SARATOGA, NY (NEWS10) – Saturday’s massive brawl on Caroline Street is just the latest in an increase in violence in Saratoga. Business owners and neighbors say what they’ve seen this year isn’t something they want to get used to.
âCrazy. It’s not like the normal Saratoga that I know,â says Sarah Seeley, who has lived in the area for three years and owns Seeled by Ink.
âFor 10 years, I have never seen violence happen at this rate,â says Jeremy Kitchen, another resident. ” This is annoying. I don’t feel like this is a place where this should be happening. It is the nicest place I have ever lived, the safest place for sure.
When asked what they think may be contributing to the increase in crime reflected across the country, Saratoga’s neighbors say they believe it is a combination of pandemic pressures.
âEveryone has been locked in their house so much that they have forgotten how to behave downtown, especially when consuming alcohol,â says Kitchen.
âAnd I understand people want to have a good time here, but you don’t have to resort to violence,â says Seeley.
Deputy Police Chief John Catone said in a town hall meeting and press conference on Monday that violent crime was at its highest in his 35 years in the police force. He says evidence suggests Saturday’s fighters likely came from outside the region and some were known gang members. He says the police department is working with outside agencies to saturate all city centers on busy weekend nights.
On the one hand, our neighbors in Saratoga agree that something must be done against the outside forces that are causing trouble.
“May be [gang members] can get away like what happened [here] this weekend in Albany or Troy, because they’ve been doing it for years, and then they come here and people here aren’t really prepared, âsuggests Kitchen.
On the other hand, they are not satisfied with Catone’s statements accusing defenders of racial justice and publicly condemning elements of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“There is a narrative that emboldens the criminal as he demonizes the police, and as long as you keep pushing that narrative and hold the criminal accountable, these things will only escalate,” Catone said. Monday.
âA little makes me a little angry, because that’s not true,â Seely said in response to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton Wednesday. “From my perspective, I have a lot of friends who are actually in the BLM movement, and they’re the nicest people I’ve come to know.”
Catone was extremely passionate about Monday morning’s public meeting and press conference on the crime rate.
âWe have become a city sometimes filled with hate, lies and disinformation. A city where the voices of the few have created a narrative that labels the men and women of this police department as racist killers who should be funded, âhe said.
“I’m pissed off,” he added after a long pause.
However, Lexis Figuereo, a local BLM activist and a resident of Saratoga for 27 years, is equally passionate that all of the protests this summer have been peaceful and education-focused.
âWe had food at our events, arts and crafts for kids, information for people to learn and educate themselves, so for them to say the exact opposite about us didn’t is just an attempt to create division. It’s disgusting and disheartening, âsays Figuereo. “I don’t know what their gain is in saying that, other than saying that they need more police and that they get more power by portraying us as the enemy.”
âOur event in honor of Juneteenth was a celebration of the end of slavery and a community event. All the city officials should have been there, pure and simple, âadds Figuereo.
He says this makes Catone’s public position even more damaging.
âWe have to stop the fear campaign. What you are doing is putting us even more at risk by telling people that we are coming to our own city to provoke violence and almost destroy our city, âhe continues.
Catone went so far as to call on the “silent majority” on Monday to rise up and support his department.
âYou are either with us or you are not, and if you are not, then you are part of the problem. And if you are with us then step up, âhe said.
“I will stop your narrative,” he continued, referring to racial justice activists and those who seek and support public office. âBecause we are not a hate community, we are not a racist police service. “
The people of Saratoga say that as long as this continues, nothing will be done.
âBoth sides are right, and both sides are wrong in some ways, and I think people need to come together and figure out how to fix it instead of just yelling at each other,â Kitchen says.
Kitchen and Seeley also say they are troubled by Commissioner Robin Dalton’s comments at Monday’s meeting that bar and restaurant owners “bear some responsibility here” for the increase in violence. Dalton made reference to exceeding capacity limits, underage drinking, excessive customers – all offenses that could constitute loss of liquor license.
âThe majority of business owners I know and love who work in this company always report everything,â Seely says.
âI’ve known a lot of bartenders and bouncers here for years. They do their job really well, and I give them a lot of respect because they’re in a dangerous situation too, you know? Always. They can’t watch everything, âKitchen adds.
Dalton at the time in Monday’s meeting also suggested the need to bolster the police department by at least 20 officers, saying there was a need to better understand drug sales.
“If we have enough police officers to crack down on the people who sell drugs here so that people cannot come and sell drugs here at double the price they sell them in their own city, they will not come here.” It’s an easy cause and effect, âshe said Monday.
NEWS10 has contacted the Police Department and Commissioner Dalton, but has yet to receive an updated response.