Last Thursday, supporters of a measure to make Troy a sanctuary city, as well as counter-protesters, gathered outside Troy’s makeshift City Hall for a short, raucous rally, marked by at least one physical scuffle. A sanctuary city is one that has policies in place to prevent its law enforcement from assisting federal immigration authorities in their efforts to deport undocumented people. The Troy Area Labor Council, an organization representing the AFL-CIO membership in Rensselaer County, sponsored the demonstration, with organizer Sean Collins handing out copies of an AFL-CIO resolution for the “Protection of Immigrant Families” to be presented to the Troy City Council.
“It’s important to make sure Troy is a welcoming community for everyone,” said David Banks, one of the movement’s supporters.
Amar Deliou, a member of the Muslim community of the Capital Region, was similarly supportive of the movement, and expressed concerns about the direction national Republicans were taking this country, and the growing intolerance for minority racial and religious groups. “I follow the news and have been hearing about mosques being burned across the country,” he said. “The administration seems to be in perpetual campaign mode while people take the law into their own hands.” Deliou also decried the “venomous speeches” given by Trump, which he blames for helping to incite anti-Muslim and immigrant violence.
When asked why Deliou, as a Muslim-American, came out to support sanctuary cities, an issue that primarily involves Latino immigrants and refugees, Deliou smiled. “I have lived in the United States longer than I have lived back home,” he said. “My life is embedded in the fabric of the United States. My children have graduated from RPI and Union College. We are part of the community.”
About seven angry counter-protesters came out to show their opposition to the measure, hoisting American and Gadsden flags. Activist Luz Marquez Benbow got into a shouting match with one of the conservative activists, later telling The Alt that it was “interesting that [the counter-protesters] hid their violence behind the American flag.” Benbow told The Alt that she was “called a fat person, that I should lose weight.” Benbow said that the counter protesters told her “that I don’t matter, that nothing I say matters.”
Benbow’s “Sanctuary Everywhere” sign was ripped at the corner — according to Benbow, a counter-protester took Benbow’s sign from her hands, threw it on the ground, and walked on it.
Siobhan Burke, an organizer of the rally, told The Alt that “tonight’s demonstration was a good example of what happens when people stand up against bigotry against their neighbors.” She looked at the counter-protesters warily before saying, “we’ve got a long fight ahead of us, but we’re ready.”
Carol Lucey, a leader of the counter-demonstration, told The Alt that it was a “crying shame” that so many people were arrayed to support a sanctuary city measure. “Trump doesn’t want to get rid of the good people,” Lucey said. “He only wants to get rid of the criminals and gangbangers.” She went on to tell The Alt that she knows this to be true because “Trump said so on TV.”
The most prominent threats to public safety according to Lucey, were “MS-13 and Isis”. (MS-13 is a transnational gang that the Trump administration has been eager to point to as justification for its hardline immigration policies.)
“Usually you see tattoos all over their face, which identifies them,” said Lucey, about MS-13 members. MS-13 started in Los Angeles in the 1980s, and according recent FBI statistics, are a fraction of the total gang problems in the United States. When asked where Lucey was getting this information, Lucey told The Alt that she listens to “the world news,” including “Fox News and Channel 6.”
It was hard for this reporter to see who was responsible for the physical scuffle. There are conflicting accounts. Benbow and Burke blame the conservative activists for instigating the fight, while Lucey told The Alt that “[the counter-protesters] are being peaceful, but the [pro-sanctuary activists] are being violent.” Police broke up the physical fight immediately.
A strong chant of “No hate! No fear! Immigrants are welcome here!” went up shortly after, drowning out the counter-protesters.
“Just do it the right way!” a counter-protester yelled at the crowd.
“The right way is broken!” someone yelled back.
The counter-protester shrugged. “Oh well,” he shouted back.