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A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

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March 15, 2015

The Armory Migos Riot

You’ve heard all the excuses from the management,
here’s why the in-house security failed

It was another riot at the Washington Avenue Armory in Albany, this time during a hip hop performance by an up and coming gansta rap group called Migos. That night You Tube was almost immediately loaded with phone videos of some of the mostly black concertgoers fighting and throwing around trash barrels and those big metal crowd-control barriers right out in the middle of the crowded floor. Meanwhile the performers egged on the rioters over the sound system, saying things like “Hit ‘im wit it, hit ‘im wit it, that’s gangsta my n---a, that’s real n---a, that’s how we do it!”

The riot resulted in numerous injuries, including six individuals suffering stab wounds (seven by some reports.) A young woman was badly beaten in the bathroom by a group of women while their male companions guarded the door, not for her purse as the local corporate media misreported, but for her apparently fashionable shoes. As of this writing the Albany Police, who were not consulted by Armory management prior to or during the show, have identified and arrested three of the rioters.

Inside The Washington Avenue Armory
Inside The Washington Avenue Armory

The incident instantly reminded us locals of the infamous Foam Party Riot at the Armory in October of 2012. The difference was that the 2012 riot happened outside the building when the promoter of the event overbooked the show by at least twice the capacity of the venue, and the mostly white suburban kids and college students who couldn’t get inside attacked police and EMTs as if these first responders were responsible for their inconvenience. The management of The Armory was, of course, held responsible for allowing the promoters to get away with something like that, but the resulting changes to the Armory management in response to the incident turned out to be little more than cosmetic.

In both incidents the management of the Armory feigned surprise and tried to pass the blame, falsely claiming that they had provided adequate security. But according to my sources, mostly security professionals, the security for the 2015 Migos show was understaffed, underpaid and badly managed. These sources made it clear that the Armory management underprovided security as a matter of course, which is why the real pros refuse to work for the Armory and naturally did not work the Migos show.

Recent Publicity Photo Of Migos
Recent Publicity Photo Of Migos

It should go without saying that the Migos performers should be arrested and charged with inciting a riot, what they did that night at the Armory does not constitute Free Speech. But for some reason it looks like they won’t be held accountable. Perhaps there is fear by the authorities of getting embroiled in some kind of really stupid racial conflict, thus the authorities consider it easier to let these jerks leave town and tell them to not come back. Whatever the reason, the Migos performers have figured out how to start trouble and get paid handsomely for it.

That being said, the Armory management knew damn well what was going to happen. They’ve booked rap shows before, and besides, five minutes of Google would have shown them that this tendency to promote mindless violence is how Migos operates. In any case, Armory general manager Michael Corts and head of security Jim VanApeldorn have no excuse for not being properly prepared for the Migos show.

Washington Avenue Armory Head Of Security Jim VanApeldorn
Washington Avenue Armory Head Of Security Jim VanApeldorn

Security head Jim VanApeldorn, who is also the head of the Albany Parking Bureau, is responsible for hiring security personnel for Armory events and for coordinating security arrangements with visiting performers. VanApeldorn was promoted to head of security immediately after the 2012 Foam Party Riot (which a participant to that event recently told me was not a foam party as the media claimed but a regular rave, whatever.) What has become clear in the past few weeks is that VanAppeldorn’s ascendancy to the head did not fix the problems with security, but actually appears to have made the problems worse.

Security jobs at venues like the Armory are, by necessity, part time. A few management and maintenance jobs at the Armory are full time, but most positions are only activated during events, most of which are held on weekends. Low key events, such as the Antiquarian Book Fair I attended there the morning after the 2012 riot, require no in-house security and if needed is provided by the event promoter.

Concertgoer Throwing A Crowd Control Barrier, Albany Migos Riot

Concertgoer Throwing A Crowd Control Barrier, Albany Migos Riot

Sporting events like basketball games require more security personnel, but for these the Armory characteristically uses casual hires. The real security pros tell me that the usual pay at the Armory is $75 a night, which is one of the two big reasons why they never work there. That was what the guards were paid the night of the Migos riot. As a result most of the Armory guards that night, except for VanApeldorn and his assistant, a fellow named Andy, were inexperienced young guys in their early 20s a few in their teens.

Not that youth is a problem, but I’m told that night VanApeldorn hired all the guards off the books and didn’t even keep records of who was working. Each guard was simply handed $75 cash at the end of the night which, I’m told, is the usual procedure. It also appears that he didn’t plan ahead to fill these positions, at the beginning of the show he was still scrambling for bodies and the show remained understaffed.

VanApeldorn was so disorganized that there weren’t enough SECURITY shirts to go around, the only thing that designates the guards as staff empowered to keep order. This became a serious problem during situations when unruly concertgoers would challenge their legitimacy during the show. This demonstrates that the Armory management did not have much concern for the safety of these guards.

Armory spokesperson Joe Bonilla laid out a bunch of spurious claims in an email that he issued to the local media. Quoted in the Hearst-owned Times Union:

During the Migos concert, the venue had 35 private security guards, five Albany police officers and four EMTs... The crowd was riled up because Migos was supposed to perform at 10:30 p.m., but the rappers did not go on stage until after midnight, Bonilla said. The Atlanta-based trio performed for 45 minutes...

First off, let’s get this out of the way. Ask any kid on the street if they’ve ever been to a rap show that started on time and they will laugh in your face. It’s a feature of the scene that the main acts show up hours late and perform for less than an hour. Most older folks, probably remembering legendary Grateful Dead shows from the 1960s that would last all night, are most likely to let that little bit of misinformation fly right by. That was not why the crowd was “riled up.”

I’m told by reliable sources that there was no way 35 guards were working. I haven’t been able to find anyone who could provide an accurate figure, but all agree that there were a lot fewer than that. In any case, since it is likely that accurate records of who worked that night don’t exist, that 35 number is probably impossible to prove by honest means.

Deputy Police Chief Brendan Cox, Mayor Kathy Sheehan Listens
Deputy Police Chief Brendan Cox, Mayor Kathy Sheehan Listens

As for the claim that “five Albany police officers” worked “the venue,” this was exposed as an outright lie by Deputy Police Chief Brendan Cox (who will soon be named Chief after Mr. Krokoff departs for Georgia.) From the March 12 Times Union article:

Officers can assist with events inside and are paid for the work, but generally they stay outside unless requested by the venue, Cox said. Before events the police discuss specifics with facility management to ensure there is enough security staffing.

The police officers were never asked to assist inside the Migos concert and were not told when the riot started inside, Cox said. If they had known, Cox said, the officers would have gone inside the venue as if they were responding to a 911 call.

Security guards are expected to break up fights and eject the troublemakers. However, before the Migos event, the guards were specifically told that if a fight breaks out involving more than two people to stand back and not jump in. Undercover police and State Liquor Authority (SLA) agents, they were told, were working the floor, and would handle the situation! (Beer was served in a designated corral.) This was according to an Armory employee.

A Member Of Migos Leaps Off The Stage To Assault A Concertgoer Last Autumn, Springfield, Massachusetts
A Member Of Migos Leaps Off The Stage To Assault A Concertgoer Last Autumn, Springfield, Massachusetts

And here is the second big reason why the local security pros refuse to work at the Armory, besides laughably dismal pay. Any management that would tell such dangerous lies to the guards is not to be trusted. Back in the day I worked as security, doing all kinds of jobs from hospitals to docked container ships and occasionally events that served alcohol. Early on I learned the hard way that if your employer is untrustworthy then you are a fool to expose yourself when trouble starts. Managers will gladly abandon you to save their own worthless butts.

So when trouble started at the Migos show many of these guys (I haven’t heard of any women working that night) stood back like they were told to and remained passive. But not all, I heard that at least a couple of them worked to clear a path so that the injured could get outside. While doing that one of the guys took a bottle to the head but kept working to move the injured.

In New York State since 1992, all unarmed security guards are required to carry a license. The requirements are not tough, 8 hours of initial training and another 16 hours during the first 90 days of employment, plus another 8 hours every year thereafter. And of course a guard can’t be licensed if he or she, as the State code puts it, “has been convicted of a serious offense, or of a misdemeanor.” The only exceptions are for duplicate training such as moonlighting police officers who would already have had that training.

Credit Card Knife
Credit Card Knife

It appears that a few of the guards that VanApeldorn hired for the Migos show may have been unlicensed, meaning that they didn’t even have that minimal training or any background checks. The Armory head of security could be in big trouble for his flouting of the law. Theoretically. The NY State code (General Business Law, Article 7A, section 89-p) states:

Any person who is employed as a security guard or who acts as a security guard in violation of the provisions of §89-g of this article... or who permits or authorizes the employment of a person as a security guard in violation of the provisions of §89-g of this article or any security guard company which employs a security guard in violation of the provisions of §89-g of this article shall be guilty of a misdemeanor which, upon conviction, shall be punishable by a term of imprisonment not to exceed six months, or by a fine of not more than $1,000...

In addition, the aforementioned section 89-g allows the State to levy a fat fine on the Armory for hiring unlicensed guards. So VanApeldorn and possibly his boss Corts could be thrown in jail for six months. I have no idea if VanApeldorn is worried about getting arrested, but that could be a real possibility if he can’t find a way to shift blame.

A Crowd Piles On And Beats A Single Concertgoer (Center In Red) Migos Riot Albany
A Crowd Piles On And Beats A Single Concertgoer (Center In Red) Migos Riot Albany

On the other hand, the weekend after the riot, rumors were flying around among the security pros working in and around Albany that the unlicensed guards that worked the Migos show may be arrested. As I know all too well that’s how it almost always works, the low paid security guards are the ones held responsible for management screwups and crimes. I’ve also heard the opinion from some of the pros that the Armory is focusing on the possibly unlicensed guards as a distraction in order to shift blame away from themselves, a tactic that could only work if the authorities are also looking for ways to help exonerate them.

What is not a rumor is that VanApeldorn has been calling as many of the guards that he can find, telling them that they have to come down to the Armory and “sign some papers.” I haven’t learned exactly what these papers are, but I can make an educated speculation that first and foremost VanApeldorn is using these papers to try to protect his own sorry butt. I would also hazard a guess that those papers are going to be backdated. I’m not making any accusations that I can’t substantiate, mind you, but if that is what he is up to then he is only making things worse for himself.

So the big question, if six or seven concertgoers got stabbed during the show, then how did knives get into the Armory if security at the door was so tight? The answer is that door security, according to eyewitnesses that I spoke to, was almost nonexistent. As one concertgoer said, conveyed to me through a third party, “I could have brought in a gun.” Joe Bonilla told the Times Union:

Bonilla said Armory concertgoers are patted down and have metal detector wands passed over them. But Bonilla didn't respond to a question about how a knife could have gotten into the venue.

According to eyewitnesses that I spoke to, there were exactly two persons doing patdowns at the door. One of the two was VanApeldorn’s assistant Andy who used one of those battery operated wands that beep when they detect metal, waving it quickly at each attendee. (Comment from an eyewitness: “I don’t think he had batteries in that thing.”) The other fellow at the door did not have a wand. I’m told that neither Andy nor the other fellow did more than the most cursory of patdowns, which could not possibly have detected anything but swords and shotguns, if that.

Key Knives
Key Knives

The security pros tell me you have to look for cute little toys such as key knives that hang on a keychain, or knives disguised as credit cards. Favorite places to hide knives are behind the belt buckle, or with women the guard has to tap (not poke, tap) the underwires of their bras near the underarm. Thus to search women properly it’s best to have female security personnel, but again, no female security worked the Migos show.

The pros tell me it takes a minimum of 30 seconds to properly search a body, more if they suspect something is hidden or if, as often happens, the body being searched resists. If you figure around 2600 concertgoers (that’s according to 3rd ward Common Council member Ron Bailey, a provable exact figure could be provided by the Armory) and let’s go with 30 seconds a search, that means two people could only search at a rate of 240 bodies per hour. Thus it would take almost eleven hours to conduct a minimal search on every concertgoer.

Obviously it didn’t take eleven hours to search everybody, if that had been done we would be hearing about the riots outside the Armory like in 2012. In effect, the Armory security staff did not search anybody at all. All Andy and the other guy did was put on a performance of Security Theater, the all too common nonsense that we’ve had to live with since Nine Eleven. And apparently not many of the concertgoers were fooled by the performance.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan In February
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan In February

City of Albany mayor Kathy Sheehan is all over this incident, it is clear that she is not going to just smooth it over and wait for the publicity to die down. That’s how former mayor Jerry Jennings handled the 2012 riot which resulted in the ascendancy of Jim VanAppeldorn to head of security at the Armory. We can see how effective that was. From what I’m seeing Ms. Sheehan most definitely does not want to have to deal with another stupid and unnecessary Armory riot again while she is mayor.

There’s more to this. Before she became mayor Ms. Sheehan was the City Treasurer for four years. In the name of efficiency she streamlined the notoriously corrupt Treasury department, for example finding almost a million dollars in “lost” parking fines during her first year in office. As part of her drive toward efficiency, she found ways to shift useless or suspicious office personnel out of positions where they could, shall we say, practice inefficiency.

It appears that one of those persons in the Treasurer’s office that she wanted to get rid of was Jim VanApeldorn, who began working for the City in 1985 when the Old Boy Machine was in undisputed total control of the City of Albany. When VanApeldorn was tapped for the Armory security job by Jennings in 2012, Ms. Sheehan was anxious to move him out of her office, citing conflict of interest. She also offered praise, saying that she had heard that after the Foam Party Riot VanApeldorn had, according to the Times Union, “helped smooth things over with party-wary neighbors” who live near the Armory.

Armory General Manager Michael Corts
Armory General Manager Michael Corts

That’s how it looks to me from reading the Times Union, which admittedly is very unreliable. But whether or not my interpretation is correct, it's pretty obvious that neither VanApeldorn or his boss Michael Corts can count on our present mayor to protect them from investigations, criminal or otherwise. The Old Boy Machine left City Hall on January 1st 2014, and I doubt that there is anyone left who is powerful enough and willing to protect this nest of Old Boys at the Armory.

What’s going to happen to these characters in the next couple of weeks? Well, I’m sitting back with the buttered popcorn watching the show unfold. I suspect this is going to be good. My only reservation is that I hope very much that the $75 a show young guys who worked as guards do not get stuck with the blame that clearly and squarely belongs to the managerial staff of the Armory.

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Posted by:anonymous
Posted on:03/20/2015
The City of Albany did try to keep events like the raves, foam parties and open floor concerts from occurring at the Armory with creative interpretation of the zoning laws. The management and ownership of the Washington Av Armory fought back through the courts and eventually prevailed at the Court of Appeals level. How do you expect the City of Albany win this time?

Posted by:Dan Van Riper
Posted on:03/21/2015
Good question, anonymous. The 2013 the City of Albany Board Of Zoning Appeals (BZA) tried to ban certain kinds of shows at the Armory by defining the word " concert" as a place "in which the audience sits." The BZA based this novel interpretation not on prior law decisions but on the dictionary definition of the word "concert!"

Eventually the Appellate Division, which is the highest appeals court in NY State, noted that the BZA had basically cherry-picked this definition out of the standard dictionaries and dismissed the argument. I've attended plenty of concerts where most or all of the attendees didn't sit down, such as at City sponsored events like the Tulip Fest or Larkfest. Here's a good roundup of the case:

It looks like this time around City Hall is letting the Armory managers dangle while the State investigates them for mismanagement and for not complying with State law:

There's no reason to ban raves and rap concerts as long as the Armory exercises control over the crowds that attend the shows. If they had provided adequate security at the Migos show, and had bothered to coordinate security arrangements with the performers and with the City police, then neither of these riots would have happened, or at least wouldn't have gotten so out of control.

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