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Fights, Mask Burning At Protest Over Ithaca Police

Anti-Abolish Ithaca Police WEB Golden

ENDWELL, NY (WSKG) — The Ithaca Commons devolved into dueling protests Sunday with organizers of a “Support Ithaca Police Department” confronting, at times physically, counter protestors.

Earlier in the week, several right-wing activists announced they would conduct a Sunday rally in support of the Ithaca Police Department. It came amid the debate over whether Ithaca's force should be abolished and radically restructured under civilian-led administration.

The Ithaca Police Benevolent Association, the department’s union, later released a statementdiscouraging the event.  The Association said it “may detract from our message of collaboration with the police reform and the steps we've made with Common Council and the Mayor.”

The IPD would show up anyway.

On a sunny March day, punctuated with bitterly intense snow squalls, a few dozen pro-police demonstrators gathered around the Bernie Milton Pavilion on the north end of the Ithaca Commons.  Meanwhile, counter protesters, including contingents from Black Lives Matter and the Democratic Socialists of America, assembled at the center of the Commons.

The event began without conflict, but then the pro-police group migrated toward the counter protesters.  That was when individual demonstrators became adversarial and heated, at times requiring restraint before their actions developed into full conflict. At the time, no law enforcement was present, though IPD officers and state troopers arrived shortly thereafter.

Eventually, conflict erupted.

After a few minutes, the pro-police contingent returned to the Bernie Milton pavilion, followed at a distance by the bulk of the counter protestors.  They maintained their line behind a long banner.

Eventually, the pro-police group unveiled flags representing Black Lives Matter, Antifa and the People’s Republic of China, all of which they intended to burn. It was then, one of the counter protestors attempted to snatch the flags. A female counter protestor kicked organizer and the event’s permit-holder Zachary Winn, who then put her in a headlock.

Winn, joined by fellow organizer Rocco Lucente and a few others eventually did burn the flags, first inside planters lining the Bernie Milton Pavilion, then resorting to a trash can.

“They’re symbols of wanting this community to be ruled in a manner that I believe will lead to mass dysfunction. It was absolutely worth burning those symbols,” said Lucente when asked if he thought he’d gone too far.

Others called on demonstrators to toss their face masks into the fire.

The two groups continued their standoff. The majority of the pro-police group dissipated, largely leaving the organizers to clean up, though Winn capitalized on the opportunity to taunt counter protestors.

“You’re disgusting. You smell bad,” Winn said to one protestor.

He called another a sex offender, which prompted another altercation.

There were calls for deescalation and non-violence within both of the groups.

“My whole thing, the whole time, regardless of when we come out here what we do, is the safety of everyone. There is no reason for this to get out of hand. Bottom line,” Yasmin Rashid, a Black Lives Matter organizer and candidate for Common Council said.

After around three hours, the groups called it quits. 

Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.