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Police shut down protest, make arrests, outside Johnson City Wegmans

A number of people were arrested outside Wegmans in Johnson City Wednesday after police broke up a protest meant to draw attention to the killing of Tyre Nichols.
Vaughn Golden
Dozens of protesters arrested outside Wegmans in Johnson City Wednesday, after police broke up a protest meant to draw attention to the killing of Tyre Nichols.

Police arrested a number of people, likely in the dozens, protesting outside Wegmans in Johnson City Wednesday night.

Organizers called for the demonstration as a response to the killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis and the New Year’s Day arrest of Hamail Waddell in Binghamton. A Binghamton police officer was seen kneeling on Waddell’s neck during the arrest, spurring new calls to address police violence.

Shortly after 7 P.M. 30 to 40 people assembled outside the westernmost doors to the Wegmans location in Johnson City. In response, store staff and police shut down the building. As more police arrived, protestors began using bullhorns and they were ordered to disperse.

"You are currently on private property. The property owners do not want you on the property and have requested you leave,” a sheriff’s deputy announced over his vehicle's external speaker.

Protestors resumed speaking. One speaker said they would leave shortly, but before that could happen, law enforcement officers from multiple agencies began making arrests.

Several people were brought to the ground as they were arrested, others remained standing. One Johnson City police officer was seen administering an inhaler to a man who’d been detained.

Arrests continued as police ordered crowds to move back towards the rear of the parking lot. At one point, a Johnson City police officer deployed pepper spray, directly hitting Binghamton Press and Sun Bulletin reporter Sarah Eames, who was standing amid a group of protestors.

Over a dozen people were processed by Johnson City police. Johnson City police did not provide details on the number of arrests or charges.

Among the people arrested was former Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan, who told WSKG he was charged with resisting arrest and trespassing. Ryan said before arrests he was there as a “legal observer”, and wasn’t standing in the main crowd of protestors.

By 7:45 P.M., numerous law enforcement agencies were seen on site, including Johnson City Police Department, Broome County Sheriff, New York State Police, Binghamton Police Department and Endicott Police Department. At least three ambulances were also at the scene.

Around the same time, Wegmans closed the location for the evening as police blocked off the entrance to the plaza on Harry L. Drive.

A spokesperson for Wegmans told WSKG in a statement before Wednesday's protest that it asked protestors to remain on public sidewalks.

“We are aware of the planned protest at our Johnson City store, and we respect people’s right to peacefully protest, their need to be heard, and their desire to effect change,” a Wegmans spokesperson wrote.

“Because our stores are private property, we ask that protestors please remain on public sidewalks during the event.”

Organizers called the protest in coordination with other demonstrations drawing attention to the death of Tyre Nichols in the hands of Memphis police last month.

The event in Johnson City also sought to draw attention to the violent New Year’s Day arrest of Hamail Waddell by Binghamton Police.

“For locals who are unaware or indifferent to the recent string of injustices at the hands of law enforcement, this location provides a unique opportunity to further raise the profile of these incidents,” protest organizers wrote in a Facebook post.

That same Facebook event page included a post by the organizer, disguised as a parody account for a non-existent Chick-fil-A restaurant in Johnson City, providing guidance on what to do if police begin arrests.

“Specifically, if you see someone being arrested, you can use the ‘Swarm & Embrace’ technique to hang on to the person being arrested. Wrap your arms around the victim and don't let go. Do not engage the officer—focus on holding and/or freeing the victim,” the guidance partially read.

The same post advised attendees that the protest was lawful.

Waddell is pleading not guilty to charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. Bystanders have posted video of a Binghamton Police Officer, Brad Kacynski, kneeling on Waddell’s neck during the arrest. The New York Attorney General’s office is investigating the arrest.

Updated: February 2, 2023 at 5:24 PM EST
In a press release, the Johnson City Police Department said about 50 people participated in the protest, and 15 people were arrested. Police said the protest was on private property and was illegal; they responded after being called by the property owners for assistance.

Police said Wegmans employees asked protesters to leave, but they refused. Officers attempted to arrest protesters, at which point the department said protesters rushed in to interfere. One officer was punched in the face. An officer used pepper spray twice to disperse the crowd. A reporter with the Press and Sun Bulletin was among the group that was pepper sprayed.

Police said former Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan arrived with the protesters and refused to leave. They add, Ryan has not been processed for any charges; he was taken into custody and issued an appearance ticket. An officer did mistakenly write “trespassing” and “resisting arrest” on Ryan’s ticket. The charges of trespassing and obstructing governmental administration will likely be filed in the coming days.

The Johnson City Police Department said it supports the right to peaceful protest and “stand with the protestors in their disgust and outrage over incidents like the killing of black men such as Tyre Nichols and George Floyd.”
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.