Rally delayed over safety concerns
RICHARD WEIZEL firstname.lastname@example.org
STRATFORD — A Saturday rally called to underscore racial tensions between police and the minority community will be postponed one week, Town Councilman Alvin O'Neal, D-2, and Mayor James R. Miron announced Thursday.
Miron and O'Neal, who is organizing the rally at Town Hall, said at a news conference that they are united in delaying the rally because of concerns about public safety, parking, logistics and "planning for what comes after the event."
But the officials, both Democrats, disagreed over the reason organizers say the rally is needed: to protest a record of brutality and racism by Stratford police against minorities.
Wayne Winston, communications chairman for the Greater Bridgeport branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, appeared with Miron and O'Neal, saying he was representing Scot X. Esdaile, president of the State Conference of NAACP branches.
Esdaile plans to speak at the rally, now planned for noon July 15.
Winston said the Greater Bridgeport NAACP branch was scheduled to meet Thursday night to vote on whether to support and participate in the event.
"Police brutality and racism are not just a problem in the 2nd District and South End of Stratford," said O'Neal said. "I have received complaints from residents throughout town.
"We hope this rally is the start of uniting Stratford into one community."
Miron, however, said he does not believe there is systemic or widespread racism or brutality by Stratford police officers.
"Can two or three officers use some of the cultural diversity training we are planning for all town employees this summer? Absolutely," he said.
"But I don't believe you can brand an entire department as racist because of a few isolated allegations."
The rally, being planned by O'Neal and a committee of about a dozen community leaders in Stratford and Bridgeport, was organized in response to complaints by minorities about police mistreatment and a recent police internal affairs investigation that exonerated police Officer David Gugliotti of brutality charges.
Gugliotti, who is white, was cleared by police investigators of allegations he used excessive force and foul language while arresting O'Neal and 15-year-old Titasheen Mitchell, both of whom are black, during a fight March 21 in the South End between two other teenagers. Miron endorsed the investigation findings.
O'Neal said he was trying to stop the officer from hitting Mitchell when Gugliotti placed him under arrest.
"Reasonable people can agree to disagree," Miron said when pressed about his difference of opinion with O'Neal over whether police officers routinely engage in racist actions.
"I stand by the statements I made in my official complaint to police," O'Neal said. "I know what I saw, and I saw excessive force was used against both the teenage girl and myself."
O'Neal recently opted for a jury trial in Superior Court on charges he interfered with a police officer, rejecting a plea bargain offer, saying, "I did nothing wrong."
Mitchell is facing charges in Juvenile Court of resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer.
Her mother, Marcia Mitchell-Davis, who plans to speak at the rally, has asked the FBI and U.S. Justice Department to launch independent probes of the March 21 melee and other complaints against Stratford police.
A spokeswoman for the FBI in New Haven has said the agency is considering the complaint.
Police Chief Michael Imbro and Police Union President Shawn Farmer have rejected claims officers are racist or use excessive force when arresting minorities.