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Vol. 76/No. 10      March 12, 2012

(front page)
Protesters stand up to cop abuse
of Latinos in East Haven, Conn.
Militant/Kevin Dwire
Some 400 march in East Haven, Conn., Feb. 25 against police anti-immigrant campaign.

EAST HAVEN, Conn.—“There is no reason to be arrested and assaulted by the police for a traffic violation,” Herman Zúñiga, president of the Community of Immigrants of East Haven, told more than 400 participants in a rally here Feb. 25 to protest cop abuse against Latinos. “We will not accept racism, injustice and discrimination on the part of the police.”

The protest culminated in a march down Main Street in this New Haven suburb of 29,000 people.

On Jan. 24, the FBI arrested Sgt. John Miller and three of his subordinates on charges of conspiracy, false arrest, excessive force and obstruction of justice. This long-standing abuse received national attention in February 2009 when cops arrested Father James Manship as he videotaped them harassing Latinos.

“Miller’s boys,” as the arrested officers were known, were notorious for arbitrary detentions and beatings. In the wake of the charges, Police Chief Leonard Gallo retired.

Some 81 percent of East Haven residents are Caucasian and 10 percent are Latino—up from just 1 percent in 1980. Yet 20 percent of traffic stops were of Latino drivers.

Many on the march demanded the resignation of East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo. The day the cops were arrested, Maturo told reporters, “We have a great police department.” Asked what he would do to improve relations with the Latino community, he said he “might have tacos” for dinner.

Edgar Marín told the Militant that his hand was broken by a police officer last year. “But this abuse isn’t new,” he said. Marín explained that his organization, United Latinos in Action, was formed 10 years ago in response to discrimination.

Barbara Wells, who is Black, moved to East Haven from New Haven more than a decade ago. “Blacks used to have the same kind of trouble with the cops here,” she said, “until the big fight around Malik Jones pushed them back. Now they target the Latinos.”

In 1997 East Haven police officer Robert Flodquist chased Jones’s car into New Haven where cops surrounded it. Flodquist then walked to the driver’s side, broke the window, and fired several times at point-blank range, killing the unarmed 21-year-old. After the killing, Flodquist was promoted to department spokesman, a job he held until his retirement.

Jones’s death was met with outrage. Religious groups, the NAACP and a broad coalition organized by Emma Jones, Malik’s mother, organized public protests.

Emma Jones sued the city of East Haven. An initial verdict awarding her $2.5 million was thrown out due to a technical error. In 2010 a jury awarded her $900,000. An appeal filed by the town of East Haven was heard in the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New York City Jan. 19, less than a week before the arrests of “Miller’s boys.”

Participants in the protest came from throughout Connecticut and from as far away as New York and Boston.

Miryam Mejía, who cleans industrial buildings, came with about 30 other members of the Service Employees International Union from Bridgeport, Norwalk and Stamford. “If we let them get away with it in East Haven, then it will get worse everywhere,” she said in an interview.

Abel Sánchez, who came with a delegation from the Church of New Jerusalem in New Haven, said the police sent him to the hospital in 1998. They had stopped his brother-in-law. When Sánchez asked what was happening they “called me stupid and beat me, breaking my nose. Then they gave me a ticket.”

Patrice Gordon and Darnette Richards, activists in the fight to prosecute the cops who killed Ramarley Graham, came to the rally from the Bronx, New York. Graham, an 18-year-old Black youth, was shot and killed in the bathroom of his home by police officer Richard Haste Feb. 2 after Haste and another cop broke in without a warrant. “This is your land, too. You’ve got to stand up for your rights,” Richards told the rally.

The United Front of Ecuadoran Immigrants brought 15 people from New York. Students from Yale University, Yale Law School, Wesleyan University, and other schools in Connecticut also participated. Yale Law School students had helped residents file petitions with the U.S. Department of Justice that led to the original investigation.

Some of those who watched the march go by were friendly. Kirt Swanson, the owner of X-Pert Automotive, and some of his employees, handed out lemonade and candy.

Others were hostile. “This is just bull,” Elizabeth Lage, standing outside her apartment complex, told the Militant. “If they don’t have a green card, they have no rights.”

A counterprotest of some 50 people gathered across the street from the rally. One carried a Confederate flag. Another held a sign that said, “We support the East Haven Police Department.” “Show me your papers,” “Speak English,” and “Get out of here,” were among the rightists’ chants.

Guillermo Estrella held a sign that said, “No excuse for this abuse.” He told the rally that in 2006 he was beaten by East Haven cops when he stopped to aid one of their victims. The sign included photos of his swollen lip and blood-stained shirt. He said he had been silent for many years, but the protests gave him the confidence to speak out.
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