Though he wasn't part of yesterday's meeting, City Council President Eugene Jankowski said tonight there was never any agreement between the city and organizers of a planned protest against racial injustice to coordinate an alternative event in Williams Park.
Jankowski said he communicated to Macy Paradise within 30 minutes of Paradise announcing a BBQ for Equality on Facebook that no event can be sanctioned by the city without City Council authorization.
"I was very clear that morning with Macy and Chelsea (another person reportedly involved in organizing the event) that unless it goes through Council, the City Manager has no authority to approve anything like this," Jankowski said.
Paradise also sent information to The Batavian about the event and said that Police Chief Shawn Heubusch had agreed to speak at the event. After The Batavian spoke with Heubusch and Heubusch said he would speak, we published a story. We then did a live video interview with Paradise later that afternoon and Jankowski said that interview was well after he had informed Paradise that the city could not commit based on just a meeting with staff to either participating in an event or approving an event without a permit, which must be approved by the City Council.
Jankowski said while he doesn't know the particulars of the meeting on Monday morning, he doesn't believe Moore made any verbal commitments and he certainly didn't commit the city or City Church to providing free food for the event.
This evening, the City Manager Martin Moore put out the following statement:
“Due to the ongoing events that are occurring in Buffalo, Rochester, and elsewhere in the region, the City of Batavia will not participate in, and has not approved any official community event at this time, as we need to keep citizens safe. We have been working with multiple law enforcement agencies across the region to ensure that we are prepared for any type of public demonstrations, and we anticipate a respectful response from our local community members. ”
We also spoke with Moore and asked about the consequences of "moving" Sunday's event from Williams Park, which will less likely be a target for outside agitators, to Downtown -- which is the likely location for a planned march or protest if not Williams Park. Moore said it isn't a move because the city was never involved in any event at all.
Some local business owners have expressed concern about a protest taking place Downtown.
Moore said violence following peaceful protests in Rochester and Buffalo has given the city pause to participate in any event. Jankowski said the city was also concerned about liability and the city getting sued if something went wrong for an event they "co-sponsored."
"We're a town of 15,000 people," Moore said. "We are talking to state and federal experts in law enforcement and taking their advice."
Paradise let people know today that the BBQ was canceled and that other people were organizing a march.
Tonight, we reached out to Greg Munroe, one of four people organizing Sunday's protest/march.
Munroe said he will be at City Hall at 8 a.m. Sunday to help ensure things remain organized with the march scheduled to start at 11 a.m.
"We're still actually putting together the plan," Munroe said, "but this will be a peaceful protest that starts at City Hall."
The message he hopes the protest will convey is one of solidarity for the whole community. He said in that spirit, he hopes the police will participate, as they did today in Lockport (there have also been examples in Schenectady and Auburn).
He said police participation would help show the community that if anything tragic ever happened here, "there will be accountability; they will be on the side of right regardless of who is wrong."
When it looked like there was going to be a BBQ in Williams Park, Chief Heubusch was going to be one of the speakers. Munroe said he hopes the chief will participate in the event on Sunday, that he would be welcome to join in.
Jankowski said he supports a peaceful protest Downtown. That is everybody's constitutional right, he said. He did say he expects everybody to obey the law, which prohibits gatherings of people from blocking traffic.
Munroe said he doesn't anticipate a problem but he doesn't know how many people will show up.
He also acknowledges that the biggest issue at protests in other communities has been outside agitators. He said he and his fellow leaders will be on the lookout for troublemakers, but that the potential for trouble is why it's also important for the police and protestors to cooperate.
If organizers spot somebody who might cause problems, they will look for ways to de-escalate or ask them to leave.
"If we try to de-escalate and the police try to de-escalate, especially if we do it on both sides, we should avoid any problems," Munroe said.
The city also issued this statement tonight:
The City of Batavia stands in deep sadness and grief over the action of officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota resulting in the death of George Floyd. We have also been saddened over recent situations where Americans were murdered, abused, and treated unfairly by members of their community or law enforcement officials.
“I do not condone the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers, and I am proud to say that the City of Batavia promotes a high professional standard at our Police Department, with Officers committed to protect and serve all of our citizens. The City of Batavia Police Department is deliberate in their training and certification and take a community policing approach to engage the community and build bridges,” said Martin D. Moore, City of Batavia manager. “As always, my office is open. Please contact me if you have any concerns.”
“The actions of the police officers in Minneapolis leading to the death of George Floyd were despicable and unjustified given the information known to me at this time. No individual is above the law, and those that commit crimes, whether civilian, law enforcement, or government official, should be prosecuted to the fullest extent. The City of Batavia Police Department believes whole-heartedly in compassion, understanding, and communication with our community and condemn violence of any kind,” said Shawn Heubusch, City of Batavia Police chief.
The City of Batavia and Officers of the Batavia Police Department stand in solidarity to support meaningful change, however, the violence and chaos that has erupted in our region and across America must be stopped. Exploiting meaningful protests is a deplorable act, blurring the lines of what we all seek to achieve.
Batavia has gone through difficult moments, even difficult decades, but is a community built by Americans from all walks of life who worked hard to build a vibrant family-oriented city that accepts all people.
“We are willing to listen and have a dialogue with anyone, at any time, to better understand and reach common ground, but we will not allow our community to be a target for violence. The Batavia Police Department is working together with local, state, and federal law enforcement in a coordinated effort to protect the safety of our community, and are prepared in the case that any individual or group(s) incites violence,” concluded Police Chief Heubusch.