When, last fall, at the behest of Dustin Gold, the co-founder and chief strategist of the anti-immigration group Community Watchdog Project, hate e-mails and phone calls flooded Mayor John DeStefano’s office, DeStefano responded swiftly. Within days, he gathered a diverse group of civic leaders on the New Haven Green to speak out against CWP’s actions. He reaffirmed the city’s commitment to its burgeoning immigrant community, and a month later he strongly encouraged the Board of Aldermen to accept the private funding and keep the Elm City ID card program alive for another year.
When Northeast White Pride, a Massachusetts-based white supremacist group, delivered hate fliers to Latino-owned East Haven businesses earlier this month, the city’s mayor, April Capone Almon, did nothing.
Admittedly, her failure to act may be due in part to her police force’s involvement in events that likely spurred the hate group’s actions. The East Haven Police Department is under fire from members of its relatively small Latino community who allege racial profiling, harassment and rampant abuse of power. Tensions came to a head in February, when Father James Manship, the priest of Fair Haven’s St. Rose of Lima church, came to address complaints of his parishioners by documenting East Haven police activity using a camcorder. After a confrontation with the police, he was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and interfering with a police officer.
Though Manship may not have shown proper deference to the officers that night, the arrest was not clean. Manship was videotaping police as they removed license plates from the wall of the Latino-run My Country Store (the police contend that they were merely seizing illegally possessed expired plates). Video footage shows officers trying to take a hard drive containing the store’s security camera footage once they realized their actions were being taped.
Worse, it took the East Haven Police Department nearly two weeks, until the morning of Manship’s arraignment, to release an official police report. It does not help that in his community, Manship is a popular guy; as a strong advocate of immigrant’s rights and the Elm City ID, and with a willingness to stand up to authority, he has come to be seen as a protector. His arrest spurred action in East Haven and Fair Haven: Dozens of supporters came to a press conference on the Green, and business owners in East Haven gave testimony of the long-standing harassment they have suffered at the hands of the East Haven police. Their stores (and Manship’s church) got the fliers.
The details of Manship’s arrest are disputed and currently under investigation. Almon therefore does not have to weigh in on the arrest, or even necessarily on the issues the police department is facing, though New Haven Advocate Associate Editor Betsy Yagla suggested otherwise last week (“Missing in Acción: East Haven’s mayor is shockingly quiet when it comes to police harassment and hate groups,” March 17).
Policing policy often reflects the mayor’s vision for law enforcement — in New Haven, for example, Police Chief James Lewis and DeStefano together unveiled the city’s new Targeted Activity Policing approach last month, with DeStefano providing much of the logic behind the decision. But in this instance the mayor’s voicing an opinion may create undue controversy and interfere with the investigation. Not addressing the hate fliers, however, is unacceptable.
There is debate about whether the tactics of the East Haven Police, which allegedly include pulling over drivers without cause, demanding to see identification (that is often defaced if it is from out of state), and yelling and swearing, are legal or just — something that will hopefully be resolved as the Manship case is tried. But regardless of their legality or purpose, they do little to make Latinos in a community want to contact the police when in need of protection.
The mayor’s nonchalance compounds the problem because it isolates those receiving the fliers rather than showing solidarity with them (it does not help that Latinos only make up less than 6 percent of East Haven’s mostly white population). And by not speaking out on behalf of this community, Almon lets Northeast White Pride, a Klan associated, neo-Nazi group, off the hook.
Sarah Nutman is a sophomore in Trumbull College.