June 4, 2020
Dear Mayor Madden,
We are a group of white and other non-Black Troy residents and business owners writing, in response to your May 31, 2020 public letter, to demand that you do better as the leader of this city. In advance of the rally organized for Sunday, June 7 by Justice for Dahmeek, we implore you to humble yourself to better understand and appropriately respond to what is happening in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the deaths of so many other Black people, including several here in Troy, at the hands of state-sanctioned violence. We demand that you identify and move to your edge of growth in this crucial time, a time in which all citizens need to be looking at how we can each show up in ways that may have previously been unimaginable to us.
Each person’s risk in this regard should be in measure with their power and privilege, yet it is usually citizens most impacted by race who take the most risk. As the mayor, we expect you to go farther than the greatest of your constituents. How will you step into your discomfort towards our collective safety, well-being, and liberation as a city?
In his 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King wrote: “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
Sadly, your letter and your actions over the last several years exemplify this disappointing “white moderate” that Dr. King spoke of. You say you are with those who seek justice, but you paternalistically define how democracy should look, make assumptions about the motivations behind various tactics of protest, completely protect the police from any responsibility in their response to potential protests, and prioritize “order” and the “absence of tension” over lasting change and true justice. We think it is safe to say that your understanding of the situation is “shallow” and that you need, in this moment, to humbly turn to the counsel of those who have a deep connection to and understanding of the situation at hand.
In your letter, you insinuate that it is up to protesters whether or not protests become violent, saying nothing of the ways in which police can (and have been all over the country) escalating and acting in outrageous ways.Rather than focus on protecting businesses and managing the actions of protesters, we ask: What are you doing to prepare yourself and the Troy PD for a peaceful and meaningful protest on Sunday?
This week has felt, Mayor Madden, like a set-up. On Sunday, the downtown businesses were called by police, we have been told by many many shop owners, and told to board up their windows, remove bricks, be afraid. On Monday we received your letter, saying you support the right to protest, but condemn property destruction. We have a city on edge a full week before any protests are about to happen. What could possibly go wrong? To be clear, we don't fault the business owner for trying to save their livelihood, but we do fault the institutions if they value that business owner’s property over anybody’s life.
We implore you to be a strong leader. Many times we have heard you say, “If I wasn’t the mayor, I’d be right there with you.” Be right there with us on Sunday, because you are the mayor and listen. Because you have the power to protect, and protecting the right to protest--with a diversity of tactics--means protecting democracy.
When a people is exhausted and enraged by the lack of adequate response to a problem they are forced to act beyond what is legally permitted. We ask you to please listen to what is being expressed in the nation-wide protests and to stand with all protesters in their demand for justice. Making a division between so-called peaceful protests and protests that include force is missing the point right now. What is being expressed through this movement is the tip of a massive iceberg of intergenerational violence against Black people at every level. Rather than condescendingly condemn the nature of potential protest actions this coming Sunday with no regard for the role of police in that process, what are you doing as mayor to truly attend to and address this complex and devastating web of implicit and explicit violence against people of color, especially Black people? We ask you to familiarize yourself with the Movement for Black Lives Platform, which includes demands to end the war on Black people, invest in Black communities and divest from the police, economic justice, including reparations, community control, and political power.
In your letter you condemn institutional racism and state the need for it to change. You also write, “We can condemn the violent acts of police officers whose actions are outside the law without condemning police in general. We can condemn the individual without condemning the institution.” This statement fails to reflect how systemic oppression works by ignoring the way individual acts of racism, rules and processes established by the institution and cultural norms, attitudes and behaviors of the dominant group all work to support one another. Edson Thevenin proved this lesson with his life.
It is difficult to talk about Sgt Randall French because of his untimely death from COVID-19. However we have to acknowledge that his death does not erase the fact that he “improperly forced [Thevenin’s] car off the road and later lied about that and his claim of opening fire as he was trapped between his cruiser and the suspect's vehicle.” Wrong actions and behaviors which ultimately led to Thevenin’s death.
This act was then covered up by the entire Troy Police Department, despite some individuals’ expressing discomfort. Even after a report surfaced that showed that French lied and was at fault, the Police Chief (standing next to you, Mayor Madden, and the Sheriff), stated that he found no fault with French’s actions. In this way we see how the Troy Police Department and adjacent institutions supported an individual’s actions. The police are not just any individuals. The institution was founded by white male property owners to suppress immigrants, enforce slavery in the service of protecting their property. They are armed and they have tremendous power and tremendous resources. When an armed institution with a racist history is made up of individuals with racist biases, unaddressed trauma, and a closed system of communication, the entire institution becomes dangerous.
To compare an individual action/actor of the institution of the police force, to the individual actor/action of a protester completely ignores the actual power dynamic. Police have their colleagues, the union, lawyers working for them. They also have other institutions supporting them. What does one protester have in comparison?
The question is, Mayor Madden, is your office one that represents the people and acts as a liaison for the people to this powerful institution of the Troy Police Force? Will you work hard to use your office and all of the formal and informal power that comes along with it to protect the most vulnerable of your constituents? Or will you hold up what has shown to be an institution in need of retraining, increased accountability, and oversight?
To be clear, we are not optimistic. Your track record thus far with Edson Thevenin, Dahmeek McDonald, undocumented and immigrant families in the City of Troy has you saying you are “with us” and then supporting Institutions over people. Since we are not Black people we will not attempt to speak on their behalf and make exhaustive, specific demands except that you show up on Sunday, listen, protect the protesters from the police, and follow up with the organizers of this protest to make a plan to move forward with serving the needs of the Black communities of Troy.
Please stop delivering empty words and promises and move to stand on the side of justice. This will be uncomfortable. It will involve risks and making sacrifices on your part, deeply listening to those most affected by this crisis, holding a much more complex understanding of the national protest movement and systemic racism than you currently are, and standing up to people and systems you have previously supported unequivocally, such as the police department. You have an opportunity to be an example of real leadership in this moment. Your May 31 letter did not show this kind of leadership. We are here to hold you to doing better, to support you in doing better, in understanding that all lives can’t matter until Black lives truly matter. Stand with us on Sunday and keep the protestors safe by holding the police force accountable.
Bob and Mary Beth Blackmon
John and Joyce Chupka
Jim de Seve
Sean Mickey Dobbin
Catie D’Amica Nichols
Anne Marie Haber
Nishanth Kunnukattil Shaji
Lisa Powell Graham
Elizabeth Lei Smith
Van Tran Nguyen
Hana van der Kolk
Judith Ann Wade
Elizabeth Woodbury Kasius