While pro-police Back the Blue protesters and police abolitionist counterprotesters have little in common, many agreed throughout Sunday’s protest on one thing: They oppose Mayor Svante Myrick’s ’09 plan for Ithaca Police Department reform — albeit for different reasons.
The third Ithaca Back the Blue protest saw similar hostilities as the previous ones: Over the three hours, the protesters clashed over the city’s ongoing reimagining of public safety, ultimately resulting in a few altercations between both parties.
While Back the Blue protesters — including organizers Rocco Lucente and Zachary Winn and the 30 attendees — felt that the Ithaca Police Department should have more support, rather than criticism, many counterprotesters felt Myrick’s plan did not go far enough to implement community solutions to crime.
Myrick’s new proposal recommends creating a new department with unarmed and armed personnel; the unarmed workers theoretically will focus on de-escalation while the armed members will focus on preventing more dangerous crime. The two groups fell on either end of opposition toward the mayor’s plan.
Counterprotesters, who were affiliated with a variety of groups, including the Ithaca Pantheras, the Ithaca Democratic Socialists and Tompkins County Showing Up For Racial Justice, outnumbered the pro-police protesters, with up to 60 people rallying against the Back the Blue protesters in the Bernie Milton Pavillion.
While the protesters were initially on opposite ends of the Pavillion when the protest started at noon, the counterprotesters slowly started moving towards the pro-police protesters before eventually returning back to their positions by 12:20 p.m.
About 30 minutes later, the pro-police protesters moved towards the counterprotesters, starting the first physical altercation with people shoving each other before being quickly broken up. After several more altercations, Ithaca police officers arrived at the venue. Officers on the scene declined to comment.
Winn and another member of the pro-police protest put three flags — the flag of China, a Black Lives Matter flag and an Anti-Fascist Action flag — onto a string to burn the flags. This resulted in a counterprotester grabbing the flags and trying to run, with Winn fighting back.
During the altercation, a counterprotester tried to kick Winn, and Winn put the woman into a headlock. Lucente and other protesters on both sides tried to break up the fight. After the short scuffle, Winn took the Black Lives Matter flag, brought it to the podium and burned it. The counter protester later told the Ithaca Voice that someone kicked her, and she thought it was Winn.
While Lucente wasn’t part of planning for the flag burning, he didn’t think it was anything wrong and said it was an imitation of Black Lives Matter protesters burning the American flag.
“These people have burned the American flag that we hold so near and dear, and the three flags that we had for them represent two movements and a national government who embody everything that we are against,” Lucente told The Sun after the protest.
Ithacans have clashed in dueling protests for the past year, especially after the summer’s events and national protests against police brutality. At Back the Blue protests and some Republican Party events, merchandise burnings, physical altercations and resulting arrests were par for the course.
On Sunday, counterprotesters returned to the conflict and reprised their chants of “All day, all night, we don’t want the far right,” and “No cops, no prisons, total abolition.”
The protest saw disputes over Myrick’s plan taken to the streets, moving criticism of his plans from Zoom meetings to the Ithaca Commons.
While Lansing resident Nevin Sabet supports police reform and had a mix of positive and negative experiences with the Ithaca Police Department when previously living in Ithaca, she participated in the Back the Blue rally because she is opposed to what she sees as anti-police activists’ more radical tactics.
“The social workers and the mental health support that are being proposed to be enlisted in replacing the police, I believe these people should be assigned to actually support police and give them an outlet to process their experiences,” Sabet said.
Sabet also saw Myrick’s plan as a violation of local police officers’ labor rights. The Ithaca Police Benevolent Association has released statements opposing the plan, but also distanced themselves from Sunday’s protest in a Thursday Facebook statement.
“Obviously I was pretty surprised by that statement and it would have been nice if they had reached out to me privately and talked to me about that,” Lucente said. “The bottom line is that we have a disagreement about what the proper path forward is to push back on this politically and we have room to both do what we want to do.”
Despite their disagreements, some protestors worked to find common ground. Throughout the protest, Yasmin Rashid, a community activist and First Ward Common Council candidate, interacted with pro-police members throughout the rally, trying to start dialogue.
“I can have a conversation with anyone about anything and the conversations are necessary. Why? Because we don’t get anywhere, not with policy or legislation, without a conversation,” Rashid said.
Many of those present spoke about the need for a safe community, but had different visions of what this would look like.
Counterprotesters and Ithaca residents Margaret Ball and Patrick Pinney told The Sun they oppose Myrick’s plan because they believe the proposal would increase funding for law enforcement. Similarly, Ithaca resident Monique Carabello told The Sun she went to the counterprotest to help keep the Ithaca community safe for herself and her children.
“I want to feel safe here, I raise children here and live in this community,” Carabello said. “If that safety feels threatened by white supremacy, I want to stand in solidarity with others.”