October 18, 2021

BLM rallies in Cortland

New York doesn’t need to defund the police, and it doesn’t need to protect them, speakers said at a rally Saturday in Cortland. It needs to re-fund the police.

“I know good police officers, but their system is broken. They’re built to increase and empower white supremacy,” said Seth Thompson of Cortland at a Black Lives Matter rally at Courthouse Park in Cortland. “I’m not a believer in defunding the police. … I’m a believer in refunding the police. Things need to be reallocated here.”

More than 100 people surrounded a stage on which the speakers addressed them, but the crowd grew as the speakers spoke. They held up signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace.”

The event, organized by Black Lives Matter and United Voices of Cortland, was organized in response to a New York state Sheriffs’ Association’s news conference in mid-July at which sheriffs’ officials lobbied for a 10-bill package to protect police. Cortland County Undersheriff Budd Rigg was at the conference.

“Today is a reminder that regardless of the power you hold, you can always ask for more,” said Melissa Kiser, coordinator of the local Black Lives Matter organization. Cortland County Sheriff Mark Helms said Rigg was there on his behalf, he stands by the proposals and “supports what the sheriff’s association is trying to put out there.”

“These are proposals that will hopefully get people to stop fighting with the police,” he said, which would protect both the police and the public.

The 10 proposals presented July 15 include new criminal charges of aggravated offering a false accusation against a police officer, failure to retreat, criminal doxing of police or peace officer, resisting arrest, stalking a police or peace officer, and aggravated harassment of police or peace officer and assault on a police officer.

Doxing is posting private or identifying information about an individual online with malicious intent.

Helms said he does support Black Lives Matter, especially the local organization. “As the sheriff in this county, if they have any concerns I’m interested to hear about them,” he said.

Andy Pragacz, coordinator for the Justice and Unity of the Southern Tier and a sociology professor at SUNY Cortland, said the proposals “need to be discredited for their bad ideas.”

“We want to let the people know we oppose this legislation,” he said. “The only way we can defeat this legislation is if we band together to stop it from passing.”

The proposals are “the most outlandish thing I’ve ever heard and mind-boggling that all of the sheriffs in Central New York would get together and create a platform to lobby for more protection,” said Rafael Aponte, a farmer from Dryden. “Police don’t need more protection…they need to be restrained from their unjust acts of violence.”

Thompson, a resident of Cortland for 15 years, said he wants to see the lives of his family and his life valued. He added that in the times he has driven between Cortland and Ithaca, he has been pulled over seven times by the police for unnecessary reasons.

“This has never happened to people I’ve talked to that are white,” he said. “I don’t want to feel as though because of the color of my skin, I’m going to be criminalized. We deserve better.”

Kiser said many people miss the real message behind the protests.

“When people see us protesting racism, people think we are protesting America,” she said. “What does that say about us as a collective? More rights for me does not mean less rights for you.”

Helms said he doesn’t agree with the violence he sees on TV, but supports groups looking to protest peacefully.

“I’m here to make sure your rights are protected,” he said. “Anything peaceful, we always hope to see it.”

Pragacz reacted strongly to sheriffs saying racism doesn’t exist in upstate New York and custody abuse isn’t a problem, saying they were “ignorant statements.”

However, Helms said: “I’d never say racism isn’t a thing here. It’s a foolish thing to say.”

Pragacz asked the crowd if having Helms in authority can provide the changes needed to protect the community.

Justice and Unity of the Southern Tier