Stratford authorities bracing for noon rally
RICHARD WEIZEL email@example.com
STRATFORD — The FBI and State Police are being called in to assist local authorities in case violence erupts between white supremacists and black activists at today's anti-racism rally in front of Town Hall.
Tighter security for the rally comes on the heels of the discovery Friday by a U.S. Postal Service worker of $1 bills defaced with swastikas and racial slurs scattered in the largely minority section of the town's South End.
As authorities brace for a potential showdown, Mayor James R. Miron said "extraordinary security measures" are being put in place to ensure public safety at the noon rally.
In the meantime, authorities were investigating who distributed more than a dozen $1 bills found by a postal worker delivering mail in the South End.
The bills are defaced with Nazi swastikas next to the image of George Washington, with "Kill Niggers" scrawled across the bottom. The backs of the bills are marked "Niggers Suck," and signed "White Wolves."
The White Wolves are a self-proclaimed supremacist group launched in Stratford several years ago. It is one of three groups that have warned this week in e-mails and leaflets that they will attend the rally.
FBI spokesman Ron Barndollar said Friday the federal agency is aware the dollar bills were distributed and that Stratford police are in possession of evidence.
"We are deeply concerned, and both the FBI and Stratford police are taking this very seriously," Barndollar said, adding it is a federal crime to deface U.S. currency.
Miron called the dollar bills marked with racial slurs "an obscene, cowardly act."
"Obviously, it's a horrible, reprehensible act spread by people trying to send their message of hate and defacing U.S. currency in the process," the mayor said. "Our Police Department is investigating and I have been briefed by the FBI."
One of the dollar bills was found in front of Caribbean Delights at 17 Woodend Road, a restaurant owned by Marcia Mitchell-Davis, who is black. She is the mother of 15-year-old Titasheen Mitchell, who alleges she was the victim of police brutality while being arrested during a March 21 brawl outside the eatery.
"This is getting really scary. I fear for my children and for my business," Mitchell-Davis said Friday after notifying local police and the FBI about the dollar bills.
Miron said the town is working with state and federal officials to help ease racial tensions that have flared in town since Town Councilman Alvin O'Neal, D-2, who is also black, and Mitchell filed brutality complaints against a white Stratford police officer.
O'Neal and Mitchell contend Officer David Gugliotti used excessive force while arresting them during the melee outside Caribbean Delights. Gugliotti was exonerated after an internal affairs investigation by the Police Department, a finding endorsed by Miron.
The rally was originally planned by O'Neal and other activists to draw attention to what they say are troubled race relations between police and the South End minority community, but O'Neal has since bowed out of the event on the advice of his attorney.
O'Neal faces a criminal charge for allegedly interfering with Gugliotti while he arrested the teen.
O'Neal, when asked Friday why he has stepped aside, referred questions to his lawyer.
"I have advised Alvin O'Neal not to lead or participate in the rally," Charles Kurmay, O'Neal's lawyer, reiterated Friday; he declined further comment.
O'Neal also would not say whether he plans to attend as a spectator.
The rally is now being led by the Rev. Johnny Gamble, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church of Stratford, and other community activists.
The mayor, who will be a speaker at the rally, said the dollar bills are "a chilling reminder that hate groups may still try to hijack the event."
Also planning to speak at the rally are Mitchell-Davis and Scot X. Esdaile, president of the Connecticut branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.