Black Residents Face Discrimination at Oneida County Office Building

by Brendan Maslauskas Dunn / Love and Rage

Residents in Utica, NY gathered at the Oneida County Office Building on the morning of August 19 for a Black Lives Matter rally in response to incidents of discrimination targeting local Black people. Kimberly Jones, who was recently fired from her job at ALDI for wearing a Black Lives Matter mask then rehired after mounting community pressure on the company, emceed the protest, keeping up the energy and imploring people to join the Black Lives Matter movement as she filmed the event live on Facebook.

The rally was organized by Angela Patterson after an incident that happened to her at the County building yesterday where she feels like she was targeted for wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt.

Patterson went to the County Office Building yesterday to drop off some paperwork. That morning she decided to wear her Black Lives Matter t-shirt to show support for the movement. She stood in line outside to enter the building, and while two residents in front of her were let inside the building, the Oneida County Sheriff stationed at the door did not let her inside. “They get to my turn and they didn’t even open the door,”  said Patterson who describes herself as a community advocate.

Patterson went home, changed into a Mickey Mouse shirt, and headed back to the County building. This time, she was let right in. But before she decided to go in, she raised her complaints with another Sheriff, who was donning a “Blue Lives Matter” face mask, about the earlier encounter. The exchange was filmed and subsequently shared on social media.

Upset at what happened, she called the office of Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente but felt that his staff were “trying to justify the situation.” Feeling let down by elected officials, she took her message to the streets in the form of a protest. “I’m here to show up and show out,” she said. She was not the only one.

Ebrima Bakarr was another attendee at the rally who spoke out about another incident of racial discrimination. Like Patterson, Bakarr is a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and came to the rally donning a similar t-shirt. He spoke to the small crowd assembled about his futile attempt to get a pistol permit. “I was given the runaround at first,” he said. According to Bakarr, a County employee repeatedly sent him home, asking him to bring the proper paperwork, even though Bakarr brought all the paperwork as directed by the instructor of the NYS Pistol Permit Class he recently took.

According to Bakarr, the same employee told him that his address would prevent him from getting a permit. Ebrima Bakarr lives on Dudley Avenue in the heart of Utica’s predominantly Black and working class neighborhood of Cornhill. Bakarr stated that the employee threatened the class instructor that a judge could bar him from giving future classes if he continued to send people in with the “wrong paperwork.”

“I have the Second Amendment right to bear arms. You cannot tell a Black man you cannot have your pistol permit just because of where you live,” said a visibly upset Bakarr.

The racial discrimination at the County Office Building experienced by both Patterson and Bakarr is not unique. Sociologist and author Frances Fox Piven has written extensively on social movements and how government welfare programs can be used to exert control over working class people and create racialized divisions – giving more or less to people based on the color of their skin but also in response to the collective power of common people to push back and demand more.

One such example of this collective power was displayed by the Black Panther Party in the 1960s-70s. Bakarr noted his familiarity with the history of the Panthers and the drastic measures taken to infringe on the right to bear arms when exercised by Black people.

As the Black Lives Matter rebellion marches onward through the summer, and as Utica residents continue to organize in the community, the message from every speaker at the rally could not be more simple and direct.

Patterson, Jones and Bakarr all had the same demand that punched through the August humidity today: “Join us.”

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