Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Connecticut’s Official Racism Exposed

Is it covert policy?

State Rep. Roger Michele stands before the Bristol police board to lodge a complaint against Capt. Daniel Britt Tuesday night. Michele brought up allegations of Britt and Sgt. Richard Valentine broadcasting racial slurs over a pirate radio station in Valentine's basement.

Sep. 20, 2005
Copyright 2005, Hartford Courant

Bristol Takes More Heat
NAACP Accuses City Police Of Racial Profiling
September 21, 2005 By DON STACOM, Hartford Courant Staff Writer

BRISTOL -- Just as city leaders began working to heal wounds from allegations of a secret, racist radio station run by two police officers, the NAACP on Tuesday accused the police department of racial profiling in the city's West End.

"We have very, very grave concerns about what is going on in the Bristol community," Scot X. Esdaile, president of the Connecticut NAACP, told officials at the regular meeting of the city's police board.

The board normally draws a sparse audience, but because of the racial controversy in the city, Tuesday's session attracted about 30 police officers, 20 residents and camera crews from three TV stations.

Standing before the audience Tuesday night, Esdaile said at least two Bristol police officers have privately told him they were ordered to conduct racial profiling in the West End, a working-class neighborhood.

The allegation drew denials from the police union and embattled Police Chief John DiVenere.

"No. I can categorically deny that whole thing," union President Ken Gallup said.

"The department is really coming in for a bashing right now."

DiVenere confirmed that he ordered strict enforcement in the West End because of crime complaints from residents, but he emphasized that it absolutely wasn't aimed at any racial group.

"Absolutely not, of course not. I find it hard to believe anyone would say that, or that any officer would follow an illegal order," DiVenere said.

Esdaile refused to identify the officers who spoke with him, and would not provide details of their accounts or name the official who allegedly ordered racial profiling.

"I know what I'm talking about. It came from the top," Esdaile told reporters during a break in the police board meeting.

"I said the top. You take it from there."

Addressing the board, he said DiVenere must explain why some police officers were still making racist broadcasts on a pirate FM station years after the chief first heard rumors that it was happening.

"We want to know just what measures he took to be sure this was eradicated," Esdaile said.

"There are just three answers: Incompetency, they just didn't care, or `I agree with everything that's going on.'

"DiVenere has said he ordered Sgt. Richard Valentine to "shut it down" after hearing rumors several years ago of unlicensed broadcasts from his home. DiVenere said he couldn't do more because no other officers would verify the rumors.

The issue explosively resurfaced last week, when the NAACP and state Rep. Roger Michele, D-Bristol, held a press conference to accuse Valentine and Capt. Daniel Britt of being involved in WNFR. The NAACP identified the unlicensed call letters as Nigger-Free Radio. Just hours after that story became public, Valentine put in for immediate retirement and Britt was put on administrative leave. Neither has publicly answered the allegation.Britt, the department's second in command, was expected to meet with his lawyer and city personnel officials on Tuesday, possibly to discuss retirement benefits.

But his lawyer postponed the meeting until this afternoon. Britt and Valentine have not returned numerous phone messages in the past five days.

Jerome Davis, a black police officer who retired on medical disability five years ago after accusing DiVenere of making a racial slur, called on the board Tuesday night to conduct a thorough investigation.

"It's time to clean house," Davis said.

Earlier in the day, Mayor Gerard Couture began a campaign to turn the week's embarrassments into something better. He convened a meeting of local black and Hispanic ministers to discuss race relations in Bristol, asked them to join a Community Diversity Relations Coalition with police officers, and directed his staff to draft a brochure promoting the city's commitment to tolerance and equality.

Irene Singleton, minister of the Tower of Hope Christian Ministries, called the WNFR allegation "devastating to our city."

She told the police board that prejudice may exist in any community, but the 69-year-old minister said it's especially troubling when it involves police.

"They are the people who are supposed to protect us," she said.

Singleton said the city needs to unite, adding, "I think we can be a sound community again."

The police board began its meeting by saying it would not respond to public comment.

But after the meeting, Couture shook his head at the new allegation, saying, "We're trying to bring people together here. We've got to get people working with each other."

To comment on this story, or to request a correction click here to send a message to Karen Hunter, The Courant's reader representative. Click here to read Karen's daily Weblog.

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