Town Fights Racial Tension
STRATFORD -- An anti-racism rally was held peacefully at town hall Saturday despite fears of disruption by a hate group.
A crowd of about 200 gathered on the plaza at noon for a rally sponsored by the state conference of the NAACP that was called in response to complaints by black residents in Stratford's South End of police brutality and harassment.
In the days leading up to the rally, a white supremacist group left leaflets on lawns in the neighborhood saying there would be a counter-protest on Saturday by Connecticut skinheads, according to press reports. Groups called Connecticut State Skinheads and Connecticut White Wolves sent e-mails to the Connecticut Post vowing to make an appearance at the rally.
Instead, a mixed crowd of black and white residents applauded remarks by Stratford Mayor James R. Miron and local church leaders. Stratford police were on the plaza.
Racial tension has simmered in the town since the March 21 arrest of town Councilman Alvin O'Neal following a confrontation with a Stratford police officer. O'Neal, who is black, was charged with breach of peace and interfering with police after he allegedly interceded as Officer David Gugliotti struggled with 15-year-old Titasheen Mitchell outside a South End restaurant owned by her mother.
The girl, who has been charged with assault, allegedly struck the officer when he intervened to stop a fight between girls on the street near the restaurant. O'Neal and the girl's family have claimed that they saw the officer strike the girl in the face.
"People say there is no racism in Stratford," said Sen. Edwin Gomes, D-Bridgeport. "There is racism, just like there is racism everywhere, and it should not be tolerated whether it is 1 percent or 99 percent." Gomes said police officers should respect the people they are supposed to serve.
Miron said the rally is good only if there is a plan for what comes afterward. "We need to know what we need to do to move forward from today," said Miron, who also praised the city's police officers.
The mayor said bringing complaints against officers would be streamlined, that video cameras were being placed in patrol cars, and there will be cultural sensitivity training for town employees. "Stratford is no different than any other community - race is an issue that affects us, and we have to work on that. The issues that I hear about from everybody know no racial or cultural bounds."
Marcia Mitchell-Davis, Titasheen's mother, called for justice for her daughter, saying she believes the girl, who has an upcoming court appearance, has been wrongly charged for defending herself.
"We have some bad officers who need to be rooted out," Davis said. "I think things will change in Stratford; no one should forsake Stratford. I'm sure that the mayor and the [police] chief will work" to make positive change, she said.
Easter Bell, a resident of Stratford for 21 years, said there is prejudice in Stratford, particularly in racial profiling of drivers. "It's time for Stratford to have a change. If you live here, you pay the same taxes as everyone else, and you should get the same treatment."
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