They say the first step in getting yourself out of a hole is to stop digging.
That also applies to trust.
If you want people to start to trust you, your first step should be to stop lying.
There are plenty of good reasons why Black Lives Matter protesters in Saratoga Springs mistrust police, from overzealous arrests and prosecution of protesters, to allegations of racial bias in late-night incidents in the city’s entertainment district, to claims by police that the protesters were perpetuating violence themselves through their criticism of police.
All of those are legitimate concerns that must be addressed by police and the elected representatives in the city.
But one common thread in the growing level of mistrust is that police continually fail to tell the public the truth, whether it be about an investigation into a Black man’s death connected to a police foot chase or about who stopped protesters from attending a public court proceeding the other day.
For there to be any resolution to the racial issues plaguing this city, one of the first steps police are going to have to take is to stop lying to the people they serve.
And the only way the public can be assured that they’re getting the truth is for independent authorities to thoroughly investigate the incidents in question and give the public an honest and fair accounting — separate from the politics and policies of the Police Department.
Let’s start with an issue that has long festered among the Black community, the 2014 death of Darryl Mount.
Mount died nine months after a police foot chase early on the morning of Aug. 31, 2013, following a domestic incident on Caroline Street. Mount fled through a construction site on Broadway and was later found unconscious with severe head injuries at the foot of some construction scaffolding.
Police allege he fell from the scaffolding, while Mount’s family suspects he died at the hands of a beating by police.
Police Chief Gregory Veitch defended his officers and said there was no evidence to support Mount’s family’s claims that officers had caused his death.
In a lawsuit deposition several years after Mount’s death, Veitch admitted he lied to a Saratogian reporter by saying that he had ordered an internal investigation into Mount’s death, when in fact, he later admitted, he had not.
If he was lying about even conducting an internal investigation, what else was he lying about? And how could anyone — Mount’s family, BLM protesters or other citizens — trust anything he said?
Despite many calls over the years for independent investigations into Mount’s death, none have been undertaken.
At this point, the public won’t trust any investigation conducted by the city, the county or anyone other than the state Attorney General’s Office.
Not only should Attorney General Letitia James investigate Mount’s death, she also should investigate Veitch’s failure to conduct an internal investigation into the death and his decision and rationale for lying about it.
Who else knew he failed to conduct an investigation, and who supported his decision to cover up that failure after his statements were made public in the newspaper? That investigation should include anyone on the police force at the time, as well as Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen, who was in office at the time of the police chase and Mount’s death.
The other incident in which police have been caught lying involves a situation in which some BLM protesters were prevented by police from attending court proceedings last week. Several protesters appeared in court on misdemeanor charges in connection with the arrests of activists outside City Court on Sept. 7, and some supporters attempted to join them, but were barred from the courtroom by city police.
For two days, city police tried to blame court officials, including the judge, for prohibiting the protesters from attending.
But court officials vehemently denied the allegations, saying courtrooms are rarely closed to the public unless there’s a specific reason associated with a particular case.
That prompted police to finally walk back their lies.
Herein is cause for another investigation, both into why police made the decision to bar these particular citizens from the courtroom and who was behind the decision to fabricate and perpetuate a denial.
On Friday, city Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, an independent candidate for mayor in November, promised to conduct a “thorough investigation” into any police involvement in the closure. Why it took her three days to announce this is beyond us, but at least the commissioner is on the record as saying the city plans to look into it.
But given the city’s track record with the truth, it’s hard to know whether to believe her or not until we see the results of an actual investigation.
There are many issues to resolve in helping reduce tensions between police and citizens, particularly Black citizens, in the city of Saratoga Springs. And both sides should consider their approach to determine if there’s something they can do to improve relations.
City officials should look into the validity of those charges that were filed against protesters and reconsider their arrest policy if necessary. They should look more deeply into the true causes of late-night incidents in the city’s entertainment corridor. They should stop interfering with the legitimate rights of citizens to protest and access government buildings.
But first and foremost, they need to stop lying and support truly independent investigations — into Darryl Mount’s death, the courtroom ban and anything else they might be lying about.
Without that, there can never be any progress toward trust.