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November 3, 2011



From the Times Union

Protest rolls past curfew

Occupy Albany blasts "greed" during all-night rally
By Dayelin roman and BRENDAN J. LYONS Staff writers
Updated 02:23 p.m., Wednesday, October 26, 2011

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ALBANY -- Occupy Albany -- which at times swelled to up to 300 or more participants -- continued its presence in the city's Academy Park beyond an 11 p.m. curfew Friday -- with several diehards chanting into the morning or hunkering down in tents.

The night air was filled with sign-bearing protesters and the sounds of drum circles and songs. During the day, many held banners with phrases such as "I love N.Y. I hate greed" and cheered as cars driving down State Street honked at them.

Others chanted "we are the 99 percent" and "they got bail outs we got sold out."

The local rally is an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street protests that participants say aim to eradicate economic inequality.

In other cities, arrests have been made. But Albany's protest has been peaceful. Some in the park said they were prepared to be arrested and close to two dozen tents were set up.

But in the minutes after 11 p.m., no city police officers could be seen, though here and there a patrol car drove by slowly but did not stop. After midnight, the crowd considered stopping drums to "respect the community."

The night capped a day with spirited crowds and speeches.

Anthony Esposito, 31, said he brought his camping gear to the protest, and planned to spend the night at the park.

"We bailed banks out and the working class gets nothing," he said. Esposito said he wasn't concerned about getting arrested.

"I don't really care about cops," he said. "I guess it's something you have to risk when you believe in your cause."

A lingering question was what the responses would be from authorities from the city and the state of New York.

The downtown spot where the rally took place is composed of two parks. The western end is Lafayette Park, a state park, and the eastern side is Academy Park, owned by the city.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's top secretary urged Mayor Jerry Jennings on Friday to instruct city police to remove protesters from the downtown park near the state Capitol if they tried to remain there after 11 p.m.

A person familiar with Albany's plans to react to the rally said Cuomo's secretary, Larry S. Schwartz, called Jennings Friday morning and said State Police would remove any protesters who did not comply with a curfew.

The position of the governor's office was in contrast to an earlier plan by Albany police to leave the protesters alone if they were peaceful, even if they stayed overnight.

Josh Vlasto, a Cuomo spokesman, said, "The state is working collaboratively with the city to enforce the curfew." Jennings declined to discuss his contact with the governor's office. "It's not important," he said. Friday afternoon the mayor said he had directed Chief Steven Krokoff to enforce the curfew, which could include arresting protesters if necessary.

"What I told Steve is enforce the law," Jennings said. "We have a curfew. I expect it to be enforced. We don't expect a lot of issues."

Earlier Friday, on Talk1300 AM radio, the mayor downplayed the prospect of curfew enforcement.

"I told my chief, 'Do what you have to do, don't violate First Amendment rights, but maintain safety,'" Jennings said. "I said to my chief, 'Use your judgment.' ... We don't make a lot of arrests for people that sleep in the park, and I don't anticipate a lot here either."

A department-wide memo issued Friday by Krokoff instructed officers "to be continually aware of the possibility that a small element may intentionally seek to draw us into conflict," according to a copy provided to the Times Union by a city police officer.

"At this time I have no intention of assigning officers to monitor, watch, videotape or influence any behavior that is conducted by our citizens peacefully demonstrating in Academy Park," the memo stated. "In the event we are required to respond to a crime in progress or a reported crime we will do so in the same manner that we do on a daily basis."

As 5 p.m. neared, pamphlets describing a decision-making process called "consensus" were handed out and the crowd made its way toward a large statue at the park for what turned into a meeting to plan the rest of the protest.

As of 6:30 p.m. Friday, the sign-wielding crowd was nothing more than peaceful, gathered around the park's statue and echoing each other's words with a human microphone as they figured out logistics of their demonstration.

Some urged the crowd not to light up in the park, but the smell of smoke, cigarettes and otherwise, managed to creep into the air.

Three state troopers stood near the sidewalk by State Street Friday evening, but would not comment about whether they had experienced any problems with the demonstration.

By midnight, about 20 state troopers were at the state side of the park.

Rachel Luscombe, 21, a University at Albany student, said she was at the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in New York City recently, and was curious to see how the local demonstration would be similar.

"I don't know how the beginning was in New York, but they're going at it in an organized manner," she said.

In New York, she said, she was surprised to see how the protesters had organized a library, a water filtration system, an art gallery and a classroom.

"The way that it's going to bring change about is in informing the public," she said.

Staff writer Robert Gavin contributed to this story.


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