Gone are the pastors and protestors holding hands and singing We Shall Overcome. Sometimes at the business end of a fire hose.
In its place is a new spiritual: You Have to Fight For Your Right to Party. Usually accompanied by a cloud of marijuana smoke and whatever kinds of vodka Puff Diddy and 50 Cent are selling these days.
The new Selma is Troy, New York. Just outside of Albany. And the first shot in this new front in the battle for civil rights was fired early Saturday morning a few weeks ago. Not with a bullet, but with a 911 call from a night club called Kokopellis.
“We need the Troy police at Kokopellis,” said the unidentified caller. “We got a bar fight goin’ on here. It’s inside movin’ out. Someone got hit with a bottle.”
How many people are fighting? asked the operator.
“About a hundred.” That was around 2:30 a.m., just a few days after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, as a local paper reminded us.
Then a bartender called 911 as well: “I’m a bartender at Kokopellis, we need a few cops down here. We got like a ton of people fighting right now and our bouncers are getting punched in the face and everything.”
The “and everything” included getting hit with bottles and sprayed with pepper spray because the bouncers were trying to eject people from the club for smoking pot on the dance floor. But they did not want to go.
A word about Kokopellis: Most night clubs are easy to pigeonhole, mostly by their crowds. But lately a new kind of club is springing up: They try and do it all. Kokopellis is one of those. One night it will feature hip hop and attract a heavy black crowd. Another night, the DJ markets to gay people. They even have hookahs. The college kids love that.
And on and on.
But this night, videos show the crowd was mostly black. And they mostly did not like it when police arrived to the riot. The local paper called it a “scuffle.” Some scuffle.
Most of the people were there to commemorate the shooting death of a local DJ one year earlier. Local news reporter and talk show host Jim Franco said the killing was gang-related.
Police have since released the calls for help from the first responders: “They are throwing bottles at us,” said one cop. “Whoever is on their way better step it up.”
They did. Videos show when cops arrived in bigger numbers soon after, they were met with defiance, physical resistance, pepper spray and someone even discharged a fire extinguisher at them.
Outside, it wasn’t going any better. “Two of our officers were struck in the head by bottles,” said police captain John Cooney told News 10 in Albany. “One suffering a laceration with bruising to the head. A garbage can was thrown at one of our officers. And after glancing off him, went through the back window of one of our patrol cars.”
Before it was over, six people -- all black -- were arrested. Eight cops were injured, six went to the hospital.
Soon after the real riot ended, the virtual riot began. This was the riot that black ministers insisted had really happened: Cops were beating black people for no other reason than they could. And, oh yeah, they were a bunch of racists.
Cue the Al Sharpton wannabe, Pastor Willie Bacote, backed up by members of the Troy African American Pastoral Alliance. At a community meeting soon after, Bacote was upset at how the police were using excessive force to deny the black people of Troy their right to party. And he was not going to let that happen. Not on his watch.
The Albany Times Union recorded Paster Bacote’s insights for the record: "Race has to be on the table. We've got a lot of problems to deal with in our city," said Bacote of the Missing Link AME Zion Church.
The Troy Record could not get enough of Bacote either. “We have had enough of these incidents here in the city of Troy that keep wanting us to meet like this,” said Pastor Willie Bacote. “We will not tolerate this any longer.”
Bacote was referring to the police responding to several emergency calls involving large scale violence. Not the drunk, high people who attacked the police when they showed up to restore order.
The Tory Record did not point this out, but as police riots go, this was pretty tame stuff: No fractured skulls. No broken arms. No dog bites. No billy club bruises. No bullet holes. No one died. Not like the old days.
One of the men allegedly involved in the brawl and who was later arrested for resisting arrest had a black eye.
The Troy police just hauled several inebriated people off to jail who did not want to go. For Bacote, that meant it was time for the poor and oppressed black people of Troy, New York to go to the mattresses: “We will fight them on the battlefield of justice,” Bacote said.
By now its a familiar act. But fewer and fewer people seem to be buying it, if reader comments are any judge:
“Oh god. I wondered how long it would be before Bacote got his mug in the news demanding police leave black folks alone,” said one reader. “The bar owners were trying to shut the bar down because stupid idiots decided they were going to smoke pot inside. The unruly patrons didn't like being told to leave so they beat up a bouncer. The cops had to be called and the rest is history. Bacote, isn't it time for you to head down south like you've been promising for years? Troy doesn't need your here pulling your race card at every possible opportunity. We're sick of it.”
Even the usually most dependable allies in this civil rights struggle had their doubts about this one: “Incident At Kokopellis,” began the headline of an NPR story. “Finding Racism Where Some Say There Is None?”
Its a start.
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