It’s hard to sympathize with Saratoga Black Lives Matter protesters as they block streets, tie up traffic, taunt the police, shut down City Council meetings and then wax indignant when some few of them get arrested, their reaction being: How dare you violate our constitutional rights?
And it’s doubly hard to sympathize when you listen to their leaders, particularly Lexis Figuereo, an alumnus of the state’s juvenile detention system, and Jamaica Miles, recently elected member of the Schenectady school board and founder of an allied group that she calls All of Us. Such vitriol! Such aggressiveness! Such pure stomach-turning hatred! F this, and f that, you f’in’ racist!
At least it turns my stomach, though it obviously does not have that effect on their followers, dwindling though their numbers may be, who turn out to serve as an echo chamber and response chorus. They’re down to about 100 now.
“There should be 2,000 people here!” complained one speaker at a recent rally, disregarding the fact that a year ago, after the death of George Floyd, there were indeed that many, me among them, but they (we) have drifted away as the rhetoric has become more hateful, with tactics to match.
If you’re thinking Civil Rights campaigners sitting in at segregated lunch counters or linking arms to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, think again.
It’s also hard to sympathize with the Saratoga Springs police, who, in a no-win situation, have responded clumsily and inconsistently, meekly taking the taunts and backing off from confrontations on Broadway, then later tackling and roughly arresting a few seemingly randomly chosen protesters, or, on a later occasion, making arrests two months after the events.
But none of this should distract us from the underlying problem, which remains very much alive, and that is the inadequately explained death in downtown Saratoga of a 21-year-old black man following a late-night police chase. It is the official theme in all the recent BLM dust-ups, though it often gets lost in the indiscriminate accusations of racism.
The young man was one Darryl Mount, recently released after serving a 17-month prison term for robbery, who, on the night of Aug. 30, 2013, was out partying on Caroline Street, Saratoga’s ever popular bar strip. Several police officers saw him push a young woman into a wall. The young woman, Mount’s girlfriend, one Morgan McLean, later dismissed the incident as no big deal, saying in a YouTube video: “He didn’t push me hard or anything where he would hurt my head or hurt me,” and also denying that he had slapped her. But never mind.
The police moved to grab Mount and he took off running, eventually down an alley to a construction site.
There is no video of what happened next, and of course Mount is not here to tell his side, but the police side is that they first lost sight of him but then soon discovered him lying on the ground at the base of some scaffolding, from which they surmised he had fallen.
The upshot was that young Mount lay in and out of a coma for the next nine months before finally dying. His family claimed the police had beaten him to death.
The then-police chief, Gregory Veitch, said there had been two investigations into the matter, one criminal and one internal, and both had cleared his cops, though he later conceded to the family’s lawyer, in a deposition, that there had been no investigation at all except one to determine what charges to drop on the comatose Mr. Mount. As for what he had told a reporter about those supposed two investigations, “I can say that I misled her,” he conceded.
And that’s it, if you can believe it. No investigation to this day. Nothing.
A pathologist hired by the family, Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, former president of both the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and the American College of Legal Medicine, examined the medical records, including photographs of the bloody left side of Mount’s face, and concluded that such injuries were “inconsistent with an accidental fall” but very much consistent with a “physical beating.”
He explained that someone falling will instinctively put out his hands and arms to protect his head, and this will show up in bruises and scrapes on the hands and arms, but Mount had no such injuries, just as he had no injuries to his chest, abdomen, or pelvis as he would have had from a 19-foot fall.
A pathologist hired by the city of Saratoga Springs, Michael Sikirica, stated in a deposition of his own that he had “eliminated” the possibility of a beating but was unable to say what evidence had guided him beyond, “That revolves around my expert opinion.”
(Many of these facts were unknown to the public until revealed by Barbara Lombardo in the Times Union in 2018.)
As a native Saratogian I would hate to think my hometown police would beat a man to death and then cover it up, but I have to admit it’s an open question. And not just an open question but an open sore on the body politic, one that a new City Council, to take office Jan. 1, will have the opportunity to heal by pushing for an impartial investigation, whether by the county district attorney, the state attorney general or some other authority empowered to issue subpoenas and take sworn testimony.
Let’s hope they have the gumption to do it, BLM or no BLM.
Carl Strock is a longtime Saratoga Springs resident. He was the Daily Gazette’s featured news columnist for many years.