Petition calls for removal of Trumbull diversity committee chairman over social media comments

TRUMBULL — A petition urging the removal of the chairman of the Trumbull Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force for comments she made on social media has garnered more than 200 signatures in just a few days.

The controversy erupted after the Trumbull Police Union Facebook account shared a post put up by Chairman Tara Figueroa last July. It was shared on several Trumbull-oriented pages and the union demanded her resignation from the committee. Union President Sgt. Robert Coppola confirmed the page was run by the union executive board with approval from the members.

In the Facebook post, which Figueroa acknowledges writing, she stated that she had started a petition to have the thin blue line flag, commonly displayed as a pro-police Blue Lives Matter flag, declared a symbol of racial injustice and compared it to a confederate flag.

“There are many people who do not recognize the divisiveness of the symbol,” she wrote. “There are a lot of similarities in public opinion of the Confederate flag, which finally began to diminish in popularity once it was officially recognized as a hate symbol. It is used by white nationalists, and other extremist groups and the racist undertones associated with ‘the thin blue line’ is pervasive.”

She went on to write “There are so many other ways to show support for good police officers without demeaning the Black Lives Matter movement addressing police brutality.”

Figueroa said she never expected threats of burning crosses on her lawn, condemnation from the town’s Police Commission, demands for her resignation from the committee and a promise of a “forceful” face-to-face meeting with the Trumbull police.

“This should never happen to any citizen, not ever,” she said Friday.

But the response to the shared post was instantaneous.

Police Commission Chairman Ray Baldwin read a comment before the commission’s Feb. 9 meeting condemning Figueroa’s post “in the strongest possible terms” and demanding an immediate apology.

“This kind of vitriol only serves to divide our citizens and our nation at a time when we should be trying to heal our wounds,” Baldwin said. “Ms. Figueroa has clearly demonstrated a predisposition to hate herself, and her words are not only hurtful, but dangerous. This is not the kind of person who should be chairing any town committee. Frankly, we think she should resign as a member of the diversity committee altogether.”

At the same meeting, Police Chief Michael Lombardo said Figueroa’s comments were “an example of a predisposition toward my officers, that they are biased against members of society, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I truly look forward to further discussion with Ms. Figueroa.”

Comments on the post shared by the union grew increasingly hostile, with one poster writing, “I will also take a cross to burn on your lawn. I wonder what color she is. Hmmmmm.”

The union later took down its post, citing the personal attacks made against Figueroa.

“Personal attacks, especially ones that should remain private, we believe does not improve dialogue. It only adds insult to injury,” stated the union post explaining the removal. The post went on to thank Figueroa for contacting them to explain her position, and promising to meet with her “in a forceful, yet civil & professional manner.”

Two days after the union’s post, First Selectman Vicki Tesoro weighed in with a statement saying social media comments “are subject to interpretation that often leads to misunderstandings.” She also stated her opinion that the incident was being used by people in town for political purposes.

“Supporting our police and embracing the work of the diversity and inclusion task force are not mutually exclusive,” she wrote. “These groups should not be pitted against each other by those who seek to build walls rather than bridges on important issues that may be difficult for some to discuss.”

She also promised to broker a meeting between Figueroa, Coppola and Lombardo.

“This will be an opportunity to speak directly and listen to each other, without the raised voices and excited rhetoric which seems to dominate the local social media pages,” Tesoro wrote.

But some town residents felt Figueroa showed not only disrespect to police officers and the jobs they do, but that the post also served as a way to divide people further. “If diversity is truly the goal of this committee, this is not the way to go about it and this is not the person to lead it,” said the petition, started by Cindy Penkoff, a real estate agent and former Town Council member.

Figueroa said her post had never mentioned Trumbull police, but had been about a flag being used as an anti-Black Lives Matter symbol. Her own petition drive had been made during a summer dominated by protests against police brutality in the wake of the George Floyd killing by Minneapolis police.

“I understand that the Blue Lives Matter flag raises strong feelings for many, but we ought to be able to have open-minded conversations about it,” she said. “The way in which this entire ordeal has been handled by the Trumbull Police Union over social media and the Police Commission at its meeting was wrong and provided an avenue for hate and misconduct to be directed toward me.”

She said she has not decided if she will remain on the committee, but said the incident had inadvertently demonstrated why something like the diversity committee was necessary.

“It is amazing that different people can look at the same thing and see a completely different meaning,” she said. “I believe it can be a teachable moment for us all.”

deng@trumbulltimes.com