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One Year Later

After reaching a settlement with the family and making various policy changes, the city of Albany declares case closed on the death of David Scaringe

On New Year’s Eve 2003, Albany was convulsed by the killing of David Scaringe, who was shot by a stray bullet as two police officers, Joseph Gerace and William Bonanni, fired at a car that had sped away from a traffic stop [“Death and Disbelief,” Newsfront, Jan. 8, 2004]. Last Wednesday, Jan. 5, the city announced that it was settling a lawsuit brought by the Scaringe family for $1.3 million, the largest settlement of its sort for the city, and recapped a range of policy changes that have been made in response to the death.

Throughout the year, many friends of Scaringe, as well as others who were troubled by the implications of the shooting, joined together to call on the city to take significant action to ensure such a thing wouldn’t happen again, both by disciplining the officers involved and by changing department policies [“Here’s Your Outcry,” Newsfront, April 29, 2004]. Some, including Scaringe’s fiancée Karen Jabonaski, joined forces with the citizen group Citizens for Accountable Police and Government, who were trying to draw attention to questions about the firing of Cmdr. Christian D’Alessandro and use of seized asset funds.

Though officials reached out to the family at the time of Scaringe’s death, response from city officials on calls for policy change and discipline were restrained, even terse, for much of the early part of the year. They wouldn’t speak at all until the grand jury investigation was complete. After the grand jury concluded without returning an indictment in early May, the Albany Police Department wouldn’t share any details of its own internal investigation. In fact, it only recently became clear that the officers had been disciplined at all, though the details are still being withheld for privacy reasons. The officers have not returned to active duty; they are on leave due to job-related illness.

At the same time as they promised to review them, Mayor Jerry Jennings and Albany Police Chief James Turley said repeatedly throughout the early months of 2004 that they believed their policies on vehicle pursuit and use of deadly force to be sound. But last spring, a woman in West Hill was injured when someone being chased by police ran into her vehicle. Then Jennings was reported to have been distressed and motivated to push for change in August, when eight police cars, one unmarked, passed his own vehicle in a chase that headed out of the city to Thacher Park. (Then and now, only two, and no unmarked cars, are allowed in a pursuit.)

The APD’s vehicle-pursuit policy was in fact amended in September and its policy on use of deadly physical force was amended in December. In both cases, restrictions on the use of firearms and standards of public safety were spelled out in more explicit and restrictive language. Officers are now specifically restricted from firing at a vehicle in an attempt to disable it.

APD spokesman Detective James Miller said that the changes were not inconsistent with earlier statements that the policies the APD had were good. The intent—in the case of vehicle pursuits, for example, to “balance the risks associated with a pursuit against the risk of terminating a pursuit”—were already there, said Miller, but “ultimately it was determined that there were some vague parts that needed to be clarified. The policies were fine, but they needed to be clarified and to have stricter versions.”

The Scaringe family cited the policy changes as one of the reasons they were willing to accept a settlement.

The city and the family are also establishing a scholarship fund in David Scaringe’s name in conjunction with the Albany Police & Fire Foundation that would go to police candidates or students with an interest in law enforcement and public safety.

—Miriam Axel-Lute

maxel-lute@metroland.net


Overheard

“Got a smoke?”

Bad Things Come in Threes? Three booted cars in a row on Division Street in Albany last Friday (Jan. 7).

photo: Chris Shields

[Two minutes later, carrying two boxes of wine glasses]

“Want to buy some fine glassware for your home?”

[Two minutes later]

“Got some change?”

—Same man to the same person waiting at an Albany bus stop
on Madison Avenue



What a Week

Democracy’s Great, as Long as There’s No Risk Involved

Despite dramatic discrepancies between exit polls and actual vote counts, conspicuous differences between the availability of voting machines in Democratic districts and in those of their Republican neighbors, and reports of Republican-funded groups tearing up new Democrats’ registration forms and “challenging” voters, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he has not seen any evidence of fraud in last November’s election results, so there was no reason to join two congresspeople from Ohio and California Sen. Barbara Boxer in objecting to the final electoral vote tally last week. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), who also remained silent during the objection process, said later that she appreciated her colleagues’ efforts and that there should be higher standards for voting accuracy.

Insert Diabolical Laugh Here

Global media tyrant Rupert Murdoch further solidified his control over the spread of information in the United States this week, announcing plans to buy out the other shareholders of Fox. In the deal, Murdoch will gain significantly more control over all Fox properties and the DirecTV satellite service, and be able to integrate those media assets into his ambiguously named News Corporation, which provides newspaper, film, television and satellite services to countries around the world.

Kept in the Dark

The Department of Justice recently released a detailed protocol for treatment of sexual-assault survivors. Detailed, that is, except when the subject of possible rape-related pregnancy comes up, in which case the guidelines just say “treatment should be discussed.” A total of 206 church groups, medical groups, and reproductive-rights groups sent a letter to the DOJ protesting the exclusion of emergency contraception—an FDA-approved, pregnancy-preventing method—from the guidelines.



Silence speaks volumes: Robert Millman.

photo: Chris Shields

I Hear Nothing

After initial resistance, conservative talk bastion WGY-AM agrees to accept a series of locally produced issue ads

Sample an average day’s programming on local Clear Channel talk-radio station WGY-AM 810, and you can expect to hear some unique perspectives on the current headlines and social issues. From women’s rights (“I’ve always loved the women’s movement, especially when I’m walking behind it—it’s when you look at a bunch of feminists from the front that it gets a bit more difficult,” reasoned afternoon host Rush Limbaugh recently) to the psychology of abuse (“Can you be a monogamous pedophile?” asked morning host Glenn Beck), WGY and Clear Channel would appear to place few limits on the subject matter they broadcast into homes, cars and offices around the region. Yet, as Glenville resident Robert Millman recently discovered, some topics are still too taboo for the WGY listening audience.

“This is a paid radio moment,” begins Millman in one of seven 30-second “issue ads” that he recorded, produced and negotiated air time for on WGY. “We’re all nervous about losing our jobs—even politicians. But they can cut a deal to keep their jobs safe. When politicians redraw voting districts, they choose where your vote goes, and they get elected again and again.

“And before they retire, they choose where your vote goes next,” continues Millman. “That’s what redistricting is: a way to steal your vote.”

The ads, which Millman planned to air during both the station’s morning drive programming and—in the case of one ad—during Limbaugh’s afternoon show, addressed a variety of topics including the deficit and voting irregularities (“Voter suppression isn’t a strategy,” says the ad. “It’s a crime”), as well as the war in Iraq and Christianity. And in the spirit of putting one’s money where one’s mouth is, Millman agreed to pony up more than $700 of his money to get the short statements heard.

“I’m not afraid of discourse,” he explained. “I’m more than happy to stack my idea of what’s right against anyone else’s in a public forum.”

Clear Channel and WGY, however, seemed less than thrilled about their
conservative-friendly format becoming such a forum. Along with right-wing pundits Limbaugh and Beck, WGY’s programming includes shows hosted by Michael Savage and Sean Hannity, two radio personalities who have made a career out of bashing—whether on-air, in print or in person—anyone who questions the current administration’s ideology.

“Unfortunately, our programming staff would not approve your ads,” wrote a Clear Channel spokesperson after Millman submitted the recorded statements. The notice gave no further explanation for the rejection.

According to Millman, repeated inquiries about which ads—or portions of the ads—were deemed objectionable, as well as offers to change the ads’ style or content, went unanswered by station officials. It wasn’t until he sent a letter to Clear Channel CEO John Hogan in San Antonio that he finally received a response from the station’s local representatives, said Millman.

“WGY has the right to accept or refuse paid advertisements at the management’s discretion,” wrote Greg Foster, operations manager and program director for Clear Channel Radio in Albany, in a short e-mail response to Millman received shortly after Millman’s letter arrived in San Antonio.

And while Foster’s statement is indeed true—radio stations have the right to reject any advertisement based upon its subject matter—Millman and other free-speech advocates took to the snowy streets last weekend to vent their frustration over what they see as partisan bias in the station’s programming.

“Our country is worth all of this,” said Millman, in reference to both the cost of the advertising and the frigid conditions he and a small group of supporters endured Saturday afternoon during a quiet protest outside Clear Channel’s Albany headquarters. The group later placed black tape over their mouths and stood, American flag held high amid falling snow, next to the station’s entrance.

While Millman acknowledged that the station’s refusal was perfectly legal, he questioned Foster’s added assertion (from the previously mentioned e-mail message) that “WGY operates without religious or political agenda.”

“The topics of my issue ads . . . deficit spending, right to vote, oil dependence, the Iraq war, dissent and Christianity . . . are all subjects regularly discussed on WGY,” reasoned Millman. “But what I’m saying about [these issues] doesn’t agree with the half-truths Rush Limbaugh and the rest are telling us.”

And Millman’s persistence in his quest to get alternative viewpoints on the local airwaves might soon pay off, as a conspicuously more agreeable WGY recently agreed to air the ads—provided Millman includes his e-mail address or other contact information at the end of his statement.

“I know I’m not the only one who’s disappointed with both the radical right and the Democrats these days,” laughed Millman. “So if this lets some of them know that we’re not all happy about the direction the country is headed, I consider it money well spent.”

Numerous calls to Clear Channel and WGY for comment were not returned.

—Rick Marshall

rmarshall@metroland.net


When is justice served? (l-r) Fred Boehrer and Jon Rice.

photo: Alicia Solsman

Reform the Offender, Heal the Victim

Advocates for restorative justice say their system picks up where conventional criminal justice ends

When harm is done to someone and the offender is locked away, is the government’s work really done?

That was the question posed by speakers at a recent forum on “restorative justice,” a style of conflict resolution gaining support here in the United States as more questions are raised about the effectiveness of the nation’s criminal-justice system.

“Often, the people who have been harmed have little or no role in the conventional criminal-justice system,” said Fred Boehrer, moderator for the forum and a member of the Albany Catholic Workers.

The aim of restorative justice, which advocates describe as a “victim-driven” system of handling conflicts, is to make the offender truly aware of the scope of his or her actions by bringing everyone affected by the incident together. By taking a community approach toward handling conflicts, supporters claim that the number of repeat offenders is reduced, and local residents are spared the cost of handling matters through the standard court system and—in some cases—incarceration.

Simply by giving the victim—whether one person or an entire community—the chance to tell an offender how life has changed because of the incident, supporters of restorative justice insist that many conflicts can be resolved without court dates or jail time, and the lives of both the victim and offender can regain some (relative) normalcy.

“This isn’t a system where you can do whatever you want to me, we’ll talk about it and you can do it all over again,” explained Jon Rice, a clinical social worker who was involved in training some of the local law enforcement—including recently elected Albany County District Attorney David Soares—in taking a more community-
oriented approach toward settling conflicts. With Soares’ election, Rice and other supporters of restorative justice hope that the benefits of this style of justice might be experienced locally.

“[Restorative justice] simply takes advantage of the full potential for communication that comes with being human,” said Rice.

Like Rice, many of the speakers at Tuesday’s forum acknowledged the difficulties of winning over a public trained to view any proposal that would reduce the number of people sent to jail as “soft on crime.” Yet, according to some of the day’s speakers, systems of restorative justice are not only in use outside of the United States, they are playing an integral role in resolving conflicts big and small.

“In New Zealand and Australia, the juvenile-justice system is almost entirely restorative in its approach,” said Dennis Sullivan, author of Restorative Justice: Healing the Foundations of Our Everyday Lives and professor at the University at Albany. “The U.S. has actually lagged behind when it comes to looking at the big picture in justice.”

Sullivan added that restorative-style justice systems are widely used in Canada and Europe, as well as in countries like Rwanda. While the systems are often first used as a method for resolving lesser crimes such as theft or vandalism, Sullivan said that such systems have also helped heal communities that had otherwise been plagued with abuse and other harsher incidents.

For Rice, a recent case he was involved in proved to be the best indication of the potential for restorative justice. After spending many months working with a man who had abused a member of his community, Rice said that he had seen a world of difference in the man’s perspective on what he had done.

“It was like night and day,” said Rice of the man’s transformation.

However, Rice knew that the community affected by the man’s actions had seen little of this transformation, and as such
wasn’t likely to understand its extent. If a more restorative approach had been taken, argued Rice, the community would not only have been informed of what was happening, but would have taken an active role in bringing about that change.

“Sure, we repaired his understanding of right and wrong,” reasoned Rice, “but we didn’t do anything to repair the community he affected.”

—Rick Marshall

rmarshall@metroland.net


Loose Ends

The house of Stephen Myers, a leading figure in New York state’s abolitionist movement, which was discovered and acquired by Paul and Mary Liz Stewart of the Underground Railroad Project this summer [“On Beyond Tubman,” June 3, 2004], was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as of Nov. 30, 2004. The Stewarts report that more than 50 volunteers have been working to clean up the property, and the project has received a $10,000 grant from the Bender Foundation toward its restoration.



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