Thursday, 12 November 2020 13:29

Freedom of Speech vs. Freedom from Harassment

By Chad Beatty | Editorials

There is a basic law of economics which states, if you subsidize undesirable behavior, you will get more undesirable behavior. I believe the same is true if you ALLOW undesirable behavior.

If you had not yet heard, this past Saturday downtown Saratoga Springs was once again the epicenter of a 6-hour long standoff between protesters and everyone else.

The unscheduled event, which violated city ordinances, shut down multiple roads and left businesses and restaurants empty on what could have been their busiest day of the season.

This comes approximately 5 weeks after the emergency city council meeting which was held to address this specific type of situation. At that meeting, Mayor Meg Kelly came out strong stating

“It is time to make some changes here because we cannot have this happening time and time again in the city of Saratoga Springs – period. We are not going to block streets.”

Public Safety Commissioner Dalton shared her sentiment “The Saratoga Springs Police Department recognizes the right to peacefully protest, however, one person’s constitutional right does not supersede another’s.” Assistant Chief Cattone then laid out guidelines and actions which would be taken moving forward.

I am not sure what happened between that October 1 meeting and last Saturday, but officers from SSPD, the Sheriff’s Department and the State Police stood by as the protesters chanted “Biden won but we’re not done…These are our streets” and taunted the officers. There were also numerous reports of bystanders and families being harassed before they got out of town.

I have to say that I am disgusted, embarrassed, and sickened by this situation. We are in a global pandemic, businesses and families are struggling, yet some individuals feel they have the right to shut down roads, detour traffic at their discretion, and shout vulgarities over a megaphone. And let’s not ignore the fact that the blocked intersection is the primary road to Saratoga Hospital. What happens when a frantic mother is rushing her asthmatic child to the hospital and discovers her route is shut down and she must find a detour?

On Monday morning I had the opportunity to speak with several downtown business owners, and the financial gravity of the situation really hit home. One food/drink establishment shared, “We are struggling to make rent and pay staff. Normally on a 75-degree day, in November, we would be hopping until closing. We were empty from about 3-9 on Saturday. That crushes us.” Of important note, this was restaurant week! The other businesses I spoke with shared the same frustration and anger.

So, my question is why weren’t arrests made? Why weren’t the roads opened? Why do we tolerate this behavior?

According to SSPD Chief Crooks a tactical decision was made based on information relayed to him by supervisors on scene. “There were too many protesters vs. the number of officers.” I asked him the next logical question: why were officers on scene for hours if they weren’t going to make arrests? “Officers were there in case anything happened with the public,” he responded. “There were a number of interactions between the group and bystanders.”

I understand the police are in a no-win situation. They are damned if they do and they are damned if they don’t. But allowing these situations to continue is unacceptable and only emboldens the organizers. Forget the horrific impact on business and the potential for medical disasters due to the street detours; let’s look at the financial impact to you and me.

Every one of these occurrences, and they are increasing in regularity, costs the city thousands of dollars in overtime. An estimated guess of the infamous July 30 protest in front of Congress Park, which lasted well into the late evening, cost us $10,000. That is money not going to kids’ programs, homeless assistance, or critical infrastructure.

Who are these protesters? With the exception of the few individuals behind the megaphone, the majority this past weekend were white teenagers from our local high school and Skidmore College. The scene looked more like a dysfunctional Justin Bieber concert than anything else. Perhaps there is an opportunity here for Skidmore administration to step up and contribute to the good of our community. If Skidmore students are arrested for civil disobedience (blocking roads), I would think they should face disciplinary action under the school’s code of conduct. Skidmore students are guests in our community. I would love the hear Skidmore’s view on this.

Start arresting these kids as soon as the roads are blocked and let’s see how long their resolve lasts.

But don’t get lulled into a false sense of security. The troublemakers in the late September protest were a whole different group of agitators. In that protest they marched through our streets, harassing diners and yelling at families, while surrounded by their own security force dressed in black with baseball bats!

One thing I can predict is that sooner or later something bad is going to happen. We will either take the path of neighboring cities and slide downhill into crime and chaos, or the citizens will begin standing up to these groups and take back the streets. Neither scenario has a good ending.

In closing, the primary function of government is leadership, and to maintain law & order. Sadly, they are falling short on both right now. I know many families who have stopped coming into town because of this problem. Those families used to spend their hard-earned money shopping and eating in our city. Can we afford to turn our back on anyone right now? Do we want a city where women and children feel threatened?

They need to figure this out and put an end to it NOW. Otherwise, deputize community members and let them clear the streets.

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