A nondescript office building on South Salina Street in Syracuse, NY, holds the offices of one of the most hated government agencies in America. No, it’s not the IRS. It’s ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.
The building like many others across the country housing ICE offices, are privately owned. This one in downtown Syracuse is a mixed use building, some levels holding corporate offices and on others residential. The lobby looks like any other generic office building, it is telling though that there is no info on the walls telling which offices are on what floor. A quick search finds nothing about the building’s contents either – other than a shoddily thrown together website for the new residential apartments with totally not photoshopped renders of the apartments.
While Philadelphia and Portland are running actual occupations outside of their ICE offices, the nature of the ICE office in Syracuse doesn’t allow for it. Also, Syracuse doesn’t have the same type of immigration facilities that many major cities do – currently most detainees are held in Western NY. That’s why activists in Syracuse called for an #EvictICE action – a follow up to previous rallies that were called in front of the building.
After a handful of speeches, one calling on Governor Cuomo to follow through on his promise of issuing undocumented New Yorkers licenses, an idea pushed by the Green Light Coalition (and supported by candidate Cynthia Nixon) the rally turned to a march. Taking to the streets the few cars that the march interacted with responded surprisingly positive, beeping their horns and raising a fist of solidarity (as a cynical Syracuse area native, I’m always surprised when locals react positively to protests).
Once outside the building the hundred or so marchers briefly discussed the potential for arrest but emphasized that they had the right to enter the building. Upon this announcement I watched the long security guard scurry back to his desk in the lobby, likely to make the appropriate phone calls to the Syracuse Police Department.
Nearly filling the lobby nine activists, most of with who were wearing “Evict ICE” t-shirts locked arms in front of the hallway that led to the first floor of the building. Shortly after a member of the International Socialist Organization read a prepared eviction notice, which another organizer translated into Spanish
Without much fanfare about 20 members of the 20 Syracuse police officers arrived and began threatening arrest to the hallway blockaders. From there one by one the activists were disappeared into the uniformed mass of police, cuffed and taken away out the other side of the building. Once the hallway was clear the officers pushed, sometimes not so pleasantly the activists back, eventually out the door.
By the end, 10 to 11 of of their numbers were arrested. Organizers claimed that the police weren’t just temporarily detaining them – which is what usually happens in these protests – but holding them over night and prosecuting them.
Syracuse has a long history of organizing against organizations like ICE. There’s a statue that stands in one of our public squares. It’s called “Jerry’s Rescue.” Jerry was an escaped slave that was arrested thanks to the Fugitive Slave Act was being held in a Federal jail which was once on the location where the statue to him now stands.
The area was widely known as an abolitionist stronghold long before the Civil War. Many of our buildings and homes in the area have secret rooms built specifically for escaped slaves who were making their way to Canada along the underground railroad.
Once the townfolk heard that Jerry was being held they rallied and circled the the prison with their wagons. (Now this part of the story is told a couple difference ways) Outnumbered the Federal guard surrendered and Jerry was freed – once out of the prison he was put in a wagon and sent North – while all the other wagons went in different directions to confuse anyone who might be following. Jerry made it to Canada weeks later, and lived out his life there.
I was told that story in elementary school, and it stuck with me. As we keep hearing more and more stories about this police force that is unaccountable to it’s country’s citizens, that disappears family members in the dark of night, claims to have no need for warrants or due process. The story of Jerry keeps resonating, like it did today with the members of my community that were arrested calling for an end to ICE.