Anti-racism rally OK'd
Organizers dismiss potential for confrontations
RICHARD WEIZEL email@example.com
(L)As Mayor James R.Miron announces Councilman Alvin O'Neal and his attorneys decision to cancel a rally at the Stratford Town Hall saturday morning at 11am ,(Center) Rev James T. Morton and Pastor Johny Gamble decide to persue a rally permit themselves for a saturday rally. (Phil Noel/Ct Post )
STRATFORD — Against the backdrop of the Shakespeare theater, a political drama played out Thursday as Mayor James R. Miron first canceled a Saturday rally to protest alleged racism and police brutality, then capitulated to community activists who insisted the demonstration go forward.
The mayor stood outside the theater to announce the rally was being canceled because of fears that white supremacists could "hijack the event," but activists from Stratford and Bridgeport interrupted his speech several times, challenging him not to be cowed byhatemongers.
Hours later the community groups, led by the Rev. Johnny Gamble, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church of Stratford, were able to obtain permission from the mayor to hold the rally.
"We are very excited to have been able to have saved the rally and go ahead as scheduled," Gamble said. "We cannot allow hate groups to make us afraid. Where would we be today if we had done that with the KKK 50 years ago?"
The rally's new organizers say the event will go forward at the same time and place as the earlier plan — noon Saturday in front of Town Hall, 2725 Main St.
They quickly secured permission to use the public site after the news conference, filing the required notice with town officials.
Despite the rapid change of events, officials gave assurances there would be adequate security for the rally. Bridgeport and State Police will also be available to assist, officials said.
Scot X. Esdaile, president of the Connecticut branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Thursday he still plans to attend the rally and isn't afraid of white supremacists.
Esdaile said he considers the event "so important," he has delayed by a day his plans to attend the National NAACP's annual weeklong conference in Washington, D.C.
"There is a very serious problem of racism and police brutality in Stratford, and we have never been scared away by hate groups and white supremacists," Esdaile said. "We don't intend to be scared off now. You can't bury this under the rug. If people come out to express racist views, then the whole state and country should see them for what they are."
But the rally's original organizer, Town Councilman Alvin O'Neal, D-2, said he would not be able to lead the event or participate because he has been advised by his attorneys to bow out.
O'Neal is facing charges of interfering with a police officer stemming from a March 21 altercation in the South End when he intervened during the arrest of 15-year-old Titasheen Mitchell — the incident that galvanized community activists to organize the rally.
Both O'Neal and Mitchell, who are black, contend Officer David Gugliotti, who is white, used excessive force while arresting them outside the storefronts. Gugliotti was exonerated after an internal affairs investigation by the Police Department, a finding endorsed by Miron.
A hearing in the O'Neal case is slated for Tuesday in Bridgeport Superior Court.
Community activists several times shouted down the mayor during the news conference Thursday, claiming the rally was not about O'Neal.
"This event is not just about Alvin and has a much deeper, more meaningful message than one police officer using excessive force during one incident," said the Rev. James Morton of Bridgeport. "This rally is to tell police and hate groups that these actions cannot be tolerated." White-supremacist groups calling themselves the Connecticut State Skinheads, Connecticut White Wolves and North East White Pride sent e-mails to the Connecticut Post and threw "racist-themed" leaflets on residents' lawns indicating they would attend the rally in case "a riot breaks out."
Miron said during the news conference he wants to avoid a potentially ugly confrontation, though he still has "every confidence our police force can handle security at the event."
"I don't want to see images on the news Saturday night of a bald skinhead holding a Confederate flag over the head of an African-American resident," Miron said. "We are getting our message out right here and now about uniting the town and I don't see any skinheads, Nazis or members of other hate groups to disrupt that." But a woman, identifying herself as a "friend" of the White Wolves and other groups that distributed the racist leaflets and sent the e-mail warnings, appeared during the news conference and said the groups would likely still attend the rally.
"My friends are going to be out there supporting the police, and that's what the leaflets say," said Sarah Warecke, of Milford. "If this had happened to a white girl, nobody would be complaining or doing anything about it. It's not right that just because she [Titasheen] is black, the whole town is in an uproar."
In a new message to the Post Thursday afternoon, the three groups bragged they had ruined Miron's news conference.
The message states the groups "approve of everything our spokesperson said to the cameras and reporters today" and that they had "rained on his parade." Meanwhile, O'Neal and Marcia Mitchell-Davis, Titasheen's mother, say they have been targeted by police trying to intimidate them. Police on Monday removed three signs from in front of Caribbean Delights, a Woodend Road restaurant owned by Mitchell-Davis. One read "Justice for Titasheen."
Zoning officials said it was the first time police removed signs from in front of a business and that such decisions should be made only by their department.
Earlier this week, the 100-member Stratford Police Union called on the Town Council to remove O'Neal from office, saying he violated the Town Charter by interfering with Gugliotti's arrest of Titasheen Mitchell.
They also revealed a previously undisclosed complaint against O'Neal stemming from an alleged May 1 road-rage incident. No charges have been brought against O'Neal, and the councilman has denied the incident happened.