A group of local organizers staged a protest in downtown Utica Saturday in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Social media had many postings regarding expectations of trouble from outside groups and the Utica protest. No trouble ever materialized.
The protest on Oneida Square and march to the Utica Police headquarters was organized by a group that calls itself the Utica Abolitionists. The target of their protest was the Utica Police Department. The group said in their Facebook post that they were calling for the termination of Utica Police Officer Matthew Felitto. Officer Felitto was suspended without pay last week by the Utica Police Department after he self-reported an incident in which Felitto kicked a suspect who was in custody. In announcing the suspension, Utica Police Chief Mark Williams stated that the city would be seeking the officer’s termination. Utica Abolitionist organizers said that they were also demanding the termination of officers involved in the deaths of Walter Johnson and Jessie Lee Rose.
Johnson was shot and killed by a Utica Police officer in 2005 after he pointed a weapon at the officer. That weapon turned out to be a BB gun. Rose died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2013. Rose was in the playground at Addison-Miller in West Utica. He had fired several shots from a shot gun and reportedly point the gun at a responding officer before turning the gun on himself. The Utica cop fired two shots at Rose, hitting him once, in the hand.
The Utica area community was noticeable on edge with news of the planned protest and rumors of trouble. Some rumors claimed that bus loads of protesters were coming from the Rochester area and warned that there would be destructive unrest in Utica, like what had occurred in Rochester. In Rochester, trouble erupted after that city’s police revealed the death of a man in custody of police that happened months ago.
In New Hartford, at the New Hartford Shopping Center, at least half a dozen storefronts have been boarded up by merchants after social media posting of a screen picture depicting what is supposed to be an ad on Craigslist recruiting protesters to “drive out” “white owned bussinesses (sic)”. The ad then “demands” that “they” will be able to get the locations and open up their own businesses “rent free”. The ad claims to be from “BLM Utica chapter”. No such group is known locally. The ad cannot be found on Craigslist.