Common Council August 2019

Last week’s Common Council meeting was an unusually quiet one, other than the public comment period.

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick gave his most extensive comments on the cases of Rose DeGroat and Cadji Ferguson last week, vocalizing a public apology for their arrests at the behest of local activists. 

His words came during an otherwise uneventful Common Council meeting last week. Members of Standing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) and Black Lives Matter-Ithaca dominated a brief public comment period with requests for more information, and action, from Myrick. Ferguson and De Groat, who are both black, were arrested after a fracas on the Commons on April 6, with police use of force that seemed excessive, judging by body camera footage that was released. After an internal investigation, it was announced that none of the officers involved in the arrests would be punished. 

The Ithaca Police Benevolent Association has not responded to a request for comment at this time. 

Ferguson claimed the fight started when he accosted someone who groped another one of his female friends. Police descended upon the fight, arresting Ferguson immediately and swinging De Groat to the ground when she tried to intervene for Ferguson. 

Prompted by several public comments, Myrick detailed his thoughts regarding the case that has intermittently roiled anger and protest from SURJ and the local Black Lives Matter chapter. Asked directly by Kate Salmon and Elan Shapiro of SURJ to make amends for the arrests, Myrick talked first about Ferguson, who is still facing charges for disorderly conduct. 

“You mentioned a lot of the things that Cadji did right in terms of intervening with a harassment and assault,” Myrick said. “The one thing you see him do on camera is throw a punch. Not something you’d ever teach someone in middle school. So, okay, how do we resolve that? Do we weigh the balance of what he did right and what he did wrong and come up with some sort of restorative justice? I think so.”

Myrick expanded on his answer further when it came to De Groat, who was charged with two felonies for attempted assault (her lawyer, Ed Kopko, has claimed there is an agreement in place to drop these charges, though District Attorney Matt VanHouten has not commented other than to say that Kopko is incorrect). Myrick did note that it’s “never okay to attack or assault a police officer,” but further mentioned that, as De Groat has claimed, it’s possible that she wasn’t aware who she was swinging at when she did, particularly because the police didn’t identify themselves while they were approaching. 

“We’ve got somebody who is 19 or 20 years old, having a normal night out that then goes terribly wrong,” he said. “Then suddenly, for months and for years, they’ll have to deal with the reputation of ‘Did they assault police? Are they these terrible, violent criminals?’ I don’t think they are. I don’t. So I’d be willing to issue a public apology for that. I don’t know if this is that, we’re on camera so it’s public in that sense, but if there was a meeting with them directly or a letter of some sort, I’d be happy to.”

To conclude his statements, Myrick acknowledged the potential futility of trying to mend Ferguson’s and De Groat’s relationship with the police officers involved in the arrests. There’s also, of course, the matter of how his statements will be received by the police union, who have been frequently critical of Myrick both over these arrests and an overarching tension from their lack of a union contract for the last several years. 

“I don’t know that we can fix this between Cadji and Rose and the police officers,” Myrick said. “The officers, many of whom are mad at us and furious with me, Cadji and Rose are mad, their families are mad, we’re all upset and afraid. I don’t know if we can fix it, but I know if we just face it honestly and speak our truths, especially now that the limits of what we can and can’t say are lifted, I hope that we can get some true justice.”

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