Stratford rally on Green goes off without a hitch
STRATFORD — If any white supremacists showed up at the antiracism rally in front of Town Hall Saturday, they kept a low profile.
A few hundred people braved the withering noon heat to decry racism and police brutality, all under a heavy police presence because of concerns that hate-groups would make good on their pledge to disrupt the event.
At a lectern emblazoned with the words ‘Stop Racism,’ activists, clergy and politicians delivered impassioned speeches and condemned the police scuffle and arrest of a 15-year-old black girl and a minority councilman, an incident that, for the moment, made this shoreline town ground zero in a perceived statewide civil rights struggle.
"We shouldn’t let black leadership be mistreated like that. We shouldn’t let little girls in our community be able to be punched in her face and not say something. We shouldn’t let black leadership get arrested and we don’t say nothing," shouted Scot X. Esdaile, the president of the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"We must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride on your back unless your back is bent. We must stand up straight. We must organize. We must mobilize."
The rally went off without any problems.
Titasheen Mitchell, the 15-year-old whose arrest was the catalyst for the event, was there. Her mother delivered a scathing rebuke of the police department, which she says has a reputation for racial profiling and mistreating minorities.
Stratford is a tale of two towns, with the more affluent North End and the poorer — and blacker — South End, according to Marcia Mitchell-Davis. Minority customers at her restaurant routinely ask for delivery because they’re afraid they’ll be hassled by police.
"South Avenue and Stratford Avenue is the Mason-Dixon Line in this town," she proclaimed with a cracking voice. "Once you cross over that you find a whole different town."
Mayor James Miron, who is white, was one of the final speakers, and focused on the future and not the past, laying out a set of initiatives to move forward, including sensitivity and cultural training for all city employees and video and audio cameras in squad cars.
"The police department in this town is a good police department and most of you know that," he said. "Most police officers in this town, the great majority of them, are good men and good women who work hard, so we’re going to respect them and we’re going to honor them."
Earlier this week, self-proclaimed white supremacist groups put leaflets in driveways pledging to be at Saturday’s event. On Thursday, Councilman Alvin O’Neal, who organized the event, Police Chief Michael Imbro and Miron canceled the rally, saying that the hate groups would overshadow the rally’s intent, which was to bring peace and understanding to the community. O’Neal was the councilman who was arrested in the incident with Titasheen.
The rally was back on that same day, this time organized by Gamble and others community groups.
Both police and the media kept an eye out for any hate groups. A woman and some young men with shaved heads and tattoos drew the attention of reporters, but they were not there to oppose the rally and were no supporters of police.
"My friend got beat down (by police) and he’s white so it ain’t no black thing," said 28-year-old Anthony Cardillo.
While no skinheads showed up and made a scene, there were varying opinions. A woman, who only identified herself as Donna, said the situation was being unfairly cast as racial.
"I don’t have a problem with the Stratford Police Department," she said. "The guy was doing his job."
According to O’Neal, police Officer David Gugliotti used excessive force in arresting Titasheen in March after a dispute outside her mother’s business. Gugliotti was investigated by the department’s internal affairs division and cleared of wrongdoing.
©New Haven Register 2006