City should find common ground with NAACP

It was distressing to see representatives of the Connecticut chapter of the NAACP emerge from a meeting with New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio and members of his administration complaining of arrogant treatment and offering no hint of future dialogue.

While the city is under no obligation to see matters in the same light as the NAACP leaders, it would have been far more encouraging to see them walk away from the Monday meeting satisfied that the administration had seriously considered their concerns and provided the opportunity to work cooperatively going forward.

After all, the NAACP and Mayor Finizio say they share the goal of having a city workforce that reflects the diversity of the community it serves. Mayor Finizio has said he recognizes that the lack of diversity on the New London Fire Department has been a particular problem. New London hasn't hired an African-American firefighter since 1978, despite a prior federal directive to develop policies that would invite diversity.

Surely, the prestigious NAACP organization, with its long history of fighting for civil rights, and the new administration could find common ground on working toward that goal, even as they may disagree on individual hiring decisions. Yet, judging from the post-meeting comments, no such door to cooperation opened.

The NAACP has reason for being concerned about Mayor Finizio's decision, acting on the advice of the city's long-time Fire Chief Ronald Samul, to fire firefighter recruit Alfred Mayo, an appointment that would have broken the long drought of no African-American hiring by the department.

The fire chief and mayor point to attitude and behavioral problems Mr. Mayo allegedly had at the state-run fire academy, yet none of the information that has come forward in defense of the firing strikes us as terribly serious. Mr. Mayo was a good student with passing grades.

Given the department's apparent problems in finding African-American and other minority recruits, it would seem logical to have given Mr. Mayo the benefit of the doubt. Once hired, Mayo would still go through a probationary period, allowing the department to take action should the alleged disciplinary problems seen at the academy emerge.

But we can't know all the facts and the administration appears uninterested in reconsidering its handling of the matter. The next stop may be in court, unfortunate for all. But in that case, the fire department's long history of segregation could leave the city legally vulnerable.

The state NAACP is also upset with reports of racial profiling by city police. They question whether race played a role in the October 2010 arrest of Lance Goode, a black city resident with a long history of criminal conduct. Mr. Goode claims New London Officer Roger Newton planted drugs on him. Prosecutors later dropped the drug charges against Mr. Goode.

A patrol car dashboard video appears to show an officer, indentified as Officer Newton, dropping a small bag containing a white substance at the arrest scene. Officer Newton remains on administrative leave as an investigation of his conduct continues.

We support the NAACP's call for a U.S. Justice Department review to determine if this is an isolated incident or evidence of broader problems in the department.

Again, Mayor Finizio says he shares the goal of assuring there is no racial profiling in his city - so why not welcome the help of the NAACP at least on that objective?

"The mayor has profound respect for the NAACP and the work that they do," read a statement issued by the mayor's office after the meeting.

Apparently that message did not get through during the meeting.

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