Rhetoric over stolen lawn signs in Trumbull intensifies

Blue Lives Matter signs on display at a pro-police rally at Indian Ledge Park in Trumbull on Oct. 17 2020.

Blue Lives Matter signs on display at a pro-police rally at Indian Ledge Park in Trumbull on Oct. 17 2020.

Donald Eng / Hearst Connecticut Media

TRUMBULL — A social media comment about stolen lawn signs last summer has escalated into town council meetings on the issue and now a strongly worded statement from the Greater Bridgeport NAACP president referencing the killing of George Floyd.

The Rev. Stanley Lord on Thursday issued a statement about the controversy surrounding the town’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force and decrying the Trumbull Police Union’s “heavy knee on the necks of the Trumbull Town Council” and others during an election year.

Lord acknowledged the potentially inflammatory nature of his comments, but said Trumbull needed to be shocked out of its complacency.

The Rev. Stanley Lord, president of the Greater Bridgeport NAACP addresses Bridgeport BOE. Jan. 13, 2020

The Rev. Stanley Lord, president of the Greater Bridgeport NAACP addresses Bridgeport BOE. Jan. 13, 2020

Linda Conner Lambeck

“Sometimes it takes strong rhetoric to get people to hear you,” he said.

Calls and emails to Police Union President Robert Coppola seeking comment were not immediately returned on Thursday. First Selectman Vicki Tesoro, reached during a budget meeting, said she could not comment on Thursday. Police Chief Michael Lombardo declined to comment, noting the NAACP statement had been directed at the union, not the department as a whole.

The town council is scheduled to discuss the future of the task force on Monday following a social media controversy that erupted over comments made last summer by Tara Figueroa, the task force’s chairwoman.

Tara Figueroa

Tara Figueroa

Contributed

In July, Figueroa replied to a post about three Trumbull youths arrested for allegedly stealing Blue Lives Matter signs with a comment offering to replace the stolen signs with Confederate flags. In a separate post, Figueroa said the Blue Lives Matter flag should be seen as a symbol of racial bigotry.

Months later, a screen capture of the comments was posted on social media and quickly circulated online.

“A matter of personal opinion by Tara Figueroa became a viral topic on local social media,” Lord said.

The Police Union and Police Commission have condemned the comments in a post of its own and called for Figueroa’s resignation. A group of residents circulated an online petition, demanding her removal, and some posted comments about her race and threatened to burn a cross on her lawn.

Four of the eight task force members have since resigned and the group cannot hold a meeting because it no longer has a quorum. In addition, after attending one Town Hall meeting on the topic, the police union did not show up for a follow-up meeting, Lord said.

“The union appears to stand by their original call for a resignation, avoiding any further consideration, public or private for the comments that were captured regarding community opinions on racial climate,” he said. “We’ve sent numerous letters and emails saying, ‘Let’s get together and talk.’”

Figueroa said Thursday she was unaware the NAACP had issued a statement about the situation. She has said she would not resign from the task force or her position as chairwoman.

“I have not violated any ethical guidelines or codes of conduct,” Figueroa said Thursday. “This experience has really amplified to me why there needs to be such a thing as a diversity committee. We always knew this was going to be a difficult conversation, but there has to be room for understanding that people have had different experiences.”

Amanda Wagner is one of the four task force members who resigned. She said she stepped down from the panel over a perceived lack of support from other town officials as the members faced online criticism.

“This was a diversity issue,” she said. “The response really missed the mark. We missed an educational opportunity. We wanted to hold a public forum and listen to everyone’s concerns, but we never got the opportunity.”

Wagner said she also began to have concerns for her safety.

“Things got out of control,” she said.

Sue Neil, another former task force member, said the union bore some blame for the situation by framing Figueroa’s comments as anti-police.

Jonathan Tropp, the task force’s vice chairman, agreed the comments had been misconstrued as being anti-police.

“That seems to be an artifact of the internet age,” he said. “The outrage was grounded in the falsehood that she attacked the police, which she never did.”

Lord described the task force’s work as helping to engage the community in “the uncomfortable conversations that are necessary in communities around the nation for all to become more informed, fair and just in our public activities. The long-term health of each community depends on this activity.”

The town, though, seemed to look at the task force as a group that would promote “heroes and holidays,” according to Wagner, who said she lobbied for a public meeting to address the controversy.

“Yeah, maybe (Figueroa’s) statement was harsh, and if you were offended by it, let’s talk about why you were offended,” Wagner said. “If we’re looking to do diversity work, and we’re having a situation happening right in our town and we can’t meet, how were we supposed to work?”

Neil agreed that conversations about diversity and inclusion were sometimes difficult, especially when people have not experienced the situations for themselves.

“When I was being interviewed for the committee and I said there was racism in town, a lot of people didn’t like it,” she said. “People say there isn’t any, but yes, there is. You may not see it, but it exists. Just ask people in town who aren’t white.”

Lord said he would welcome that conversation.

“Maybe it’s time to have a difficult conversation with a Black man,” he said. “But let’s get together and talk.”

deng@trumbulltimes.com