The Foothills Business Daily (FBD) published an excellent story on the May 16, 2021, Black Lives Matter demonstration. FBD is an excellent resource and very much worth supporting.
The article offers accounts of the event from the police and from Lexis Figuereo, one of the organizers of the event.
According to the article as Mr. Figuereo had told the police not to telephone him, Police Lieutenant Robert Jillson texted Mr. Figuereo prior to the event. In the text he observed that Figuereo had been on social media promoting an event. Lieutenant Jillson asked what the event would entail. The purpose of the text was to determine whether the event would require police support such as protecting participants if they decided to march on the city streets.
Mr. Figuereo declined to provide any information beyond the fact that his group was going to have a rally.
According to FBD:
“Where the police chief said he saw the texts that Jillson sent to Figuereo as a way to reach out and communicate, Figuereo saw them as an irritant from a police officer whom he particularly does not like.“
When the BLM group occupied Broadway in front of City Hall, SSPD Chief Crooks briefly rerouted traffic and had Lieutenant Jillson (one of only two uniformed police who approached the demonstration) direct the demonstrators to relinquish the street and return to the sidewalk.
According to FBD, Figuereo saw this “…as an intended distraction from the speech he was giving on the steps of city hall. Since traffic was shut down, the threat posed either by people in the street or by motorists was minimal so there was no need for the confrontation…”
Characterizing this as a confrontation at this point seems excessively dramatic. As there was plenty of room on the sidewalk, a request to relinquish the street so that traffic could flow seems reasonable.
In the meantime, the local police, along with elements of the New York State Police, and the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department were marshalling in the Collamer Parking Lot. Chief Crooks was prepared to make arrests should the demonstrators insist on continuing to occupy the city’s main intersection.
According to the FBD, “Figuereo said dozens of police in riot gear and on horseback, with a van ready to make mass arrests was intimidating and a threat to free speech.”
In fact, the police had no problem with Mr. Figuereo addressing the participants but did want to keep participants on the sidewalk and traffic flowing in order to minimize disruption downtown.
Where Figuereo saw the marchers moving peacefully from the steps of City Hall back to Congress Park and dispersal at the end of the rally, Crooks said police did not know what the intention was, that the group could have changed direction at any point. The mounted police following the group stayed a reasonable distance back the chief said, but Figuereo said it felt as though the group was being ushered quickly out of town.Foothills Business Daily
Significantly, Mr. Figuereo’s fortunate decision to lead the demonstrators back to Congress Park relieved Chief Crooks from initiating arrests.
I think an argument can be made that the inconvenience of people obstructing traffic is worthwhile and should be tolerated in the interest of alerting the public to the need for addressing racism. Similarly, there is a valid argument that obstructing the main thoroughfare of the city is illegal and that the police have an obligation to enforce the law.
The central problem in all of this is the gratuitously provocative nature of Mr. Figuereos’s leadership and methods.
If Mr. Figuereo had simply cooperated with the police and told them that his group was going to march to city hall along the east lane of Broadway, speak briefly, and return to Congress Park via Maple Avenue, there would have been no issue. There would have been no “distraction” from his speech.
Instead, Mr. Figuereo insisted on drama and provocation. His security people carry bats and wear bulletproof vests. They routinely taunt the police. With respect, this does not seem to me to be the most thoughtful or effective way to educate the community in the quest for social justice.
Following the death of George Floyd a huge crowd filled Congress Park to protest this horrific example of police violence. The group Mr. Figuereo led on Sunday’s march was down to about sixty people.
Some Thoughts About The Leadership Of Our Local Black Lives Matter Group
According To Lexis Figuereo’s biography as shared with the Daily Gazette, he was designated a Person In Need Of Supervision (PINS) when he was eleven years old. The New York State Court’s website has a page defining PINS.
A person in need of supervision (PINS) is an individual under the age of 18 who:
Does not attend school
Behaves in a way that is incorrigible, ungovernable, or habitually disobedient
Is beyond the control of a parent, guardian or lawful authority
Is suspected of drug abuse
And requires supervision or treatmentNew York State Courts
According to Mr. Figuereo he spent five years in juvenile detention. My experience working with the Neighborhood Youth Corps in Troy and the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council educated me regarding the New York State’s youth detention centers. The facilities did little to rehabilitate their residents. New York State basically warehoused problem youth relying on force rather than social programs to enforce control. Mr. Figuereo shares some of the unpleasantness he endured in these places (he was incarcerated in three different facilities) in the Gazette article.
With that in mind I have a real sympathy for Mr. Figuereo. His anger and hatred for the police is humanly understandable. It is regrettable that he seems unable to distinguish between police who conscientiously and fairly perform their duties and those who do not.
But understanding and sympathy does not mean being uncritical.
Mr. Figuereo appears to believe that all members of the police are dedicated to brutalizing people in general and people of color in particular. As a matter of principle he refuses to cooperate with our local police department in the planning of the street actions he leads. His actions are so provocative that it appears that he is seeking conflict, hoping the police will be drawn into a confrontation that he will use to argue how bad they are.
He came within a hare’s breath of a confrontation with the police at his last street action. Had he and his supporters not abandoned the intersection in front of city hall the police would have cleared the street and made arrests.
One can criticize him, as I regularly do, for his lack of judgement but one has to acknowledge that he has the courage of his convictions.
I feel badly for this troubled person. It is only a matter of time before an error in judgement results in another arrest. Worse, given his history of intemperate behavior I fear he may end up being hurt in an altercation. He is treading the razors edge.
Where I am sharply critical of Mr. Figuereo is in his decision to involve young people in these actions. I believe that many of the well meaning kids in these demonstrations are not aware of how badly things can go should the police take action. In the chaos of a confrontation in which immature kids may resist the police, people are very likely to be hurt.
MLK Saratoga Breaks Its Silence…Sort Of
As people who follow my blog know, I have been quite concerned about the apparent indifference of the group MLK Saratoga regarding the provocative and undisciplined demonstrations led by Mr. Figuereo. They seem oblivious to Mr. Figuereo’s excesses and to the potential danger this puts people who participate in his street actions in.
Weeks ago in an email to me they wrote that they intended to address my concerns, but to date I have not received any communication from them.
On the other hand, one of MLK Saratoga’s leaders, Hollyday Hammond, posted the following comment on Mr. Figuereo’s Facebook page just prior to the last May 16 street action. I will take this as their answer.