed and frightened, I am sorry that there are those who see our community as less than welcoming to all.  This is not the Nyack that I have called home my entire life. This is not the inclusive Nyack that I know this Village Board is committed to. This is not the Nyack that I believe we are. Clearly, there is more work to be done and we commit to doing that work.

Don Hammond is the Mayor of Nyack. 

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