Uncalled for action to take down signs
Article created: 07/13/2006 04:44:42 AM EDT
The controversy in Stratford surrounding the incident involving Councilman Alvin O'Neal, D-2, Police Officer David Gugliotti, a town restaurant owner and her daughter has taken an unfortunate — and a sobering — turn for the worse.
The debate stems from a confrontation between police and O'Neal in March. O'Neal, who is black, claims that he tried to stop Gugliotti, who is white, from hitting 15-year-old Titasheen Mitchell, who is also black, during a police matter outside the South End restaurant owned by the young woman's mother.
O'Neal was arrested on the spot for interfering with the officer but is contesting the charges in court.
The matter has touched on the sensitive issues of race and police brutality, and it's sadly turned Stratford into a hornet's nest of resentment and accusations.
Now, Marcia Mitchell-Davis — the mother of Titasheen Mitchell — has accused Stratford police officers of harassing and intimidating her at her restaurant.
Mitchell-Davis had three signs in front of her business, including one that demanded "justice" in the O'Neal controversy, forcibly removed by Officer Evan Sarris on Monday.
Sarris told Mitchell-Davis the signs violated town zoning ordinances and told her to take them down "or else." When she refused, the officer threw them to the ground.
Of course, the signs had little to do with law enforcement. In Stratford, complaints concerning signs in front of businesses are always handled by a zoning enforcement officer, and in this case Planning and Zoning Administrator Gary Lorentson told the Connecticut Post there had been no complaints against the restaurant.
All this has occurred while a rally to protest local racism and police actions looms on Saturday.
It's difficult to determine whether the officer's actions were based on intimidating Mitchell-Davis, but knocking the signs down certainly was an outrageous and unnecessary action.
Mitchell-Davis has every right to speak out against what she considers an oppressive police department, and if police officers think otherwise they had best brush up on the U.S. Constitution.
Plaudits to Stratford Mayor James H. Miron and top Stratford police administrators for publicly chiding the officer for his actions. By knocking down the signs, he made a bad and simmering situation much worse.
It will take levelheaded, straightforward and strong leadership by Stratford government and police officials in the days ahead to calm the emotions surrounding this issue and to assure that all Stratford citizens get fair treatment and a chance to be heard.