Flag torn, burned during a protest at Ithaca Police Department

Regional News

Picture of damaged flag at IPD – Courtesy of IPBA

Update: This article has been updated to include the response from Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick, which was released via Instagram yesterday afternoon.

ITHACA, NY (WETM) – Over the past 17 weekends, there has been civil unrest in the City of Ithaca. Each weekend groups gather to protest, frequently impeding traffic and causing frustration among citizens.

The usual location for these protests is E. Clinton St, where Ithaca Police Department Headquarters is located. As these protests continue additional incidents of violence and intimidation have increased, including this past Sunday, when someone removed the American flag from the flag pole at IPD headquarters, cut it, caught it on fire, and then replaced the flag back on the pole.

Ithaca Police Chief Dennis Nayor, confirmed with 18 News that there was an active investigation pertaining to the crime that occurred Sunday.

We wanted to acknowledge the frustration that many of our citizens feel in regards to the protests that keep blocking…

Posted by Ithaca Police Benevolent Association on Tuesday, September 29, 2020

When asked about crime in the City of Ithaca, Chief Nayor confirmed that crime is up in the City of Ithaca including, burglary, gun-related crimes including armed robberies, and shots fired; however, the Police Department is doing its best with the resources that they have available.

Chief Nayor states that there has not been a directive from the Mayor’s Office not to enforce laws, however, with the limited resources, they have to attempt to focus on the crimes that include violence and vandalism. The Ithaca Police Department is operating at 30% less staffing, with minimal resources. And the prolonged civil unrest over the past 17 weekends has worn the resources thin.

The department has begun to utilize traffic control measures, by diverting traffic away from the areas, in an attempt to keep citizens safe, as they do not have the resources available to address people in the streets.

When asked what he needed to operate at the level it’s citizens expect and deserve, Chief Nayor responded, that support from the criminal justice, political and social systems is what is needed. He added that he is extremely proud of the officers of the Ithaca Police Department who are doing their best in an extremely difficult time, and reiterated that to do their job they need support.

Mayor Myrick responded to WETM 18 News request by releasing an Instagram video later in the day, which is below.

“During this Sunday’s protests, the American flag which flies in front of IPD Headquarters was taken down, shredded, burned, and rehung by protestors.

As you can imagine this incident has captured the attention of the local media, and as we speak it is being used by internet trolls who would like to see this spark a broader real world conflagration. I’m not able to respond to each news outlet individually, so I’d like to speak with everyone at once.

For background you may know 18 straight weeks of protests have occurred in downtown Ithaca – sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and outrage about unequal treatment for black people under the law.

I attended many of these protests earlier in the summer. Because the fight for racial justice is personal and professional to me, and I know that as a City government and as a Mayor, I can do better.

I enjoyed the feeling of community and support at those early protests, even if I do not need speeches to illustrate the racial and social inequalities in our country. My family lived it and lives it. I’ve watched the people I love suffer under the burden of it. Some of my earliest memories were stern warnings from my mother about how cautiously and carefully I had to behave around police officers – because of the color of my skin and the history of our country. 

I’ve dedicated years of my professional life to ending the racist war on drugs, and working with the leaders of the Ithaca Police Department to turn around a culture and build a system of policing that is fair and just.

But as the weeks and months have gone by, the size of the protests have dwindled and the tactics of some in the street have become more aggressive. Surrounding civilian cars and taunting officers who were simply blocking traffic to protect the protestors. They even successfully baited a right wing counter-protest organized by the County Republicans.

Now, the destruction of an American Flag owned by the City. This property damage caused by at least one of the people present on Sunday falls outside the bounds of peaceful protesting.

Does a protester have a right to burn their own American flag? Yes. While it is offensive, especially to those who have served our country, it is considered protected speech under the First Amendment. Does a protester have a right to burn a flag that belongs to someone else? Absolutely not. The destruction of City property is unacceptable. This was an act clearly intended to provoke.

I’ll confess there have been times when I have been provoked by both leftwing and rightwing protestors. And there have been times when I have taken the protests personally – where I’ve felt that some of the protesters were unclear about my record, the state of policing in Ithaca, or what could be done to achieve racial justice.

But through it all I’ve insisted that our employees – and urged that our residents – listen hard, employ restraint, and assume positive intent.

I will continue to do that because I support protestors’ rights to be heard – on the left and the right. 

Local protests are part of a broader social movement in America in 2020, a movement crying out for justice for Black and Brown people. As Dr. Daniel Gillion wrote recently, “Righteous, nonviolent demonstrations are a hallmark of a functioning democracy. They provide catharsis for the participants and show the nation at large that something is wrong with our society and needs to change.”

I know it’s inconvenient for people who are trying to go about their daily lives, but inconveniencing people is one of the points of a protest. As long as there is no property damage and no threats to safety – for example hindering the ability of ambulances to respond to medical emergencies, or preventing fire trucks from responding to a fire – then the rights of protesters should be respected. 

The history of America is a history of protests, and it is through protest – including the first American protest in Boston Harbor – that political change has come in this country.

That being said, it is important to be clear that the Ithaca Police Department is an exceptionally well trained and community-oriented department, full of officers who are dedicated to serving their community. I know a great many people of color in this community who say they’d rather have an interaction with the IPD than any other police agency they’ve encountered. As a Black man I can honestly say that I have certainly felt that way ever since I was an undergraduate here in Ithaca. And we have been hard at work over my tenure as Mayor during the past 9 years to continually improve our department. We have an extremely rigorous screening process and hold our officers to high standards, as evidenced by the patience and professionalism they have shown through these 17 weeks of protests.

They have not used any force nor made a single arrest under circumstances that could have provoked both. IPD officers have also worked with extreme diligence to provide traffic barriers and traffic control to protect the protestors from motorists, even while the protestors are hurling taunts or insults at the individual officers.

I want to commend our Officers for their professionalism, and the commitment they’ve shown to continually improving the IPD, and the IPD’s relationship with the black community. For recognizing that there is deep mistrust, and that it is incumbent on law enforcement to build that trust through word and deeds.

For my part I recognize that we have work to do to achieve racial and social justice in Ithaca. And I’m committed to getting that work done – even in the face of intense pressure from the political right – as I’ve done my entire career.

I believe we can build on a brand new approach to public safety here in Ithaca. One that realizes that investing in social services doesn’t just feel good – it prevents crime.

An approach that sees economic development as an opportunity to increase equity and build a broader prosperity.

An approach that offers an entirely reimagined style of policing – demilitarized, friendly, approachable, equitable and just.

And while we do that work on the streets, in board rooms, and on zoom calls I will not discourage anyone – left, right or center – from gathering in our City to protest (though everyone really should apply for a permit. It is simple, and helps keep everyone safe).

However, I am appealing to those of you who are protesting for issues dear to your hearts to do so in a peaceful and productive manner. Acts of vandalism and violence will only distract from any meaningful progress.”

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