Saratoga activists say police need to be reformed or abolished – Times Union

SARATOGA SPRINGS — In the wake of Tyre Nichols’ death after an encounter with Memphis police, the leaders of Saratoga Black Lives Matter demanded on Tuesday that city officials either move swiftly to implement the 50-point police reform plan, including the formation of the Civilian Review Board, or abolish the police altogether.

“Where did police reform really get us?” said Lexis Figuereo, the leader of Saratoga BLM. “Reform is not the way. It’s abolition or nothing. Until we come up with a better system to keep our people safe … our people will (not) be safe.”

Standing on the steps of City Hall with other leaders of the BLM movement and allies from Unitarian Universalist Church of Saratoga Springs, Saratoga Educational Equity Network, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Capital Region Extinction Rebellion, Figuereo reminded officials that the city is not immune to racism. He and others aired a raft of grievances that have built up over the years: the handling of the investigation into Darryl Mount, Jr., a young biracial man who died in 2014 from injuries sustained after a police foot chase; city police 2021 treatment of a BLM protester that launched the state’s Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau’s ongoing investigation of the department; and the recent deployment of more police in city schools, including elementary buildings.

“We need change and we need it now,” Figuereo said. “The system of policing is racist. You can’t build a system out of slavery and slave catchers and overseers. The system is doing what it is meant to do, kill, harm, abuse, silence the already silenced, the already unheard.”

Figuereo, in the hourlong news conference, also said the city should not select its next police chief from the list of the three civil service candidates — one of whom is named in a yet-to-be-resolved Mount wrongful death lawsuit, a second who is the brother of the police chief who lied to the media about an internal police investigation into Mount’s injuries and a third who is under investigation by the attorney general’s office.

“What we would like, what we would like to demand, is change the charter …  go outside of this area for a police officer,” Figuereo said. “We don’t need the good old boys club of people who have been hanging out together for 20 years, knocking in Black people’s heads. They should not become chiefs.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino disputed Figuereo’s assertion that city police are racists. He compared how police responded to the Nov. 20 police-involved shooting on Broadway to the Jan. 7 police beating of Nichols in Memphis, emphasizing how city police offered aid to those they shot versus how Memphis police, who beat Nichols to death, did not.

“It’s so diametrically opposite, you can see our officers are carefully screened, they are carefully trained, they are carefully supervised,” Montagnino said. “They are equipped with body cameras. They are given significant amounts of training, including on implicit bias and ratcheting down situations, de-escalation techniques, all the things that are obviously did not exist in Memphis.”

As for selecting a chief, he said he spoke twice to the Civil Service Commission asking them to change the rules for hiring police administrators, but they have yet to do so. Therefore, he said, he must choose one of the three who took the chief’s test. Furthermore, Montagnino said that he expects all of the candidates for the Civilian Review Board, which will oversee police conduct, to be appointed at a Tuesday, Feb. 7 City Council meeting.

That’s not good enough, Figuereo said, who is criticizing the all-Democratic City Council for “doing nothing.”

“We need representation. We need people to fight for what we need,” Figuereo said. “Saratoga Springs needs to lead the change.”

Saratoga BLM will continue to call for change at 5 p.m. Thursday in a rally in Congress Park.

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