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New London - With police Chief Margaret Ackley sitting front and center, city residents Thursday night made public complaints about police mistreatment and racial profiling.
Ranging from wrongful arrests to brutal police tactics, the allegations, told to a panel that included Ackley, who is white, and police Officer and City Councilor Anthony Nolan, who is black, painted a picture of fear and mistrust toward police within the city's black community and beyond.
The session was the second town hall-style meeting sponsored by the state and local NAACP chapters in about a month at the Second Congregational Church.
February's meeting had focused on what the NAACP has deemed the wrongful firing of Alfred Mayo from the city's fire department. Mayo was the first black firefighter hired by the New London department since 1978, but he was fired in December just days before he was to graduate from the state fire academy. Mayo attended Thursday's event and was recognized and applauded by audience members and the panel for his continuing fight to regain his job.
Two prominent black city leaders, Jane Glover, the mayor's chief administrative officer, and City Councilor Wade Hyslop, had recommended Mayo's firing and were invited to speak at Thursday's event. Both declined and did not attend.
But most of the discussion Thursday revolved around the police department, which has been in turmoil the last several months. Earlier Thursday, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio announced the firing of Officer Thomas Northup, who is white, after he shot an unarmed black suspect in August. Finizio deemed Northup's actions excessive use of force and excessive use of deadly force.
Ackley clarified a legal question for one audience member, but did not speak otherwise, instead taking notes as residents told stories of her department's officers alleged misconduct.
Diane Fisher told of police spraining the neck of her handcuffed 17-year-old daughter last summer, an injury for which the girl still seeks therapy.
Karen Clark told of her daughter's home being raided by police, who were looking for her daughter's boyfriend. Finding nothing, Clark said, police "whipped" her daughter and injured her grandson when a piece of wood that was propping open a door fell on her grandson's head.
Some of the most compelling testimony came from Sameem Waheed and his wife, Maria Waheed.
Sameem told of being followed and arrested by police for driving under the influence of alcohol last month. A diabetic and needing a cane to walk, Sameem said he was arrested after he failed a field sobriety test, taken without using his cane. He had offered to take a Breathalyzer test, but instead was arrested for failing a heel-to-toe walking test. He never was found to be under the influence, was jailed for hours and had his car towed with his cane, house keys and diabetic medicine inside.
His charge was thrown out in court, Sameem said, but the arrest was costly, to his reputation and his wallet.
"When they towed my car, they broke the front passenger side taillight - that costs $1,250," he said. "The tow was $80 and, because it was on Sunday, I was charged $42 for storage because the place was closed. Why should I or anybody be treated that way?"
Maria Waheed said she had never seen her husband so traumatized, but she said they met with Ackley, who helped them through the process.
"I think Chief Ackley is trying very, very hard," Maria Waheed said. "We need to support and work together and change certain things."
NAACP state criminal justice chairwoman Tamara Lanier, a panelist, told the audience that she had just returned from a trip with other NAACP officials to Washington, D.C. The purpose of that trip, she said, was to meet with U.S. Congressman John Conyers, D-Mich., a staunch supporter of the NAACP and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, she said.
Lanier said the group showed Conyers some of the civilian complaints that have been filed against the city police department over the last few years, complaints that Lanier said make her "sick to my stomach."
"Conyers said he wants to come to Connecticut and bring the Congressional Black Caucus and the Judiciary Committee here to hold hearings on racial profiling in the state of Connecticut," Lanier said. "He took this very seriously. He's promised his support and promised there will be some swift action."
New London NAACP chapter president Donald Wilson called on residents to file complaints with the city anytime they feel they are mistreated by police.
"When you don't monitor anything, we know things get kind of out of whack," he said. "We need to be the true watchdog eyes that this organization has been for years ... Don't be afraid to stand up for our rights."