I have been greatly troubled by the leadership and actions of All of Us, the local organization in the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement in this area.
One of the main leaders in the “All of Us”/”Black Lives Matter” group here in Saratoga Springs has been Jamaica Miles. Ms. Miles, whose home is in Schenectady, has a long history in the struggle for social justice which was reported on in a flattering front page story in the Sunday, November 22, 2020, edition of the Daily Gazette.
Her long and dedicated commitment to social justice is undeniable but to be effective passion must be tempered by judgement.
I have been concerned about the actions sponsored by AU in downtown Saratoga Springs in which Ms. Miles has played a prominent role. While AU leaders continually express their commitment to non-violence, their tactics flirt with disaster. The demonstrations have been unstructured and without a sense of a disciplined plan of action. Even more worrisome, though, is that some of the people they refer to as “security” carry backpacks with the handles of small baseball bats sticking out. It is difficult to reconcile this with a commitment to non-violence.
This video of Lexus Figuereo, another leader of AU, at a demonstration this fall is a disturbing example of how situations at these events can potentially escalate. Mr. Figuereo later apologized for this incident where he verbally assaulted a Black minister who was demonstrating in support of the police, but it demonstrates the danger that a lack of organization and inadequate training in non-violence can produce. Were it not for the intersession of the police this could have escalated into a situation endangering participants, bystanders, and the police.
Many of the protesters that Ms. Miles has mobilized look to be young enough to be in middle school. It has been quite apparent at these demonstrations that these young people were unprepared for any confrontation that might arise with the police.
Given these concerns, I was very interested in the recent AU virtual training event they conducted that was described as a “Civil Disobedience Workshop.” It is of note that they left out the word non-violent.
The workshop was regrettably a very disappointing experience. Ms. Miles, in her introduction, said that the video of the training would be uploaded to their Facebook page but after more than a week it has not been posted.
The training began with Ms. Miles doing a brief introduction in which she explained that there were many forms of civil disobedience including boycotts, strikes, and other acts such as not paying taxes.
She then turned the meeting over to two people identified as Fern and Fin. Fern basically discussed what to wear and bring to a civil disobedience action. This included advice like wear loose comfortable clothing and bring contact information like a lawyer’s telephone number along with sunscreen and water. Fern also advised participants not to wear contact lenses in the event of tear gas.
To give the reader of this blog a sense of how innocent some of the workshop participants were, one young woman asked whether she should bring her credit card or her debit card to the protests.
What was missing from this workshop was any discussion of what to do in the event that the police should decide to clear the intersection of a street being blocked by the protesters which is basically what AU has been doing.
This workshop was rather like training people to parachute out of airplanes by educating them on how to dress properly and omitting instructing them on what to do when they actually jumped out of the plane.
This seemed to me like a glaring oversight so, when the floor was opened to questions, I asked them about this. I noted that the traditional form of non-violent civil disobedience was to physically be passive when submitting to arrest in order to communicate that one was not a threat. I suggested that in my experience this entailed sitting down and putting your hands on your knees or behind your head. I did not get a chance to suggest that there was a need to properly train people who would be participating in demonstrations where arrests could be a possibility as I was muted for the rest of the session.
Both Ms. Miles and Fern (people were identified simply by their first name and the pronoun they used) were dismissive of the idea of thinking through how demonstrators might non violently respond to the potential for police arrests . Ms. Miles went on at length that the decisions on how and when to get arrested were to be left up to individual participants and not to be dictated by the leadership. This seems problematic. Calling people to action and leading them into situations that potentially make them vulnerable to injury and to the long term implications of arrest while abrogating her responsibility to these young people if problems ensued seems disturbingly irresponsible. She seems unwilling to consider, for instance, that an untrained young person is liable to act in a way that could escalate a situation and endanger themselves and others around them.
Fern expressed concern about the vulnerability one puts oneself in if you are sitting with your hands behind your back waiting passively to be arrested. They asked what if some bystander attacked someone? A protester needs to be mobile they asserted. John Lewis, of course, knew first hand about the risk of being attacked when he sat down in Alabama and being prepared for this was part of his training.
One thing became abundantly clear during this workshop. Leadership for collective action was ok when it came to Ms. Miles and her comrades directing participants to block streets but there would be no training or instruction on how to act should the police decide to clear the street.
Ms. Miles went on during other parts of this workshop about how the police were supposed to be protecting the protesters from being hurt by vehicles or bystanders but instead were facing the protesters with their shields rather than the traffic and sidewalks.
Ms. Miles unfortunately did not address how the tactics of her group contributed to this police response. She chose to not acknowledge how the taunting of the police she and her followers engage in and the threat of some participants carrying bats might influence police behavior.
In addition, she has never acknowledged that on a number of occasions the police have escorted away men who have shouted insults at Ms. Miles and her followers.
Ms. Miles doesn’t seem to recognize that in all of the demonstrations that have occurred so far, including the July 30 demonstration when officers did clear an intersection, no one has been injured. I do not wish to suggest that all the law enforcement personnel who have been deployed are uniformly free of racism or the desire to “teach these people a lesson” with a night stick. What should be apparent, though, is that the leadership of the Saratoga Springs Police Department, Chief Shane Crooks and Commissioner Robin Dalton, have acted with great restraint. I would go so far as to say that they appear to be more concerned about the safety of the young people UA has brought to the streets than Ms. Miles and her leadership team.
Ms. Miles and Lexis Figuereo have demonstrated a callous disregard to engaging with the city’s leadership in order to better understand the way forward. It is instructive that the only time they try to contact the city’s Chief of Police and Commissioner of Public Safety is when they have occupied an intersection. It is grimly clear that the purpose of their call to bring the department leadership to the intersection they are occupying is to act out and try to humiliate them. It is not to have a dialog and try to reach some kind of mutual understanding.
It is also sadly instructive to compare the video of the SNCC training below with the videos of Ms. Miles taunting the police. SNCC trained their people to maintain their dignity under the taunting by racists. They are silent as they are heckled and insulted. The contrast between the stoic silence of the SNCC volunteers and Ms. Miles taunting of the police says it all.
Ms. Miles and her leadership team regularly create events that are volatile. They do nothing to lower the temperature. It is apparent that they are doing everything they can to provoke a confrontation with the police. So far, Chief Crooks and Commissioner Dalton have managed to keep things from spinning out of control. One can only hope that they can continue to be successful because they are getting no help from the All of Us leadership.
[JK: The videos above were taken from the All of Us Facebook page. The actual videos are several hours long. ]
They May Call It Civil Disobedience But It Bares No Resemblence To The Legacy Of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandi.
Below I have placed a series of videos regarding acts of non-violent civil disobedience.
The history of the Black civil rights movement was marked by a courageous commitment to non-violence. What people may not be aware of is the tremendous commitment to planning and training that were central to the work of the movement.
That training began with a thorough education of people who wanted to be part of the struggle as to the risks they faced. The idea of just calling together kids and then leading them into danger would have been denounced as reckless and irresponsible.
Only after leaders like John Lewis and Martin Luther King were confident that people fully understood the danger did they think it appropriate to move on to the next stage which was training. This was not a lark. As the SNCC video below documents, the training was rigorous and challenging.
This video is a recreation of a training program done by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960’s as a way of understanding how important proper training is in organizing an act of non-violent civil disobedience. The training was not only to instruct people how to act but, just as importantly, to prepare them mentally and emotionally for enduring the potential abuse that would be expected.
Much of the movement also was committed to Martin Luther King’s six principles. Direct action was supposed to be simply part of a thought out strategy for how to achieve a particular goal. It is helpful to quote in full the second principle, education.
This is the most critical Step. Doubt your first impression and work to find the truth from all the people involved in the conflict. Ask questions that will give you the information that will help you reconcile with your opponents. Continue to ask questions until you have all of the facts. You are also educating yourself by gathering
information.Martin Luther King
Videos From The History Of Non-Violent Civil Disobedience
For those not familiar with the history of non-violence in the face of racism, I thought these videos might be helpful.
SIX STEPS OF KINGIAN CONFLICT RECONCILIATION
Martin Luther King’s Six Principles
When you are in a conflict, it is important to contemplate your commitment to reconciling it. You must prepare yourself for what is to come. Think about the Principles as a way to strengthen yourself mentally, and continue to examine your commitment throughout the process.
This is the most critical Step. Doubt your first impression and work to find the truth from all the people involved in the conflict. Ask questions that will give you the information that will help you reconcile with your opponents. Continue to ask questions until you have all of the facts. You are also educating yourself by gathering information.
At this Step, you are able to take the information you gathered and use it to educate those involved in the conflict. Often it is through Information Gathering and Education that you can resolve differences and then go directly to Reconciliation.
The goal of Negotiation is to collaborate on a “win-win” agreement that satisfies everyone’s needs. Work in the best interest of the person you are trying to reconcile with. Keep the communication positive, and continue to negotiate until all parties are happy with the decision.
If a negotiated agreement is not achieved, then a Direct Action will convince others that negotiating is in their best interest. Continue with the Direct Action, and show those with an opposing view that you are at odds with their position (not at odds with them). The goal of a Direct Action (e.g. petition, march, boycott, etc.) is to return to Negotiation.
When using the Steps, Reconciliation is the goal. It is important for everyone involved in the conflict to work towards restoring a positive relationship, because the creation of the Beloved Community is our goal.