Editorial

TMI: Was violence necessary in graduation arrest at Proctors?

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TMI: Was violence necessary in graduation arrest at Proctors?

Clifton Rendell was violently arrested in front of crowds of parents and kids during a graduation ceremony at Proctors on Friday, June 23. He says he is looking for more footage of the incident to prove that there was no cause for his arrest and is looking to file a complaint against the city. He’s told his arm was sprained during the incident but thinks it might be worse than that. What mainly stings for him though, is the fact that he missed his daughter graduate. “I didn’t see her graduate and that isn’t going to happen again. I missed it.”

Rendell still does not know the names of the officers who arrested him–their names have not been reported and the Schenectady Police Department has not responded to requests from The Alt. Police Chief Eric Clifford hasn’t responded to multiple messages left on his personal number.

Parents were gathered outside the doors of the theater complaining that they weren’t allowed in as they didn’t have tickets or were late. Rendell told me last week that he wasn’t one of those parents. He says he was waiting for one of his family members who was holding his seat. He says he watched as two Schenectady Police Officers laughed and told a parent to “shut up” as they cried about not being let in to see their child graduate. Families were allowed a set number of tickets for the event.

Witnesses note that one woman standing near Rendell was particularly animated and lobbing racial slurs at the officers.

“They said I was causing problems and things,” Clifford told me. “I wasn’t cursing them out like other parents. I had a ticket and I just said “this is sad, this isn’t funny” because these officers we’re laughing at people crying. Then an officer came up and grabbed me from behind.”

You’ve likely seen the video of a Rendell being subdued by two officers during the Schenectady High School graduation. The video shows a white officer in a blue shirt punching wildly at a black man who is in the throes of being restrained by what appears to be a uniformed officer. Schenectady Police Chief Clifford told The Gazette: that “knowing all the information I know” the officer’s behavior was appropriate. The SPD said in a press release that Rendell was causing a “hazardous environment.”

Clifford told The Daily Gazette recently that his officers were “placing strikes” in an attempt to subdue a man who they say was creating a “hazardous environment” outside a graduation ceremony at Proctors.

“It’s frustrating for the 15 seconds this video is grabbing the attention of the public it has the potential to erase hours and hours of good work our police do every day,” Clifford said in a statement to The Gazette. The 15 seconds he is referring to includes the officer punching a struggling man in the head several times.

I’ve spoken to a number of witnesses and even some participants in the scuffle and they aren’t particularly clear on what caused the melee.

From my point of view, how the incident began isn’t germane to those 15 seconds of video. “Placing strikes” isn’t a thing people do–punching people in the head is and the technique isn’t often used to subdue someone–it’s more often used to punish and intimidate than not.

It’s a technique that should not have been employed in a crowded public theater full of parents and children.

I asked Professor Gregory G. Gilbertson, an expert witness and private investigator, to examine the tape. He said he doesn’t see excessive force. “I look at these types of videos all the time. 98% of the time excessive force is observed,” Gilbertson wrote. “In all honesty, I feel this case falls into the 2% that don’t display excessive force. I’m sure this situation could have been handled better, but I don’t see excessive force in this case”

And while I disagree with him about use of excessive force I agree the situation could have been handled much better.

“The fact of the matter is, there’s no place for police to be brutalizing citizens,” Mikayla Foster an activist in Schenectady who has been in touch with Rendell’s family, told me. “But the place certainly isn’t a high school graduation. And even though they had no right to use physical force in general, the man was already restrained. Leaving there again, no space for any excuses on the matter. There was no need for the amount of brute force used. And it is undeniable.”

No matter how belligerent or threatening Mr. Rendell was, his body was already being controlled by another officer, the strikes appear to me not to have been a legitimate tool employed by law enforcement but a punitive measure doled out by someone who was enraged and lashing out.

Police officers take an oath to serve and protect so while they may have thought they we’re protecting by subduing Rendell, they should have also been aware they weren’t serving the community by beating a black man in public–especially in the age of Philando Castille. And especially given that the Schenectady Police has a history of employing excessive force.

The Schenectady Police Department was monitored by the federal government for 10 years during investigations by the FBI and Department of Justice following allegations of corruption, use of excessive force and systemic civil rights violations. In 2013 the monitoring was lifted and department declared reformed. But since then there have been scores of allegations of use of excessive force and the city has settled with complainants.

Brendan Lyons of the Times Union reported on the subject in April, writing: “Interviews with people involved in violent encounters with Schenectady police, and a review of videos and court records, raise questions about whether the department began slipping back to its old ways in recent years.”

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